I don’t remember my first homemade loaf of bread. I’m sure it was terrible – tough, underproofed and dense. But you have to start somewhere, right? The thing is, despite multiple failures, I kept trying and eventually ended up with something that was not only edible but way better than anything you can buy at the store. So many people are afraid of breadmaking, but I want to change that perception. So come on, we’ll do this together.
Bread is one of the oldest foods on the planet, and archaeologists have found traces of pounded grain on rocks that date back 30,000 years. Risen breads probably developed accidentally, when natural yeast particles floating in the air settled into resting bowls of dough. From tortillas to naan, injera to challah, bread comes in an unimaginable variety of shapes, sizes and flavors. Without bread, we probably wouldn’t even be where we are today, as its creation led to the transition from foraging to farming lifestyles. Bread continues to be a staple food in most of the Western world.
These days, most people don’t feel the need to make their own bread anymore. We don’t use the expression, “It’s the greatest thing since sliced bread” for nothing. It’s convenient to just buy some at the store, and besides, yeast is scary, right? No way! I mean, it’s a little weird that it’s alive, but once you get past that, there’s nothing to be afraid of. With a little bit of nurturing, yeast will be your bread-baking ally.
This is the most basic recipe I can think of. Get this down, and you will have the base for everything from cinnamon rolls to delicious homemade pizza.
1 packet active dry yeast about 2 ¼ tsp
1 tablespoon sugar
2 ¼ cups warm water
6-7 cups white flour
1 tablespoon salt
Stir together the sugar and yeast. Warm up your water. Warm means you can touch it and it doesn’t hurt you, but it is more than room temperature. If your water is too hot, the yeast will die. Dump in the yeast mixture and let it sit for ten minutes until it’s foamy. Watching this process is one of my favorite things ever.
Measure the flour into a large bowl. Dump in the yeast mixture and stir until the dough starts to clump together and pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead until it’s smooth and elastic, adding more flour if necessary. Knead in the salt.
Oil a clean bowl, and put your ball of dough inside. Cover with a damp cloth and let it rise for an hour, or until doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 425 F, and shape the dough into two ovals. If you want a crackly crust, spray the dough with water. Bake in bread pans for 30 minutes or until the loaves sound hollow when you tap on them. To enjoy your bread to the fullest, I recommend tearing into it like a savage beast, slathering a chunk with butter and eating it while it’s still burning your fingers.
Have you ever made bread? How did it turn out for you? Send me an e-mail – I’d love to hear about your results.