I’ve been working on making my own bread for a few months now. And while I cannot say that I’ve been super successful (at least in my mind), I can say that I’ve made progress and I’ve certainly gotten a better feel for bread dough. I’ve tried lots and lots of recipes from lots and lots of places and no one in particular has been ‘the one’. Don’t get me wrong, they’re all great recipes, they just didn’t work especially well for me. Some tasted great but didn’t rise as well. Some were too dense, some were too sweet and so on. I think the most important lesson I have personally learned from bread baking so far is that no matter the recipe, you’re going to have to make adjustments. Whether it’s adding an extra 2 tablespoons of water or flour, or using a different sweetener or even adjusting the time and temperature for baking, you’ll have to do something. Each loaf of bread can vary in so many ways, you just have to make it, practice it and feel it. Then, you find what works for you, and repeat.
What works for me is usually less flour than the recipe calls for, by 1/4 to 1/2 cup. If I end up with a soft, slightly moist dough, I know I’m heading in the right direction. Once I’ve kneaded it with a bit more flour (a couple tablespoons), it’s perfect. What’s also worked for me is getting the right bread pan. I prefer a taller pullman style loaf as opposed to the standard sized pan. I’ve recently purchased this one (9x4x4) and have been really happy with it. Though you may opt for something different. There are lots of tips and tricks out there, so look around on the web until you find something that you’re comfortable with, then practice over and over again.
I decided to start making my own bread for two reasons, mainly. The first is that I wanted to know exactly what was in the bread I was eating. Since I eat toast almost everyday of the week this is important to me. Have you ever read the ingredient list on a loaf of bread you get at the grocery store? Woof! It’s got like 20 different ingredients in it and I don’t really know what many of them are. Most of them are to prolong the life of the bread. And thank you very much, but you can keep all of that stuff.
The second reason I started making my own bread is the cost. The bread that I was buying at the grocery store was about $4.00 per loaf. When you realize that you can make your own bread at home for about half that you start to consider making it at home. Or at least I did.
The recipe I have here is inspired by a recipe on Alexandra’s Kitchen. I have made this recipe several times in hopes of achieving a finished product like the one she pictures. And while the bread is always delicious, it never came out quite right. I’ve made some adjustments so that it works really well for me.
Oh, and before you decide that you just don’t have time to make bread, you do. It takes a little planning, but you definitely do. I’ll even break it down for you.
- 1 cup oats
- 1 1/2 cups boiling water
- 6 tbsp. turbinado sugar
- 1 tbsp. earth balance butter
- 2 tsp. yeast
- 1/4 c. warm water + 1/4 cup tap water
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1 cup white whole wheat flour (set aside 2 tbsp. of this)
- 1 cup bread flour
- 1.5 tsp. salt
This step takes about 10-15 minutes (includes time to boil water):
In a medium sized bowl combine sugar, oats and boiling water. Stir well. Add butter and stir to melt and combine. Set aside to cool.
Now you can go and do something else for about 30 minutes.
Once the oatmeal mixture has cooled, sprinkle the yeast over top of the 1/4 cup warm water and let sit for about 5 minutes while you measure out the remaining ingredients.
In a large bowl OR the bowl of a food processor fitted with the dough blade, measure out the flours and the salt. Give the yeast and water mixture a quick stir, then combine it with the oatmeal mixture and stir well.
Add the liquid ingredients to the flour and stir until combined.
*This is the step that is crucial for me. At this point, I’ve always got extra flour, still dry, in the bottom of the bowl. So, using the extra 1/4 cup of liquid, gradually add liquid to the dough while kneading (in the bowl) until you achieve a soft, slightly moist ball of dough that has pulled from the sides of the bowl. Then sprinkle lightly with some of the flour that you set aside. Gently knead it until it is no longer sticky.
Gently shape this into a ball and leave in the bottom of the bowl you used to mix it (if you used a food processor, transfer to a large bowl). Spray it with non-stick cooking spray being sure to coat the entire ball of dough. Cover this with plastic wrap and place in a warm window sill for 1-2 hours or until the dough has doubled in size. You can even leave until it’s tripled in size, it’ll be fine.
At this point, you can go and do something else for about 1 1/2 hours.
Once the dough has double in size, punch it down. Gently form it into a loaf size that will fit into your bread pan. Using your knuckles push the dough into all of the corners of the pan until the dough is evenly distributed. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise for another 30 minutes or so or until the dough has risen just above the top of the loaf pan.
Another 30 minutes here to do something. Or, just relax.
Preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Bake the bread dough for 10 minutes, then lower the heat to 350 degrees and bake for another 40 minutes. You may be tempted to take it out earlier, but let it bake.
Remove the bread from the oven, and from the pan, carefully. Place it on a cooling rack and let cool for 1 hour. If you don’t have a cooling rack, take the rack out of your toaster oven or set the loaf on top of your stove top grates. The point is to let the air circulate all the way around it so that it cools evenly.
That’s it. All done. Go see a movie or visit the farmers market.
Enjoy plain, toasted or any other way you might enjoy a loaf of bread from the grocery store. It’ll last about a week in a large ziplock bag. But it’s so delicious that I doubt it will last that long.