Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Everyday Basic Bread Recipe

 Here it is, right now, the actual recipe that I use to make bread:

This square of paper has been taped to the cabinet above my bread machine for two years now. My sister, Tina, made the note about resting the yeast and the french bread setting because even she made this bread (and liked it). 

The ingredients are the easy part. It's the method I've had to get to know. The madness is in the method... or something. It's like finding the right dialogue formula for The Emperor on Star Wars (via Family Guy). "Something, something, Dark Side".   

Before I start, I'll tell you why this is a basic, everyday kinda bread. This is the sorta bread you can make a sandwich on for your kids. You can serve it warm with dinner. You can toast it. You can use it like you would a loaf of store bought bread. It'd also be good for parties any time of the year. It's simple and versatile. It's incredibly hard to screw up. Once you build up your bread confidence, you can do fancier things with it. It's a beginner bread that you can play with... and it tastes fan-freaking-tastic. Not to mention that you know exactly what's in it and can feel good about not needing a decoder ring to read the ingredients.

For now, I'll give you the method and the ingredients in one place:

1 cup of warm (not hot) water
1 package of bread machine (or rapid rise) yeast or 2 1/4 tsp from the jar
2T sugar (or honey)
1/4 cup oil
3 cups bread flour
1t salt 

(big T=tablespoon, little t=teaspoon)

Bread Machine Method:

With the bread machine unplugged, add sugar to bottom of bread machine pan then sprinkle yeast on top. Fill with warm water. Cover and rest for 15 to 20 minutes or until yeast is frothy and pungent (aka activated). 

In a separate bowl, add flour and salt, whisk for about 30 seconds and set aside. 

Add oil to bread machine pan when yeast is activated. Add your whisked dry ingredients. Close bread machine lid and plug machine in. Set to Sandwich or French Bread setting (it doesn't really matter) for a 2lb loaf. (If you want to use the Dough setting, do so and continue onto the by hand method where its tells you to turn out*.)

Remove bread from pan immediately when finished baking and allow to cool on cooling rack for 20 minutes before slicing.

By Hand Method:

I will assume you have a Kitchen Aid Mixer with dough hook attachment (or something comparable). If you don't, get one or kill yourself because it sucks to do this with a spoon

Add sugar to the bottom of a large mixing bowl. Sprinkle yeast on top of sugar, then add warm water. Cover and rest for 15 to 20 minutes or until yeast is frothy and pungent (aka activated). 

In a separate bowl, add flour and salt, whisk for about 30 seconds and set aside. 

When yeast is activated, add oil. Attach dough hook to your mixer and return mixing bowl to stand. Cover the yeast mixture with about half the dry ingredients. Mix on low speed until dry ingredients are incorporated. Add remaining flour and mix on low speed until a ball starts to form. Increase speed to medium-low and allow to mix for about 10 minutes. Remove dough from hook and gently shape into a ball. Return dough to the mixing bowl and cover. Allow to rise for two hours. 

Lightly spray a cookie sheet with olive oil or non-stick spray.  Deflate dough and turn out* onto cookie sheet. Fold dough over a few times and then shape into a loaf (any sorta loaf shape is fine). Cover loosely and allow to rise until it is double in size. 

Bake at 350 for about 30 minutes. Remove from pan immediately onto wire rack and allow to cool for 20 minutes before slicing.

* "Turn out the dough" is a fancy way to say "dump  out the dough". Really.

Sounds easy, right?

If you don't have a Kitchen Aid and you choose not to kill yourself or buy one, I hear that if you mix the dough with a spoon 50 times left and then 50 times right, your arm will hurt. Also, it should mix your dough. Of course, you'll have to kneed it by hand. You can use your slave labor, er, kids to help you with this unless you have a lot of aggression to work out. Seriously, I don't know how I'd live without my mixer. Get one.

Also, you know rule number two, right? It's read the recipe until you really understand it. Ask questions if you need to, but don't read over it once or twice and think you've got it. That's how disaster happens. Know it, think about it and then read tips about it. Make sure you have all the ingredients. Get up and check! Look before you leap. 

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