Bread-baking is Becoming a Lost Art
Keep the Dough in Your Kitchen
Reading Time: 7 minutes
By Jill Cooper
We get so many questions about how to make homemade bread, so I thought I would try to answer just a few of them today. Don’t let all this information make it seem too involved and scare you away from making bread. Once you get used to it, it really isn’t a whole lot harder than baking a cake. Just read the information and then follow the recipe step by step.
I once read a book by an older woman on how to bake a pie. She said bake one every day for two weeks and at the end of that time you will know how to bake a pie. That rule applies for many things, including bread baking. Things may seem a little awkward or difficult at first, but after you have made it 14 times you will have learned what not to do and will get comfortable with it. There really was a lot of wisdom in what that older woman said.
Before I share the recipe, here are some useful tips on baking bread:
• Unless the recipe states otherwise in the recipe, heat about 1/4-1/2 cup of the water to 120-130° or until it is hot when you put your finger in it but not so hot to burn. It can’t be too hot or too cold. This is one of the most important parts of making the bread. With practice and time, you will start being able to tell when you have the correct temperature.
When the water is hot enough, add part of the sugar (about 2 tablespoons) to the water and then the yeast. You add sugar because yeast feeds on sugar. This process is called proofing. The yeast should start foaming, which tells you it’s good and also that you haven’t gotten the water too hot. If nothing happens, your yeast is dead for one reason or another so you need to get some new yeast or try it again with a different water temperature.
It is also good to do this because proofing the yeast gives the bread a better start. So you don’t get confused, there are some recipes where you add the yeast with the flour and other ingredients and can’t proof. That’s okay because those recipes make up for it by calling for you to mix the ingredients with a mixer.
• You don’t always have to use as much yeast as the recipe calls for. For example, my original bread recipe called for 2 packages of yeast and it made 2 loaves. I have used just one package for years and it works fine. Grandma’s original recipe was doubled and made 4 loaves but still only used 1 package of yeast.
If a recipe calls for 2 packages of yeast and it makes 2 loaves of regular bread, you can usually just use 1 package to save a little. If you plan on making bread on a regular basis, you might want to buy yeast in bulk or in the jars because it is much less expensive.
• When you can, add 1/2-1 cup of mashed potatoes to your bread recipe or, in place of regular water, use water you have used to cook your potatoes. Yeast loves potatoes and the more it eats, the bigger it grows, making the bread lighter and fluffier.
• Never add salt with your yeast and water because the salt will kill it.
• Have all ingredients at room temperature. Don’t forget to take the eggs out and let them warm up.
• If the recipe says to add enough flour to make a stiff dough, just add the flour until it is slightly sticky, taking that last 1/2 cup or so of flour and putting it on your kneading surface. Then knead the last of the flour into the bread. If you get too much flour in the recipe, it makes the bread tough. Beginners sometimes put in all the flour that the recipe calls for and then add more flour on the board to knead, it causing the dough to get too stiff.
• You can’t knead bread too much. Knead until it is very smooth and elastic, usually about 10-15 minutes. I know that is a long time. That is why I don’t make bread as often since I have had CFS. I made my best bread on the days my husband would come into the kitchen, spy my dough and start pounding on it. He had more strength than I and always did a better job of kneading.
• I always roll my dough into a 14 x 9 rectangle then roll it jelly roll style and put it in the pan. This helps to get rid of any large air bubbles you might have in the dough that can leave large pockets and holes in your bread.
• I have tried many methods to raise bread, from putting it in a covered bowl on the stove to putting it in the car on a warm day. What I found works best for me is to heat my oven on the lowest temperature while I am mixing my dough. After about 5 minutes of heating, I turn the oven off, turn my oven light on and place the dough in my oven (not covering). It works great every time. The heat from the light seems to give it the right amount of warmth.
I also do this when I put the bread in the pans to rise. I place the dough in the oven to rise using the method I described above (reheating the oven and turning it off). Then, when it is almost double in size, I leave it where it is and turn the oven on to the temperature that the bread is supposed to bake and bake it.
