Sunday, January 5, 2014

The Bread Baker

The Midwest is COLD this morning. Not only did we get snow, but wind chills are reaching -45 in some places. Last I heard, they were about -20 or -30 where I'm at. Blarg.

Personally, I've got a baby with a nasty cold on top of the cold outside, which made for a very long night of little sleep.

After two nights of little sleep with the little man, I broke my "no caffeine while breastfeeding" rule this morning and made myself a cup of coffee mixed with Silly Cow Farms hot chocolate mix. I'm currently munching on the bread I baked last night, as well. Ahhhhhhh comfort food.

Yes, that's right. I am now officially one of those annoying people who bakes their own bread instead of buying it at the grocery store, and can't wait to tell you all about good their house smells while it bakes, how wonderful it tastes, how nothing on earth they just can't help themselves.

I use the term "annoying" because I was always jealous of people who baked their own bread. I always thought it was some long, drawn out and complicated process that only superior moms, cultured foodies and sophisticated people who were generally "better" than me could manage.

Until I tried this recipe. I've been converted! Good Lord, basic yeast bread is so easy peasy that after making this recipe three or four times, I can pretty much do it blind folded.

Please don't challenge me to prove that though.

So here's what you need to make these babies.

5 cups white all-purpose flour
2 tablespoons yeast (or 2 x 7g pkts)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
2 cups warm-hot water
1/4 cup cooking oil

Here's what you do

1.Put 4 cups of the flour, yeast, sugar and salt into large bowl.
2.Pour in hot water and oil and mix until combined- it will be sticky.
3.Add the remaining flour in increments until dough is no longer sticky.
4.Knead for about 5 minutes until dough is elastic and smooth.
5.Place dough back into bowl and cover with a damp teatowel and let it rise in a warm place until double its size- about 1/2 hour.(I turn the oven on at the lowest setting for a few minutes, turn it off, then place my bowl inside)
6.Punch it down and divide dough into two pieces.
7.Roll pieces long enough to fill two well oiled loaf pans and leave to rise until dough has reached the rim of the pan.
8.Bake at 400F for 40 minutes.
9.Rub hot breads with water and wrap in a teatowel to'sweat' to soften the crust.

Bread making is almost a spiritual experience for me. You take your simple ingredients and you quietly and purposefully work them into this food that nourishes your family and is a cornerstone of their existence. It is a powerful feeling.

Or maybe that's just the Laura Ingalls Wilder in me romanticising. Maybe.

Kneading really is a great stress reliever, though. And it works your arms. It is also a nice time to meditate. Truly.

One of the best things about this recipe is that it is a great platform to experiment with. It bakes up perfectly if you swap non-dairy and/or gluten free ingredients. You can add more sugar some cinnamon and raisins for a sweeter bread, or herbs and cheese for savoury bread. You can break it up into smaller portions for rolls, or buns. And it is incredibly easy and fairly quick to produce.

 I mix it exactly as the recipe calls to, but instead of baking in pans, I just place two formed loaves on a buttered up cookie sheet. They bake in less time that way. My loaves are always done around the thirty minute mark instead of forty.

I also don't wrap the loaves after baking, and the crust comes out crusty on the bottom but soft on the top. Just the way I want!

Now that I've made this recipe several times, I'm not really allowed to run out of bread anymore. The Kid is constantly asking for it. And The Husband loves to take thick sandwiches to work. It also perfectly accompanies soups and makes a fine french toast.

We like these loaves so much that I actually made a batch(broken into three medium loaves) for my father-in-law as a Christmas present. I mean, the man has everything he wants and is not easily impressed, but he does enjoy things that are useful and good food. I think fresh baked bread was an appropriate gift. He seemed to enjoy it.

So take it from me, the extremely unsophisticated home cook, if you're looking for a recipe to help you overcome your inferiority bread complex, this is this one. You'll get beautiful, tasty loaves every time, and you'll probably never look back, because that stuff on the shelf with all the extra and unnecessary ingredients just doesn't compare.

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