First, let's review the basic recipe for one loaf of "plain" white bread -
3 c all-purpose flour 1 pkg yeast 1 1/4 c liquid (water or milk...milk recommended) 1 egg (optional but recommended) An egg can be added for extra flavor and nutrition; it softens the crust and gives the interior a finer crumb. 1 teaspoon salt (optional but recommended) 1 tablespoon sugar (optional but recommended)
Mix about three minutes until dough does not stick to floured fingers. Knead for no less than 10 minutes; cover with towel and let it rise in a warm (75 - 80 F) place for about an hour, or until it has about doubled in size; punch it down; let it rest about 15 minutes; place in greased bread pan; cover; let it rise about another hour; bake at 400 degrees for 25 to 30 minutes or until it sounds "hollow" when thumped; remove from pan; let cool.
To make 2 loaves, simply double everything Except the yeast.
Now, for a couple of variations on a theme:
Rye bread - instead of 3 cups of all-purpose flour, use 2 cups of all- purpose and 1 cup of rye flour (available at a health food store)...add 2 tablespoons of caraway seed to the dough...use buttermilk instead of plain milk or water...add 1/3 cup of light molasses to the dough...omit the sugar...the egg is still optional...instead of baking in a bread pan, shape into a round ball and bake on a lightly greased cookie sheet. Reduce the baking temperature to 350 degrees...baking time may be 5 - 10 minutes longer...(One loaf).
Whole wheat bread - increase sugar to 1 1/2 tablespoons...use 1 1/2 cups of all-purpose flour and 2 cups of whole-wheat flour...use milk instead of water...add 1/4 cup of butter or margarine...add 1/2 cup molasses...the egg is still optional. The method is the same except the baking time may be 5 - 10 minutes longer.
For the above two variations, do Not be tempted to use All rye flour or All whole-wheat flour. Those flours do not have enough gluten in them for proper rising action, so you Must use some all-purpose flour, otherwise your finished product will be very heavy and close textured.
For high-altitude baking (above 5, 000 feet), use 1/2 the yeast. Yeast dough rises faster at high altitudes.
A "perfect" loaf of bread should:
o Have a well-browned, evenly rounded top o Have a soft and moist interior, easily pulled apart o Have a uniform color o Have an even texture - holes are small and uniform in size from top to bottom
To keep bread fresh, wrap each cooled loaf in foil or plastic wrap, or seal in a plastic bag; store in a cool, dry cupboard or bread box. Bread may be stored in the refrigerator but it goes stale more quickly.
Bread keeps in the freezer for up to 3 months if tightly wrapped in foil, heavy-duty plastic wrap, or freezer wrap, or sealed in plastic bags. Always make sure to press out as much air as possible.
Well, that's about it, li'l buckaroos. Don't be afraid to experiment ~ Add raisins, nuts, cheese, finely diced and lightly sauteed onions, or anything else you can think of to the dough. Add green food coloring for St. Patrick's day! Add a squid or two...play around with using different liquids...a friend of mine recently told me she was baking a cake and ran out of milk, so she substituted baby formula...said it was the best cake she'd ever made! Play around with different shapes...knots, pinwheels, crescents, rolls, etc. Use your imagination! Make a heart-shaped loaf of bread for Valentine's day or a birthday! Tell us about your successes, give your not-so-valiant.
Bread from scratch - lesson four