Friday, September 5, 2014

Baking Bread ~ 3 lessons in 1

There are so many reasons why I love to bake bread:  it's healthier than store-bought (although we eat our fair share of that too, don't worry), it helps fill up those incessantly hungry lil' monsters that crowd around you at all hours of the day, crying "We're STARVING!!!", it rounds out just about any meal and fills up the tummies of your more picky eaters, it smells heavenly (or what I am gonna assume heaven to smell like) and makes your house smell like a home, and well.....dang just tastes *so good*!!!

So around here, I have three bread staples:  Amazing White Bread, Honey Whole Wheat Bread, and Challah Bread.

No, they are not the healthiest options, but they're pretty darn good.  And dang tasty to boot!

As a side note, I own two bread machines.  I use these to knead my dough. (you could also use a Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook) Once the bread machine has run through the "dough cycle" (about 1 hour and 20 min), I take the dough out and form it into loaves.  Then I put the dough into standard, greased loaf pans and let 'em rise again - then bake them in the oven.  Delicious!!

So here goes:

(add to bread machine in given order)

1 1/3 c. warm water**
1 heaping Tbl. honey
2 Tbl. butter
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1/2 c. dry milk powder
4 c. all-purpose/unbleached flour
1 1/2 tsp. dry active yeast

Set your machine on "dough" cycle, and start.
Watch your dough for the first 5 min. or so, just to make sure you don't need to add a bit more flour or a bit more warm water.  It should all mix up and form a nice, smooth ball of dough.  No sticking to the bottom 'cause it's too wet.  No dry, hard-to-knead dough ball either.  You'll get the hang of it.  And a little bit in either direction is not gonna RUIN your loaf of bread.  Remember this:  Butter makes everything all better!   It's my motto.

When the "dough" cycle is done, sprinkle some flour lightly on your counter.  Dump the dough onto the flour.  Knead it around a bit, just making sure to get most of the air bubbles out.  Then (hold on, here's the really technical part) just smoosh it around a bit, forming it into - sorta - a rectangle.  Seriously, don't stress about this.  Mine is usually more of a fat oval.  Then I just roll it (jelly-roll style, almost) into a loaf shape.  I tuck in the ends, and pinch the seam.  Then I throw it into the greased, glass loaf pan (metal will work too, it just may get a more browned crust) and place a light, clean dishcloth over the top.  Let it rise until it is just past the top of the pan.

{I have let mine rise too long many a time.  I just end up getting one big ol' tall, fat, delicious loaf of bread.  I have also run out of time and not been able to let it rise as long as I'd like.  I ended up with a smaller, yet still just as delicious loaf of bread.  Hear me:  it's all good!}

Once it has risen, pre-heat your oven to 350 degrees - then bake for 35-40 min.  I like to make sure my crust is evenly browned.  Some people say to tap the bottom and it should sound "hollow".  Um, yes, go ahead, try this.  I *think* I've gotten the hollow sound before, but I'm just not oven is fairly consistent in temperature and I usually go for 35-37 min.

Take it out of the pan immediately!  Carefully place it on a cooling rack.  You may top with melted butter for extra yumminess - just be forewarned:  you'll be lucky to get your bread cooled before little people (and big people too) will be clamoring for you to slice and deliver them a piece of your homemade really does smell that good!

**Warm Water Temperature Confusion??  I just use the hot water from my tap.  By the time it goes into my measuring cup, into the bread machine pan, is covered by all the other ingredients and finally gets kneaded with the yeast - it is the perfect temperature.  Don't stress about getting it to a specific temperature.  As long as your yeast isn't too old (I store mine in the freezer), you're set.

