Bread has been a staple food of every civilization for hundreds and thousands of years. Every continent is filled with varied cultures, each with a unique bread to call its own. While bread has been, and continues to be, an essential component of each culture’s diet, not all breads are the neatly baked white loaves that we have come to know and recognize. Some regions may not use yeast; they may combine flour with rice or other ingredients, bake bread in outdoor ovens, or over open fires. But what cannot be argued is bread’s elemental comfort for families,
no matter where home may be pinpointed on the globe.
As the Israelites wandered in the wilderness, God sustained them every day with “bread from heaven.” (Nehemiah 9:15)
Jesus taught His disciples to pray “Give us this day our daily bread.” (Matthew 6:11)
That basic, reassuring, sustenance of bread spans cultures and centuries. During the Passover meal (the Last Supper), Christ broke bread with His disciples. (Matthew 26:26) Today, Christians receive bread when partaking in communion. God provides us with all we need–during the most trying of times–if we allow Him.
Bread, the simplest of foods, can be so rewarding to prepare for our families. One of the most comforting gifts we can give our loved ones is to bake fresh bread. Think back to when you were a child, coming in from playing outside to wash up for supper or walking into the home(s) of family for a Sunday dinner or special occasion. You were immediately hit with the aromas of a meal waiting to be shared. When you smell some of those same foods today, are you taken back to those childhood days? Give your family the gift of good bread baking in the oven and create special memories that resonate in the comfort of homemade goodness.
Are you ready to try? Here’s a basic recipe and instructions. Roll up your sleeves, tie on an apron, and let’s see what we can do.
4 cups of bread flour (white bread flour is recommended for first-timers)
1 package or 1 tablespoon of brewer’s yeast (often sold in a strip of 3 packages)
1 cup of warm water plus extra water
salt to taste
1 loaf pan, well greased (typical size is 9x5x3 inches)
large mixing bowl
clean dish towel
Before beginning, warm your oven to about 150 degrees Fahrenheit and turn on the oven light. Once you’ve acquired this temperature, turn off the oven and leave the oven light on.
Depending upon your particular make or model of oven, you may need to remove one of the oven racks to give the dough enough room to rise. Know where you plan to knead your dough (counter top, table top, etc.). Clean and lightly flour this surface. You’ll need to have extra flour available to flour your hands, coat your kneading surface and to add to the dough as you work the ingredients together. Measure one cup of warm water (not hot, but fairly warm) into a narrow bowl. Add the yeast to the water and stir in. Let this rest at least 10 to 15 minutes.
Measure four generous cups of bread flour into a large mixing bowl. Sifting is optional. Add at least two teaspoons but not more than one tablespoon of salt to the flour.
Make a small crater in the center of the flour and slowly add the warm water and yeast mixture. With floured hands, work the flour and water mixture together. Add more water to the flour mixture, a little at a time (about 1 cup), pulling and working the flour with your hands. If the flour remains dry and crumbly, you’ll want to add water, if the flour mixture becomes sticky, you can add more flour back to it a handful at a time. As the dough comes together and forms a ball, it will become smooth to the touch. Transfer the dough from the mixing bowl onto your kneading surface. (You’ll want to take a moment to wash your mixing bowl, then dry and grease it. You’ll be returning the dough to this bowl for rising.)
Continue to dust with flour as needed while you work the dough. Plan on kneading the dough for a good 10 minutes. To knead, you will start with your dough in a rounded disc shape and you can use one or both hands. You will use the heel(s) of your hand(s) to push into the bread dough with a pushing away motion, then pull the top portion of the dough back toward you, folding the dough over and press your heel(s) into it again. Turn the dough and repeat this process over and over until the dough is worked thoroughly and becomes smooth. You can dust the dough with flour to work into the dough if needed. The dough should be elastic but not sticky. If you need a visual example of how to properly knead dough, YouTube has a number of videos available with demonstrations on kneading bread dough. WikiHow has some photos and additional kneading directions as well.
After kneading is complete, neatly round your dough into a large ball and return it to your greased mixing bowl. Cover with a dampened dish towel and place inside your warm oven to rise for 30 to 40 minutes. It should double in size. Grease your loaf pan. Take your bread dough from the oven and return it to your kneading surface. Knead the dough for another 10 to 15 minutes. Shape into a loaf and place in your greased loaf pan. Place the loaf pan inside the warm oven, cover with dampened dish towel and let rise for 30 to 40 minutes, allowing the dough to rise between an inch to two inches above the edges of the loaf pan. Remove dish towel and turn oven on to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake bread on the middle rack for 30 minutes or until golden brown on top and hollow sounding when you tap the crown of the loaf. Remove from oven and allow loaf to cool completely. Tip: To keep the bread crust soft, place a piece of aluminum foil loosely across the top of the loaf (like a piece of paper) while it cools. Enjoy!
This basic recipe can easily be built upon. Consider adding a tablespoon or two of sugar or honey for a bread that is a little sweeter. Drizzle up to ½ cup of olive oil or other type of cooking oil into the dough at the beginning. You can add herbs and garlic as well, and/or brush the top with butter or an egg yolk wash. Experiment on your own, or go to the library and check out some great bread books. Bread baking should never be intimidating. Bread is something you can enjoy preparing for your family and friends.
“I would say to housewives, be not daunted by one failure, nor by twenty. Resolve that you will have good bread, and never cease striving after this result until you have effected it. If persons without brains can accomplish this, why cannot you?” taken from Housekeeping in Old Virginia, edited by Marion Cabell Tyree (originally published in 1878) (Creative Cookbooks 2004).
This excerpt was taken from my back issue Let’s Get Organized For Fiscal Fitness. For additional breadmaking tips (and more!), purchase this single issue HERE. Molly members have this magazine available in your member page (search out January 2009). If you’d like to become a Molly member and save even more, sign up HERE.