The Lost Art of Baking Bread

Who doesn’t love the smell of baking bread? It’s warm and makes you just feel good.
When freshly baked bread comes out of the oven and is set to cool on the counter of a nicely clean kitchen, everything seems right with the world. Nothing really matters except waiting for it to cool so it can be eaten with butter. All politics, drama, worry, disappears when a hot loaf of bread is sitting right in front of you. Doesn’t it?

Many people are afraid of baking bread. Yeasty breads take a lot of attention; they have to be proofed, mixed just right, kneaded to perfection, and formed. This might seem like a daunting task, but if you start off slow, it can be really easy, and even really fun!

Now, when I just said it would be easy and fun, a thousand images of ruined attempts and baking bread probably just flashed through your mind. Attempts where the bread machine broke, the loaf comes out disformed, the yeast didn’t proof, the dough turned to paste, flour is everywhere, your counter is covered in who knows what, flat unrisen dough is all over your clothes, gooey bread that didn’t cook all the way through is stuck to the pan; and the worst memory yet, after all of your diligent preperation, after hours of waiting for the first rise, punching it down and letting it rise again overnight, getting your hopes up that you have finally made the perfect loaf of bread, are decimated when you get called away from the oven, the dough is cooked a little too long, you are left with rocks.

SO.

Here is what you need to do. STOP! Stop worrying. Stop fretting. Stop being afraid. Just Breathe. 

Making bread from scratch is not really as difficult as it sounds. Even with yeast bread, the only thing that is truly difficult is not getting stressed if something doesn’t go picture perfect. That just means you might need to get creative.

Without further ado, let’s learn how to make a basic bread dough.  

Well you can’t exactly just start baking unless you have a recipe…This is one of our favorites. It makes fabulous dough in about 20min and rolls in about 30 min

note: If you decide to use the dough for loaves, for pizza or what have you, the cooking time will change.

30min Rolls:

Preheat oven to 400 degrees
Bake for 10-12min

1 1/4c Warm Water(make sure it is warm not hot or boiling)

1/3 c Oil (most oils work well for this dough. although, I wouldn’t recomend any that are solid at room temperature…such as coconut oil…I generally use generic olive or canola oils the difference in taste between them is minor)
2TB instant yeast (we could proof the regular yeast, but that can get messy and sometimes makes the bread making process stressful if one is unsure of what they are doing.It is also roughly the same cost as regular yeast and doesn’t require the 15 min proofing time.)

1/4 c Honey or Sugar (honey stickier, but I prefer to use it to sugar. Sugar is quicker, but honey has more nutritive values, and I think it tastes better…)

1/2 tsp salt

1 egg

3 1/2- 4 c Flour (I generally use All-Purpose white flour, but when we truly make bread entirely from scratch, we grind about a 50/50 blend of hard-red and soft-white wheat.)

Now. You have the recipe, so tie your apron strings and let’s start with the basics.

When baking most anything (especially yeast breads), you want to remember to mix you dry ingredients seperately from you wet ingredients, then combine them wet to dry (unless instructed differently by the recipe). This ensures that the yeast will activate before it is combined with the flour.

An easy way to remember how to start this recipe is by remembering “First Four First”.

In a medium bowl, combine the first for ingredients (water, oil, yeast, and sugar/ honey).
Mix it all thoroughly.

Then add the egg and salt. Break the egg and again mix it thoroughly.

In a larger bowl (preferably a large metal one), put the flour. Make an indentation in the middle of  the flour mound.
Slowly pour the now wet ingredients in the center of flour. It will look slightly like a large flour volcanoe is spewing frothy egg.

With a spatula or spoon, mix the ingredients until a dough forms. You may need to add flour or water until the dough is a good consitancy. It needs to be wet enough to be able to form it, but dry enough to work with it and not stick to your hands/ spoon.

Now you have a beautiful dough. The next step is to knead it.

Remember that if you don’t knead it enough, it will not have the right consistancy, but if you over knead it, the dough will become really tough. Don’t fear!

Keep the dough in the metal bowl and start to knead the dough with the spoon/spatula.

If it starts to get difficult with the spoon, start using a pastry scraper or your hand. remember to keep your hand relatively flat when working with the dough.
If you plunge your fingers into it, you will make a mess, and your hand could get stuck.

While you are working with the dough in the bowl, you may still need to add some water or flour (depending on your particular dough).

Now for the fun part!

Sprinkle flour on a flat surface (a counter, bread board, pan, wax paper, etc). Slide the dough out of the bowl and onto your floured surface (the flour helps it not to stick to the counter). Knead the bread with your palms away from you. Pick up the dough from underneath to move it. Use your hands like paddles when rearanging your dough. Knead it until you see it “tear” slightly when you push it away from you.

When you feel that it is ready, you can decide to make it into rolls or use it for other purposes.

For Rolls:

On your floured surface, form the dough into a loaf shape. Round the top so that it is smooth. Using your pastry scraper, or a sharp knife, cut the dough into even sizes. For 1 dozen rolls, it gets cut in half, reformed into two loaves. Those loaves are cut into thirds, reformed and each third is cut in half.

Form the smaller pieces of dough into a roll shape. Make sure that each roll is smooth on the top. The bottom does not need to be as smooth, but each roll needs to look uniform from the top.  Place formed rolls on a greased cookie sheet.

 
Bake for 10 -12 minutes, or until the rolls are golden brown.
Be careful because they might be moist on the inside and golden on the outside.
A good way to check is to pull the rolls slightly out of the oven and gently nudge one. If it is slightly firm to the touch, it is done. If it still feels doughy, keep it cooking a little longer.
Let it cool. Doesnt’ that smell wonderful?

See? Bread isn’t that hard! It just takes practice. The more you practice, the easier it gets. Don’t be afraid, just try it!

If you have questions, need advice, have any tips/ recipes, or just want to chat, feel free to email or leave a comment!

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