October 24, 2009

Recipe of the week -- Basic Bread 101

There is something soul satisfying about making bread from scratch. I know so many of you shy away from it because you think it's too hard or takes too long, but honestly it's neither and so much more fun than using a bread machine. I think the bread tastes better as well. So here's a basic white bread recipe, from scratch, with detailed instructions and pics. Oh, and it's best if you get all the ingredients together before you start.

Basic White Bread

2 cups warm water (approx. 100*F)
2 tbls. honey
1 tbls. active dry yeast
2 tbls. vegetable oil
2 tsp. salt
5-6 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup nonfat dry milk

The most critical part of bread baking actually comes in the beginning. Check the temperature of your water! If you have a thermometer, use it. If not, run the water over your wrist; if it feels definitely warm but not uncomfortably warm, it's okay.
Put the 2 cups of warm water in a large mixing bowl (the bowl from your mixer is perfect because you'll be using the mixer soon). Add the honey and dry yeast; stir together. Set the bowl aside for a few minutes. It can take anywhere from 3 minutes to 15 minutes depending on the temperature of your water, but as the grains of yeast activate they will begin to foam. Cool!
When the yeast is bubbly, add the oil, salt and 2 cups of the flour. Using your electric mixer, beat the mixture on medium speed for 2 minutes or longer. This stimulates early development of gluten. What's gluten? It's the magic ingredient in the flour that gives your bread lightness and a fine texture. When you have finished mixing, the surface of the dough may have a glossy look - a good sign.

Add the dry milk and mix it in. Then add 2 to 3 cups more of the flour, a little at a time, mixing on low speed until the dough is stiff and pulls away from the sides of the bowl. (Stop putting flour in at this point even if you have some left)
If you have a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook you can use it to knead, but personally I like to do it by hand. I have a large island in my kitchen that works really well for this, but a tabletop or other large surface will work too. Just make sure it's not too high or your arms will tire quickly.

Sprinkle the kneading surface with flour. Dip your hands in the flour and lightly coat them. Dump the dough out of the bowl onto the floured surface. Turn the dough around and over to coat the outside with flour, patting into a cohesive mass (big ball). Begin to knead.

There is no perfect way to knead, but whatever you do, be decisive. This is not a time to be gentle. Take all your frustration out on the dough. It'll be better for it and so will you. If you still want some direction here is a basic kneading pattern.

Take the far side of the dough and fold it toward you, stretching it and then folding it. With the heels of your floury hands, push the folded portion down and away from you. Give the whole piece of dough a quarter turn, fold and push. Repeat. Each time you will be folding and pushing a different segment of dough. Do it over and over. Ten minutes is a nice ball park figure. The dough will be rough and sticky at first. You may have to keep dipping your hands in the flour and sprinkling flour onto the kneading surface. Add only as much flour as you need to keep the dough from sticking; too much flour makes a dry loaf. You should end up with a dough that is soft and pliable. When you push it, it springs back. Eventually, it will become smooth and satiny.

Rub a large bowl with soft butter or brush it with melted butter. Don't use oil. The dough will absorb the oil and then become sticky which is exactly what you're trying to avoid.

Place the dough in the bowl and turn until all sides are coated with a thin layer of butter. Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free place. Let the dough rise until it has doubled in size. You have time to do something else now, just check on your dough once in awhile. You can test it by poking a finger into the top of the dough, about an inch down. If the hole you have made stays, it has risen enough. This can take anywhere from 45 minutes to several hours.

Give the dough a good punch with you fist. This is called punching down the dough. Take the dough over to your lightly floured work surface and dump or pull it out of the bowl. Knead it a few times to press out gas bubbles, then take a sharp knife and cut the dough into 2 equal pieces. Cover them with a towel and do something else for 15 minutes while the dough rests.

Now to shape the dough. Take one piece of dough, pat it with your hands into a rough ball, and flatten it to a size about twice as wide as your loaf pan and slightly longer. No need to be exact, your not being graded. Just get close. Fold the 2 long ends under so they meet in the middle of the bottom. Tuck the 2 short ends under. Place the dough in a greased (butter again) loaf pan. It should fill the pan no more than half full. Repeat the process with the other piece of dough.

Cover the pans with the towel and put in a draft-free place to rise again until they double in size. This is usually 45 minutes to an hour. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375*F.

When doubled in size, place the pans in the oven and bake about 25 to 30 minutes. Check the bread after the minimum amount of time. If the loaves are well browned and the sides have shrunk slightly from the sides, remove from oven. If not, give the bread a few more minutes.

When done, turn out the loaves onto a wire rack to cool. Bread doesn't slice well when hot so you might want to resist the urge to eat it right away.
The original recipe came from a book entitled 500 Treasured Country Recipes although I have modified it to suit our family.


  1. yummy. new follower from blog hop. www.lilyslaundryblog.com

  2. lovely bread! I love making bread too but I mostly use the no knead recipe since it's so easy.
    Happy weekend:)

  3. Oh, I needed this! I made bread recently and it turned out like a brick! HA HA!! If you threw it, it would break something! :)

    I am a new follower from the blog hop! Hope you can follow me back at my review and giveaway blog "in my opinion"...here is the link:


    I do have several blogs but this one is where I am looking for followers on. Thanks sooo much!



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