How To Bake Bread
This is a milk bread. You can make this bread without the milk, but you must have the salt to leaven the bread. I highly recommend these two books on bread. _Lauren's Bread Book_ and _James Beard on Bread_
In a small bowl (finger bowl or smaller) pour warm water (about 1/4 cup is plenty.) This is very very important. The water needs to be just warm to the fingertips and not too hot or theyeast will be killed. If the water is too cold, the yeast won't proof. Proofing is when the yeast foams up. You will also need to add the sugar to this mixture and stir very gently. Set it aside for now.
Mix the ingredients
Heat milk until just below boiling point. This is called scalding. Dump milk into bowl (needs to be a sizeable bowl without being too large....I like metal or ceramic bowls for this). Plop the butter in to the milk and let it melt down. Add honey to the milk and butter mixture. I also add my salt at this point.
Feel the bottom of your bowl. It should be fairly warm so go gently! Remember that too much heat kills the yeast.
To get it to a more reasonable temperature, dump in 2 cups of flour. Stir this (I always use a wooden spoon) until it is well mixed. Feel the bowl again. Should be just warm. Iwill also stick my finger into the goopy mess to see how hotit is. When it is warm and not hot, then add the yeast mixture.
Stir gently. Add another cup or so of flour. At this point you will start seeing the dough get stretchy when you pull the spoon through. This is showing you that the gluten is working. (I am not exactly sure what gluten is [well that was in '98. I'm a bit more familiar with gluten now. lol], but if you are not getting the stretchy dough...add a touch more flour). Stir it all in. Add the last of your flour minus 1/2 cup or so. Stir until it is mixed in or your arm hurts! :-)
At this point turn the dough out onto your clean, floured counter or board. I just use my countertop....no need for those expensive bread boards! The dough will be in a round mass before you.
Look at the dough as if it were a clock. Reach to the 12 o'clock position and pull it over to the 6 o'clock position and gently press it into itself with the heels of your hands. If you are familiar with CPR, the position of your hands is similar. One hand over the other. Turn the dough so that 9 o'clock is now 12 o'clock and repeat. Continue this kneading until the dough feels springy. At that point press two fingers *lightly* into the center of the dough. Does the dough stay down? Knead a bit more. Does the dough spring back almost immediately? Pat yourself on the back for a well-done job of kneading! :-)
NOTE** You will probably need to add some more flour during this first kneading when the dough starts getting really sticky. Just add half a handful and coat your hands with flour.
This is the point called resting the dough. Leave your dough on your counter. Cover it with a kitchen towel. Wash your bowl out with soap and water and dry thoroughly. Take a bit of butter and smear it heavily in the bowl.
Now put your dough in the bowl and turn in over so that it is coated with the butter. You can smear a little more on the dough if your hands are real buttery.
Put a towel over the dough and put the bowl in a warm, non-drafty spot. If you have a gas oven, pop it in there. The pilot light will do just fine. If you have an electric oven like me (eww, I despise electric stoves!), then turn it to Warm for a few minutes while the bowl is getting washed. Turn it off and pop the bowl in. You don't want the bread to rise too swiftly!
This step will take anywhere from 35 min. to 1 hr or so. Check the dough visually and see if it has doubled in bulk. If it is too warm, it will fall over. Don't worry....it is not a horrible error! The joy of bread baking is that almost everything is fixable.
When you have decided that the bread has risen, start a religion. No wait! That isn't right! Press two fingers into the center. If it gives with a slight sigh and stays depressed, call a therapist. Ok...I will be serious for a few sentences! If it stays depressed, make a fist and punch it down. This is one of the fun parts!
Kneading Time Again
Cut your dough into two equal halves. Let them rest while you coat your loaf pans with butter....sides and bottom.
Now to shape your loaves. Flatten one piece out to about the length of the loaf pan. Spread it out so that it is wide side to side. Now, fold the far edge one third into the middle. And again, turn to the edge. You have now effectively rolled your dough. Tuck the ends up and into the seam and press them down gently. They may not stay very well so you may have to be a bit firmer with them.
This is a hard thing to describe. It is a great deal like folding a towel into thirds. Only you need to press at each fold! Repeat this with the other half and place each loaf into its own pan.
Rising Time Again?
Cover the loaf pans with a towel. When the dough has doubled (this will bring the dough up and past the pan edge), take a serrated edge knife and slash the tops ...either down the center or make three swipes across the top.
Cooking at last!
Pop them out of their pans and let them cool on a wire baking rack. If you brush them with butter at this point, the crust will stay a little chewier than crusty, crunchy. I should mention that I hate really crusty bread! grin.
**TIP** If you like crusty, try putting a metal bowl with water in the oven while you bake it. The steam will make it crustier.
Wash your loaves with an eggwhite and water mixture before baking to get a nice shiny loaf.
Add less honey and a bit of your favorite dried herb for a yummy herbed loaf to go with that plate of spaghetti!
**Here Ends The Bread Baking Lesson**
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