Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Bread again!

Quick "French" bread
Our family likes bread. There's just something wonderful about pulling out a hot, steaming loaf from the oven and tearing into it, slathering it with butter, and enjoying it with those you love. The flavor, the scent, the look of fresh baked bread is so different from store bought!

I'm always on the look-out for a good bread recipe. I like to try different things, now that I've gotten over my fear of baking. While I do enjoy kneading on most days, sometimes I just want to have a quick loaf that is in and out. Usually, that means giving up the nice crumb or the fluffy interior, or it means making a quick bread that's more like cake than bread. This recipe is not like that, though!

This is not French bread as you might buy in the store. It's slightly more dense inside (though that could be because I didn't let it rise long enough), and the crust isn't quite as crunchy. Still, it's a wonderful white bread that could be adapted easily to any gluten free flour. I may even try making this with whole wheat flour sometime.

The second loaf
  • 2.5 cups warm water
  • 2 tbsp yeast
  • 3 tbsp sugar
  • 2 tbsp white vinegar
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • 1/3 cup oil
  • 6-7 cups flour

I used the MixMaster for this recipe, but it could easily be done by hand as well. Add together the water, yeast, sugar and vinegar, and mix gently. To get the water to the right temperature, run it over the inside of your wrist, until it's just a bit warmer than you are. Let the mixture sit until it gets bubbly, which takes about five minutes. It doesn't bubble like a normal sponge does, perhaps because of the vinegar, but you'll see the bubbles starting to form around the four to five minute mark.

Add in the salt and oil, and then start putting the flour in one cup at a time. I used Better for Bread flour, with a half cup of all purpose because I ran out of the other stuff. I used the paddle on the MixMaster for the first five cups of flour, but when it started to get really sticky and crawl up the paddle, I switched it out for the dough hook. I ended up adding a total of 7.5 cups of flour, which may have been because I was using the machine, or because it was a damp day, or perhaps I put in too much water and didn't notice.

The dough should be soft, but hold its form. Knead it  for a few minutes, about three minutes in the MixMaster and up to six or seven by hand. You'll know it's ready when it crawls up the dough hook and tries to escape the bowl, and when it is somewhat smooth and not overly sticky to the touch. Pour it out onto a floured counter top and knead for a few seconds. Form into a ball and leave on the counter for a moment.

Grease up a bowl (I just spray it with no-stick spray) and place the dough ball into it. Roll the top of it in the oil first, then flip it over so the seam side is down. Put the bowl into your oven, which should be off but have the light on. Boil some water and put it in a small bowl or pot and slide that in as well, to keep the dough moist.

Sliced this morning
The dough will rise several times, and you need to punch it down at least three times. Each time the dough reaches the top of the bowl it is in, punch it down and tuck it back into a ball. I found that, in my stove, each rise took about 20 minutes. I was pressed for time, and so did the punch down only four times. I recommend doing it at least five times. The more rises you do, the nicer your crumb will be in the end!

While the dough is rising for the last time, clean your counter top well, then grease it up with olive oil or spray. Pour the risen dough out onto the counter and divide it into two or three sections. I made two large loaves, and they didn't cook as well in the center as I had hoped. I suggest three smaller loaves for a more even cooking time. Form the loaves into the shape you want: torpedo shaped for a traditional rustic loaf; long and skinny for a French bread loaf, or place into a greased bread pan for a sandwich loaf.

Spray or grease your pan, and scatter a bit of corn meal on it. This helps keep the bread from sticking, and adds a nice texture to the crust, as well. Place your bread on the pan or sheet, then use a very sharp knife to make three to five diagonal slashes on the top of the bread. Coat the loaves with a beaten egg.

The loaves should rise on the counter for about 30 minutes (or until doubled). Alternatively you can put them into the oven at 170F and let them rise there until they've reached the size you want them to be. This was what I did, and they got a bit bigger than I'd intended. If you rise the dough on the counter, preheat the oven to 375F, and when they're ready, slip them in (your pot of water should still be in there). If you let them rise in the oven, as I did, simply turn it up to 375F once they're risen to the right size.

Bake for about 30 minutes, watching carefully from the 20 minute mark onward. They will turn a lovely golden brown, rise a bit more, and spread out a bit. The loaves are ready when you can turn them upside down in your hand (with a hot pad!) and tap on the crust and get a hollow sound. If it sounds thick then cook another five minutes.

Bread will continue to bake for 15 or more minutes after it comes out of the oven, so try not to tear into it until it has had a chance to sit. We couldn't resist, and the first loaf was cut into about three minutes after being removed from the oven. It was a bit soft in the center, though the flavor was exquisite. The second loaf, which I finally cut into this morning, had perfect crumb.

Soft and white
This produces a soft, white bread similar to what you get in a store bought bread. Of course, because you're making it yourself, it isn't quite as full of sugar, and it definitely doesn't have any High Fructose Corn Syrup in it. Nor does it have hydrogenated oils, preservatives, or other chemicals. It also won't keep nearly as long, both because you'll eat it too fast and because of that lack of preservatives. If you worry you won't eat it in time, slice it and freeze the slices. They can be pulled out and popped into the toaster for lovely fresh bread throughout the week!

The whole process of making this bread took me only three hours, start to finish. I was shocked at how easy it was! Using the MixMaster made it trivial, and it was by far the nicest, softest bread I've ever made. For my personal taste, I will probably replace the sugar with honey next time and see how it works. This recipe is readily adaptable to use with any flour, in my opinion!

I served it up with a home-made potato and sausage soup, and of course lots of butter. It was well received by everyone in the family!

Shared at the Old Fashioned Recipe Exchange 2/19!

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