Freshly baked bread. How divine simple food can be.
The emotional satisfaction that accompanies opening the oven door to warm yeasty smells of freshly baked bread is kind of like being greeted by an old friend. It makes life better, and never fails to lift spirits.
Bread at the most basic level is made of just four ingredients: flour, salt, yeast, and water. Obviously, there are limitless possibilities beyond that point….and you can make “quick breads” without any yeast at all (quick breads rely instead on a fast acting leavening agent like baking powder or baking soda).
The first rise takes place right after the dough has been mixed, and usually takes an hour at least (depending on temperature, what’s in the dough, etc.). You are basically looking for the dough to double in size. After it has doubled, you will need to push out the excess air in the dough (some recipes call this “punching down” the dough), and shape the dough however you please (baguette, loaf, rolls…). After the dough has been formed, it will need to rise once again to double its size before baking.
As I mentioned, there are endless variations when it comes to bread. Some recipes call for adding a bit of sweetener in the form of sugar, honey, molasses, etc. All of these will contribute to sweeter, faster-browning and tender bread. Butter, oil yogurt, buttermilk or eggs also make for a softer, richer loaf. For example, think about the difference in texture between a lean French baguette (no sweetener or fat added) versus a rich loaf of Brioche (which is typically relies upon sugar as a sweetener and contains both butter and eggs).
Also, bread doesn’t have to stop (or start for that matter) at wheat flour. You can play with dry ingredient ratios, perhaps using whole-wheat flour, rye flour, potato flour or even some cornmeal. Seeds, nuts, herbs, spices and citrus zest are also wonderful additions. I’m sure you’ve gotten the point by now…you can put pretty much anything into a loaf of bread.
The wonderful aroma of baking bread will stop you in your tracks, make you take a deep breath in, and encourage you to appreciate one of life’s simple pleasures.
We bake fresh bread at Facebook four days a week, and I still take a pause every single time I take it out of the oven. No matter how crazy the day, it is therapeutic.
Julia Childs’ White Bread Recipe
Yield: 2 Loaves
This has become my “go-to” white bread recipe. It is the perfect companion to a bowl of soup or plate of pasta, and makes the most perfect peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. You can use this recipe a starting point for creating your own bread variations.
2 1/2 cups water (105-115 F)
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
1 tablespoon sugar
7 cups bread flour or all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
1/4-1/2 cup unsalted butter, softened
1. Pour 1/2 cup of the water into a bowl and mix with yeast and sugar
2. Let sit for 5 minutes until creamy.
3. Put the yeast mixture, rest of the water and 3 1/2 cups of the flour into the mixer with the dough hook.
4. Mix slowly until blended, then add the rest of the flour.
5. Increase speed and scrape down the sides until the dough comes together (if the dough doesn’t come together, add a tbsp of flour at a time until it does.)
6. Add salt and mix at medium speed for 10 minutes until dough is smooth and elastic.
7. Add butter 1 tbsp at a time (dough may come apart, but mixing will pull it back together).
8. Turn dough out on lightly floured surface and shape it into a ball, then place in a large buttered or oiled bowl.
9. Turn dough so it is completely coated in the fat, then cover in plastic for 45 minutes to an hour, until it has doubled in size at room temperature.
10. Butter 2 loaf pans.
11. Deflate the dough, cut in half and turn out onto a lightly floured surface.
12. Roll out into a 9 x 12-inch rectangle.
13. With the short end facing you, fold the dough into thirds like a sheet of paper to go into an envelope, creating a roll.
14. Pinch the seam closed, and pinch the ends enough so it will fit in the loaf pan.
15. Drop in the loaf pan seem side down, and repeat.
16. Cover the loaves with buttered plastic wrap and allow to rise again (ideally in a warm place) for 45 minutes, until they double in size.
17. Preheat the oven to 375°F and put the rack in the center of the oven.
18. Bake for 35-45 minutes until they are honey brown.
19. Immediately turn out of pans onto a rack to cool.
20. Once almost completely cool, they can be cut.