BAKING BREAD IS a richly rewarding art that satisfies our senses and gives us more control over our lives. The touch of kneading the dough, and the smell, sight and taste of the finished loaves combine to make bread baking a rewarding endeavor.
I would like to share with you my basic white bread recipe. If you have never baked bread, read the method first and you will learn that baking bread is not a mystery, but a well-paced, logical process BASIC WHITE BREAD 1 package dry yeast 1/4 cup warm (75 degrees) water 2 tablespoons sugar 1 cup boiling water 1 cup milk 2 teaspoons salt 1 1/2 tablespoons margarine 1 1/2 tablespoons cooking oil 6 cups unbleached flour
Empty the dry yeast from the package into a little bowl. Add the 1/4 cup warm water and a little pinch of sugar from the two tablespoons. Stir it around so that the yeast dissolves. If the yeast is viable, it will begin to grow and soon you will have a nice, frothy growth of yeast in your bowl. What is happening is that the yeast is feeding on the sugar. If you put your ear close to it, you can hear it growing (children are always amazed by this marvelous sound of growth). If the yeast is not viable, then, of course, the bread will not rise. So, you see, it is important to test the yeast, and your time, effort and ingredients will not be wasted.
While the yeast is growing in its bowl, put the boiling water, milk, sugar, salt, margarine and oil into a large bowl. When the margarine melts, and your little finger isn't offended by heat, stir in the yeast liquid and mix well. It is very important not to add the yeast if your liquid is too hot for your little finger, because heat kills yeast. If the yeast is killed, the bread will not rise.
Add the flour to the well-stirred mixture. With your sturdy wooden spoon, stir the flour-liquid mixture. If it is terribly sticky, add a little more flour. Add enough flour so that the dough can be shaped in the bowl into a ball with the spoon. Sprinkle your counter or board with flour.
The next step is kneading. If you have a cat, perhaps you have seen it "knead" your best sweater of afghan. The action is the same. Place the dough on the floured surface and pat it with flour. With the heel of your hands, push against the dough, bring the dough back with your fingers, push with the heels of your hands, pull back with your fingers. Continue to do this rhythmically while turning the dough for about eight minutes. Don't attack the dough. Be firm and gentle.
I think the most understandable worry of novice bakers is how to tell when there is enough flour kneaded into the dough. You have kneaded enough flour into the dough if you can lightly place the palm of your hand in the dough for 20 seconds and your hand does not stick.
Scrape down the sides of the bowl, making certain there are no little, dried squiggly pieces of dough. No one wants to find them in their perfect loaf of bread. Place a half teaspoon oil in the bowl. Form the dough into a ball and place it into the bowl, turning it over so that it is well-oiled. This will keep the surface from drying out.
Yeast produces gases which are essential to the rising, flavor and aroma of bread. Therefore, it is important to cover the bowl well. Use plastic wrap, or a plastic bag and then a towel. Yeast is sensitive to drafts and it likes an oven temperature to grow in. Place the bowl on a pan of warm water and tuck the towel around it to blanket in the warmth. Or, place the covered bowl in the oven with a pan of hot water. Or, if it is hot out, let the covered bowl sit on the counter. Yeast grows best between 75 and 85 degrees.
After about an hour and a half, the dough will have doubled in bulk. Punch down and slap the dough to remove, by force, all the gas the yeast has produced. Divide the dough into two equal parts. Butter your bread pans. Knead the dough into shape so that they fit into 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch bread pans. A very attractive and distinctive bread shape is to form four equal-sized balls of dough, placing two in each pan. Let rise until doubled and bake 35-40 minutes at 400 degrees. When the bread is baked, it will slip easily from the pans and the sides and bottoms of the loaves will be pleasantly browned. Always remove the bread from the pans immediately and cool on a wire rack on its side.
Remember to heat the oven to 400 degrees before the bread has doubled in size. The initial heat forces the gas to expand very quickly and pushes the bread up and, unfortuneately, frequently over the sides of the pan. This makes a very unattractive loaf of bread and is considered a great no-no. If the oven is ready for the bread, the bread will rise from the heat -- at which point the heat kills off the yeast and no further rising will take place. wThis balance is what gives the perfectly risen and shaped loaf.