• Most recipes say to let bread double in size and, to see if it is ready, press your finger into it. If the dent stays, it is ready. After you have made several loaves, you can pretty much tell when it is ready. When I use the method for raising dough I describe above, I skip this test because my bread finishes rising the last little bit while the oven is preheating.
• Most bread doughs can be frozen. Mix and knead. Shape into loaves, mini loaves or rolls, not letting it rise. Wrap very well and freeze. When you want to use it, thaw and let it rise. It will keep in the freezer about 4 weeks, but after that the yeast starts going bad.
When you freeze or store home-baked breads, be sure to wrap them well. Bread can lose its moisture. If you don’t think you will use it quickly, freeze part of the already baked bread, because it can dry out and get moldy faster than store bought bread. This is the reason our great-grandmothers came up with recipes like bread pudding and French toast.
• If your bread isn’t quite done but is getting too brown, you can tent with foil. To test whether or not it is done, thump it with your fingers and it should sound hollow.
Here’s my favorite bread recipe. It is a cinnamon bread but when I want to make regular bread, I just make it into loaves without spreading the cinnamon and sugar on it. This makes 2 loaves of bread.
Jill’s Homemade Bread
6-1/2 to 7 cups unsifted flour (or half wheat and half white flour)
6 tablespoons sugar
1-1/2 teaspoons salt
1 pkg. yeast
1 cup milk
3/4 cup water
1/3 cup margarine
3 eggs (room temperature)
Filling for cinnamon bread:
1/2 cup sugar
2 teaspoons cinnamon
Mix 2 cups flour with sugar, salt, and yeast. Put the milk, water, and margarine in a large mixing cup and heat in the microwave to 120° or until it feels really hot when you put your finger in it. (The margarine doesn’t need to be melted.) Gradually add to the dry ingredients. Add the eggs and 1/2 cup more of flour. Stir in enough additional flour to make a stiff dough. Turn onto a lightly floured board and knead until smooth and elastic (or you can knead it in the bowl). Place in a greased bowl (It sounds strange, but I use bacon grease), turning to grease the top. Put in warm place (like I mentioned above) and let rise until double; about 35 minutes.
Punch down and divide into 2 halves. Roll into a 14×9 rectangle. If you are making regular bread then, beginning at the 9 inch end, roll as you would a jelly roll, gently making it into a loaf. Divide and place in 2 greased 9 x 5 bread pans. Let rise again for about 35 minutes until double. Bake for 45-50 minutes. To see if it’s done, thump with your fingers. If it sounds hollow, it is done.
For cinnamon bread:
After you have rolled the dough out, spread it with a thick layer of margarine. Then sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon and roll as above. Be sure to tuck the ends under so the goodies won’t ooze out.
Inexpensive Homemade Bread
This is a great frugal recipe or one to use when you are short on ingredients because it doesn’t call for things like milk or eggs.
This recipe was written the way we did it years ago, with just the ingredients and minimal instructions, so I hope you can figure it out okay. As you will see this, recipe breaks most of the rules I explained above, but my grandmother-in-law’s bread was always great.
You might also notice she did most of her kneading and working the bread in her bowl instead of dirtying a counter. Tawra does her bread this way and it works great every time.
1 pkg. yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon shortening or butter
1/4 cup sugar
2 cups water, very warm
Flour (about 6–7 cups)
Sift flour into the above mixture, stirring until it is too thick to stir. Then work with hands, adding flour as needed until it becomes a very stiff dough and won’t stick to your hands. Place in a greased bowl, turning to coat top and set in a warm, draft-free place about 1-1/2 hours. (This is why I like my oven method for rising.)
Punch down and let rise 1/2 hour more. Make into loaves or rolls. Makes 2 loaves. Bake at 325°F for 1 hour for loaves and 35 minutes for rolls. (I found 375°F for 25 minutes also works for the rolls.)
Jill Cooper and Tawra Kellam are the authors of the Dining On A Dime cookbook. For free tips and recipes visit www.LivingOnADime.com.
Originally published in the November/December 2010 issue of Countryside & Small Stock Journal.