What’s the greatest thing since sliced bread? A fresh, deliciously tempting, preservative-free slice of bread that you made with a few simple ingredients and your bare hands. Yes, I realize that convenience-wise, it’s a step backwards from pre-manufactured sliced bread. But for an unemployed person with not a lot of dough (the non-edible kind), bread making is a super thrifty, healthy and delicious use of your time.
Just read the ingredients of pre-sliced bread. There’s like, a thousand, and you’ve probably only heard of a couple of them. That’s probably not good for your insides.
Bread making is quite simple. The only thing that you really, truly need is lots of free time. Well, you also need yeast and flour and all that actual ingredient stuff. But the time issue is the problem that prevents most people from embarking on a bread making journey. You will need approximately three to three and a half hours of free time to do the entire bread-making process right. Don’t freak out – it’s not really a labor intensive process. In fact, the busiest you’ll be at any time is the 8 to 10 minutes you’ll spend kneading the bread. The bulk of that three-hour chunk of time is spent waiting for dough to rise. I find these hour-long intervals perfect for watching an old episode of Freaks and Geeks or Buffy the Vampire Slayer (and, let’s face it, if I hadn’t decided to make bread that afternoon, I’d probably be sitting around watching one of those shows anyway.)
To make your own bread:
Suggested beverage: Beer (Bread’s second cousin, sharing the common ingredient of yeast. It’s only appropriate)
Suggested Pandora radio station: Dolly Parton (Something about old-timey country just seems like perfect bread-baking ambiance. Maybe it’s due to the awesome flour-covered apron I wear.)
Clear off some space on the counter or kitchen table. Put down a cutting board or pastry mat to cover with flour. Get out the necessary equipment and ingredients – a couple of mixing bowls, measuring cups and spoons, stirring spoons, a clean dish towel, and a loaf pan, baking sheet, or baking stone to cook the bread on.
For my first bread-making experience, I used this recipe I found at The Simple Dollar. It was very helpful and easy to follow, complete with pictures. I want to give credit where credit is due, so don’t run around talking about Sarah’s awesome bread recipe. It’s actually by a guy named Trent. So, thanks Trent!
(Almost all conveniently found in the baking aisle of your local grocery store!)
1/4 cup milk
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons of butter
1 package of dry yeast
2 1/2 to 3 1/2 cups of unbleached white flour
Step 1: Prepare yeast
Follow the directions on the yeast packet. Then, add milk, melted butter, sugar and salt.
Step 2: Stir in the flour
Do this slowly. And by slowly, I mean a little bit at a time – not kaboom, all in at once like I did. Still turned out ok, so don’t worry if you pour the flour in a wee bit too fast. Make sure you have enough flour for later (trust me, you’ll need it. And knead it. Ha!). According to The Simple Dollar, the dough should be slightly sticky, but not too sticky. I found this to be true even though I did mine wrong. Stop pouring in dough if you feel it’s not in this semi-sticky zone anymore.
Step 3: Kneading time!
Kneading was by far the most fun part of bread making. If the thought of kneading makes you nervous, check out YouTube for tutorials to see how exactly it’s done. I recommend a counter space with a large stable cutting board covered with flour. Don’t copy my brilliant idea and put down wax paper to try and capture the excess flour – the dough just sticks to the paper. Trust me.
Before you start kneading, run over to the oven, set it to the lowest temperature, and head back to your dough. You’ll thank me later.
Now, put some flour on your hands, and smush the ball of semi-sticky dough down and away from you until it’s flat, then fold it back up, make a nice ball, and repeat. Nothing but good old fashioned smashy fun for about 10 minutes. It’s very satisfying.
Step 4: Rise and Shine
When the oven reaches the low temperature you set it to, turn off the oven and hold open the door for about 30 seconds. Now it’s the perfect temperature setting for your dough so it rises to the best of its ability. Plop the dough ball in a mixing bowl, cover it with that clean dish towel I made you get before you got started, and go switch on Buffy for about an hour.
Why are we letting this delicious-looking dough sit for an hour? Well, the yeast – that packet of tiny organisms you dumped into the mixture at the beginning – is converting sugars into carbon dioxide, which traps gas in the bread and should make it double in size during this process.
Step 5: Punch and Roll
This step is exactly what it sounds like. Take the bread out of its warming place, punch it flat, and roll it up until it looks like a loaf of bread. Or, I suppose you could make it another shape. It’s all bread. Grease the bread pan, or place on a baking stone, cover with a towel and pop back in the oven for another good hour. Hey, that last episode of Buffy was half of a two-parter…
Step 6: Finally Cookin’
After an hour, take the bread out of the oven, remove the towel, and heat the oven to about 350 degrees. The Simple Dollar recipe recommends cooking the bread at 400 degrees for 30 minutes, but my bread nearly burnt after about 15 minutes in the 400 degree oven. So, I’d recommend a lower cooking temperature, and definitely keep a watchful eye on it for the next 20 or 30 minutes. When it’s golden brown, it’s done!
Step 7: Nom, nom, nom
Let your beautiful bread creation cool off for a fair amount of time, then dig in and enjoy the fruits of your labor! I’d show you a picture of my first attempt…but I already ate it all. But I can show you my apron!