Bake Your Own Bread

My dad baked bread on a semi-regular basis throughout my childhood. The whole process–from the mixing to the kneading (punching!) to eating fresh, hot bread–remains some of my best memories from childhood. I would love to share those memories with my children.

Ingredients

  • 4 cups warm tap water (not hot)
  • 2/3 cup non-fat dry milk powder (instant powdered milk)
  • 1/4 cup honey
  • 2 packets or 4 teaspoons dry yeast
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1/3 cup melted margarine or oil
  • 12 cups (approximately) white or whole wheat flour or a combination

My dad always used a huge metal bowl for his bread-making. Whisk together the water, dry milk powder and honey in the bowl. Add the yeast, sort of sprinkled on top. Slowly stir the yeast in, allowing it to dissolve into the water mixture. Set aside for 10-15 minutes to allow the yeast to foam up.

Add the salt, margarine or oil, and flour. Mix with a wooden spoon until it gets too stiff and then start mixing with your hands. You want to get the flour throughly mixed in. When all the flour is mixed in, this is when the kneading begins. You can transfer the dough to a floured kitchen table or counter, but my dad always just left the dough in the big bowl for the kneading.

Kneading is really just working the dough to get it an even consistency and to make sure that there’s enough flour so the dough isn’t wet. If using a counter, sprinkle a cup or two of flour on a clean kneading surface, and turn out dough onto the flour. Traditionally, bakers used marble slabs for their baking, but modern granite countertops work just as well! If kneading in the bowl, just sprinkle flour on top of dough.

Lightly bring in edges of the dough with your fingertips, folding over on top. Every time you see a wet spot, add a little flour, and keep folding over the dough and turning it in on itself. Continue until there are no more major wet spots, adding small amounts of flour to prevent sticking either to the bowl/counter or to your hands. Do not add so much flour that the dough gets tough or hard.

Notice that the actual amount of flour added depends on the nature, grind, amount of glutin, etc. of your flour. Figuring out how much flour to add is the art of bread making: you kneed in flour until it is the correct consistency.

Coat the dough with oil on all sides, about 2 tablespoons of it, and put it back into the bowl. Cover it with a slightly damp towel and let it set in a warm place to rise for about an hour or so, or until it doubles in size. It may take longer to rise on cool days, or in the air conditioning.

Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down the dough by literally pressing your fist into the center of it. My dad used to make smiley faces by poking little indentations for eyes, a nose, and the mouth, and then my sister and I would gleefully punch the face. (No, we didn’t grow up to be twisted, sick adults!)

Once you’ve punched the dough down for another 5-10 minutes, divide it into 4 equal lumps. Coax them into loaf shapes and place them into large (9 by 5-inch) well oiled loaf pans. If you don’t have enough loaf pans, use casserole pans or cake pans, or whatever. Cover the dough with a cloth or more plastic wrap and let it rise again. It should take less time for the second rising. When the dough is risen up enough, bake the loaves at 350° for 40 minutes.




You can tell the dough is done if you turn it out of the pan and thump the bottom with your finger. It should make a dull hollow sound. If it doesn’t sound hollow, put it back into the pan and cook it some more.

Now, some bread “experts” will tell you that bread has its best flavor when it is NOT freshly out of the oven. Perhaps this is true for some fancy breads, or baguettes. But one of my favorite tastes from childhood is eating the heel of a still-hot loaf of bread, slathered with butter and sprinkled with a bit of cinnamon and sugar. Enjoy!

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