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Make it Yourself: Bread

Building on the popularity of our Homemade Eating post, we're starting a series of posts called Make it Yourself. Each one will include tips and ideas to make for yourself foods that are often store bought. First up is bread.

sandwich bread

We have experimented with yeast bread baking for years. We now have it down to a routine where Alex bakes as we need it, about once a week. Lil almost always helps him. Here's her recipe:

[youtube=http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bwcjKdDFCh4]

We don't actually usually use the same recipe every time (and never is it exactly like Lil said!).  Instead, we use general ratios.

If you have never made bread before, take a look at the Instructables Tutorial.

Our basic ratio for basic bread is 1 part liquid to 3 parts flour.  The liquid can be almost anything: water, beer, milk, club soda, etc...   Beer will come through as  a distinct flavor and can make for a light bread as the carbonation helps somewhat in the rising process.  Milk breads tend to be denser and the milk can add sweetness to the bread.

Use 1 - 2 tbsp of dry yeast to 1  cup liquid with 1 tbsp sweetener.  We usually use honey because it has great flavor and is healthier than processed sugar.  White, brown, or turbinado sugar would be work too.

Add 1 tsp salt per 1 cup liquid recipe.  This is easy to forget, but you will miss it if it's gone.

Then, there's the mix-ins.  1/2 cup dry oats adds a nice body and keeps bread moist for longer.  Olive oil, butter, or egg adds richness and moistness.  Try herbs and spices for flavor.  Dough can be topped off with egg wash, salt water, or olive oil.

Knead, let rise, punch down, shape, let rise again, and bake!

Bread can be as simple as that.  For reliable easy baking, we would be lost without the following tools:

*Stoneware pan - Whether we are baking a regular loaf or round, we use baking stoneware.  The baked bread never sticks and forms a great crust.  We have a loaf pan and pizza stone and these suit us for everything we bake except muffins.  A stoneware muffin pan has been on my birthday and xmas list for years now...still waiting for someone to get it for me.

*Bread flour - Bread flour is higher in gluten and protein than regular flour.  This allows for better rising and chewiness in the final product.  We use at least 50% bread flour for sandwich bread.  King Arthur is our preferred brand, although we are looking for a more local source.

*Time - The first rise takes 1 - 2 hours, second takes about an hour.  There's no way to rush yeast bread.  You can, however, use time manipulation to your advantage.  One trick we often employ is to make the dough in the evening and allow to rise in the fridge overnight.  Then, Alex pulls out the dough when he feeds the dogs in the early morning.  I form it into a loaf when I get up an hour or so later, leave to rise the second time, and bake just before lunch.

It also works fairly well to freeze dough after the first rise.  Just be sure you allow lots of time for the dough to warm through second rise before baking.  Sometimes I make a huge batch of yeast cinnamon rolls and freeze them after first rise to have an easy yummy brunch dish.

*Bread box.  Our bread box keeps bread fresh for at least 4 days.  Because we are generally lazy and unafraid of germs, we keep the bread knife right there for easy slicing in the box.  We have this one:

brabantia bread box

An alternative that seems reasonable is to keep loaves in a cotton sack at room temperature but we have never experimented with that.

We make bread because it is fun and healthy.  Do you?