(add to bread machine in given order)

1 1/2 c. warm water**
1/2 c. honey
1 Tbl. oil/butter
1 tsp. salt
1/2 c. grains (I use old fashioned oats)
2 c. whole wheat flour
2 c. all-purpose/unbleached flour
2 tsp. active dry yeast

Add, set to "dough" cycle, watch for first 5 minutes.
When finished, plop onto floured counter, knead lightly, spread out into rectangle, roll up into loaf shape.  Then place in lightly greased (I use baking spray - like Pam) loaf pan and set to rise, covering with a light dishcloth.
When the dough is risen just past the top of the pan, pre-heat oven to 350 degrees and bake for 30-40 min.  (mine is usually about 35-37 min. - just watch carefully).  This will obviously be darker and denser then the white bread - but oh-so fabulous!!  Great with a big ol' pot of soup!

CHALLAH BREAD - 1 braided loaf
(add to bread machine in given order)

3/4 c. warm water**
1/4 c. honey
1/2 Tbl. oil/butter
2 eggs
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 Tbl. sugar
3+ c. all-purpose/unbleached flour (I have used part whole wheat here, but not too much, maybe 1 c.)
1 Tbl. active dry yeast

Add, set to "dough" cycle, watch for the first 5 min.  You WILL need to add more flour to this recipe.  Maybe another 1/2 a cup or more.  Just keep an eye on it.  Not sure why this recipe is like that, but - hey, it is what it is.  Flour can be tricky at times.  Depends on humidity of your home, humidity of your flour, um.....other.....stuff....

Anyways, once the bread machine is done, dump your dough onto your floured counter, and knead it lightly.  Then use a long knife to cut your dough into four, equal balls.  Roll each ball into a long rope/snake - perhaps 12-14 inches long.  You are then going to braid your snakes together.  If you have never braided four strands together, don't worry, I had never done that either.  Yet it's super easy!  Just google "how to braid 4 strand challah bread" and you'll get a bunch of youtube videos.  (or just braid three snakes together - it'll still look cool and it's all gonna taste the same regardless!)  There's also 6 strand, I just haven't ever tried it.  Sounds easy enough though.....I'll have to give that a shot one of these days!

(video:  Tammy's Recipes - check out her site!)

I transfer my braided bread dough to my baking sheet - usually lined with parchment paper and a spritz of baking spray.  You can brush with a beaten egg before baking if you'd like - even top it with sesame seeds, or sliced almonds.  I usually don't.  I may spread some melted butter on top afterwards.....mmmmmmm.....melted butter on challah......*drooling*

Ok, sorry, anyways....

Yes, put your braid onto your baking sheet, cover with a light dishcloth and let it rise a bit - doesn't take too long 30-60 min.  Preheat your oven to 325 degrees and bake for 30-40 min.  (mine is usually done by 30-32 min.).  Slide your beautiful braid onto a cooling rack, top with butter if desired, and try NOT to immediately rip it apart and eat the whole thing yourself.  Try.  Really hard.  I mean, it's just too hot.....wait a few moments, for goodness sakes!

And after you get the hang of these three breads, we can move onto rolls!

I LOVE pull-apart rolls!  And those three-leaf clover looking ones.....all fabulous!!

So there ya go!  Did you understand all that?  Do you have questions?  Do you doubt your bread baking ability?!  DON'T ~ just gather your ingredients and go for it!  Your family will *gladly* eat your mistakes and flops and weird looking braids and then beg you to try again tomorrow!  Baking bread is sorta becoming a lost art, so before you know it, you'll be one of "those" moms ~ the awesome ones who can actually braid and bake the most beautiful, delicious bread EVER!!

Do it.  Now.
You can thank me later.
Over coffee.
With some challah bread.



Shari said...

I do LOVE your bread, but I will probably never make a loaf of bread. We are just not a bread eating family.

Lori Butterfield said...

"....not a bread eating family."

I'm sorry, I just don't quite understand that statement. Weird....


**Silly girl**

Luv ya~

Kerry said...

Yummy ~ I cannot wait to try this when the weather gets cooler. Especially the braided one. What an impression that would make on the Thanksgiving table. Thanks for sharing!