For many years, bread making has been a form of therapy for me. When frustrated, depressed, lonely I'd knead some bread. It always proved cathartic.
As my teen years passed I discovered that my Kitchen Aid mixer also could knead my bread. Now, making bread is more about saving money ($5 for nice bread these days!), controlling the stuff I ingest, and making my house smell mm-mm good. I have other therapy tools- about which I won't go into here!
Bread making requires you to use your senses. Taste, touch, see- even hear! The more you bake and experiment with the following formula, the better your bread will become. I keep a small note book and when experimenting with the Basic Bread Recipe, I make a note of different things I do so that if I like the final result I know what I did right (or alternatively- wrong!)
Making bread. The only ingredients you need to make a nice loaf are:
Of course there are plenty of variations of the above ingredients. Do I mean soy or wheat or buckwheat flour? Kosher or table salt? Will any leavening agent do? Is that tap water or filtered water?
For our purposes in keeping this basic recipe simple, use:
- All purpose white flour (bleached or unbleached, organic or not, whatever suits you)
- Table salt (substitute kosher salt if you want, but add a little more)
- Quick-rise yeast (I buy it bulk at Save-On foods for very cheap)
- Luke warm tap water (body temperature... but if you're in doubt remember- HOT WATER KILLS YEAST- so err on the side of cool)
Now you have your ingredients, here's the formula I use (there are many variations of this- check out Artisan Breads in Five Minutes for other possibilities).
I remember it by: 6 / 2 = 3. Write it like this:
6 C- White Flour
1 T- Instant Yeast
1 t- Salt
3 C- Luke warm water
1. Mix your dry ingredients together, minus 2- 3 cups of flour.
2. Add water and mix.
3. Add remaining flour (you may use a little less or a little more than what you keep back- USE YOUR SENSES) until a soft dough forms. It shouldn't feel like playdoh. It should feel quite tacky.
4. Once dough forms, leave it in the bowl for 20 minutes and cover it, if you want.
5. Next you can do one of two things:
a. Shape bread, dinner rolls, cinnamon buns, pizza dough etc. Let rise about 40- 60ish minutes then pop it in the warmed (350 degree) oven for 25ish (buns) to 45ish (loaves) minutes. I rarely use bread pans. I usually shape dough into 2 round or oval loaves, score the top with a knife for a fancy artisan look, then bake it on a pizza stone with cornmeal to keep it stick-free.
b. Let it sit for up to 2 hours on the counter then put it in a container or bag in the fridge. It can stay in the fridge for up to 2 weeks. Simply rip off dough and cook it as you need it! When you take it out, shape the dough into preferred form then let it warm to room temperature before baking (about 20 min). Over time in the fridge the bread's flavours will become more complex (more like sourdough).
After you perfect this recipe, then the fun starts. Get creative. Add different flours, different liquids, add seeds, grains and cereals. Add sugar! Continue to use the 6 / 2= 3 formula but it becomes more like:
6 C- Solids (whole wheat, soy, rye, buckwheat, rice flour, cooked quinoa, cooked brown rice, oatmeal, Red river cereal, poppy seed, flax, millet, sunflower seed)
1 T- Instant Yeast
1 t- Salt
3 C- Liquids (lemon juice, milk, egg, oil, honey, molasses, soy milk)
- sweetener (brown or white sugar, stevia, sucralose)
- herbs (oregano, thyme, caraway seeds)
When I substitute, I keep some basic rules in mind.
1. Don't substitute more the 1/4 of the solids from basic wheat flour (whole wheat or white)
2. The more whole wheat and seeds you add, you will need to add more gluten. Try out Bob's Vital Wheat Gluten (available at most health food stores or in the organic section at the grocery store) to help your bread rise.
3. The more whole grains, wheat, seeds you add, you will need to add more water. Use your senses, but for every cup of whole wheat, add another 2 Tablespoons of water.
3. Rye, soy and buckwheat flours have no gluten so I usually use white flour with these (white flour has lots of gluten which helps your bread rise).
4. When using a lot of seeds, usually you will add more flour than the 6 Cups of solids.
4. Don't substitute more than 1/4 of the liquids from water or milk. For instance- when you add oil, egg, molasses, honey, make sure these total 3/4 C or less.
Of course you can defy all these basic rules and experiment as you wish. I have had only one loaf, of many many many, that I just couldn't eat. Fresh bread, whether soft and light or heavy and dark, has character and flavour that's always a delight. Never mind the added satisfaction you get from doing it yourself.
Happy experimenting! Let me know what additional tips you learn in the process.