Tuesday, March 24, 2009
Bake Your Own Bread!
I bake all the bread for our family. Mom started teaching me to bake when I was about 9. She was expecting my youngest brother and could not stand for any amount of time. Since then, I have been learning and experimenting, and I love to bake bread. This recipe is a family staple. Mom developed it years ago and I bake a batch at least once a week.
Baking your own bread is a rewarding experience. First of all, you know exactly what is going into every loaf you eat. No preservatives, additives, or ingredients with long unpronounceable names! Homemade bread also saves you money. The last time I calculated the cost of this recipe, it was about sixty cents a loaf. Now you can buy a loaf of cheap all white flour gumminess (is that a word?!) for a small price, but if you're looking for a loaf of really good bread, you can expect to pay at least a few dollars! I think homemade bread supercedes even the very best bakery bread.
This recipe makes 4 loaves. For smaller families, it is easily halved. The bread also freezes well. Put it in a plastic bag or wrap tightly with plastic wrap, and store in the freezer for up to several weeks. Remember that homemade bread does not have any preservatives, so it does not have a long shelf life. It will mold in just two days in warm weather, so it definitely needs to be frozen. You could even freeze half a loaf.
I prefer to knead by hand, but if you have a heavy duty mixer, like a Bosch or Kitchen Aid, feel free to use it. I have found that it is easy to add too much flour when I use my Bosch, so be careful. This dough needs to stay relatively wet.
Whole Wheat Oatmeal Bread
3 cups quick cooking oats
9 1/2 cups whole wheat flour, divided
1 cup unpacked brown sugar
3 tablespoons salt
6 tablespoons oil
6 cups boiling water
4 cups white flour
3 tablespoons instant yeast
1 1/2 cup water
In a large bowl, combine the oats, 1 1/2 cup whole wheat flour, brown sugar, salt, and oil.
Pour boiling water over. Mix very well.
Let sit, stirring occasionally, until oatmeal mixture has cooled to lukewarm. (about 105 degrees) This will take 1 to 2 hours, depending on the temperature.
Mix in 1 1/2 cups the water. Add 8 cups whole wheat flour, all of the white flour and the yeast. Mix until the dough is so stiff you can not stir any more.
You may add more white flour if needed. Turn dough out onto floured counter.
Mix by hand until a cohesive ball of dough forms. This will take about a minute.
Knead for 10 minutes, using additional white flour if necessary. The dough will be very sticky, but try to use as little flour as possible.
Adding too much flour makes dry coarse bread. Use a dough scraper (I just use a plastic putty knife!) to scrape up the dough from the counter and your hands as you knead. Don't worry about the dough sticking to everything.
When the dough feels stretchy, you know it is kneaded enough.
Put dough back in mixing bowl, cover, and put in a warm place to rise.
The dough should double in size and look fluffy. This will take about an hour. The temperature of your house and the humidity levels affect rising times, so you must learn to rely on your assesment rather than a timer. The dough is fully risen when a finger pressed into the surface of the dough leaves an indention.
When the dough is risen, punch down gently, and cut into four equal parts. Grease four 9" by 5" bread pans. To make loaves, pat or roll one part of dough into a rectangle about as wide as your bread pan and a little longer.
Roll up the dough, starting at the narrower end.
Tuck the ends under, and pinch seams to seal. Place seam side down in greased pans.
Cover loaves and let rise until they are crowning over the edge of the pan. This will take from 30 minutes to an hour.
At the end of rising time, preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake the loaves for 45 minutes. Remove from oven and turn out of pan onto a cooling rack.
Brush the top crust with a little butter if you like. I don't usually do this, but it is a nice touch, and a good way to cover up a loaf that was slightly over baked. Let bread cool completely before storing. If you must cut the bread before it has cooled, remember that the texture will be slightly gummy, and the center of the loaf may sink a bit. The crumb continues to develop as the bread cools. Sometimes I decide it is worth it, though, because warm bread is so good!
Another bread that is so easy to bake is French Bread. We make this a lot to go with spaghetti or casseroles. It is really good spread with butter, sprinkled with garlic and toasted in the oven. And french toast is always a favorite at our house!
2 1/2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons sugar
2 tablespoons oil
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons instant yeast
6 cups white flour (you can substitute whole wheat flour for part if you prefer)
In a medium size mixing bowl, combine water, sugar, oil, and salt. Add flour and yeast. Mix well.
Turn out and knead 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place dough on bowl and let rise until doubled.
Divide dough in half. On floured surface, roll each half to a 12" by 15" rectangle. Roll up, starting with the 15" edge.Place loaves on greased cookie sheets. Let rise until doubled. keep and eye on them. They usually rise really fast at this point.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Using a very sharp knife or a razor blade, make several diagonal slashes across the tops of the loaves. Mix 1 beaten egg and 2 tablespoons milk and brush on the loaves. Sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds.
Bake about 20 minutes. Bread should be lightly browned. Remove from pans to cool on a rack.