There is really nothing better than the taste of warm, homemade bread slathered with butter and strawberry jam. The smell and taste of homemade bread is something that everyone should experience and with this easy recipe, you can.
I started making homemade bread solely as a holiday treat but realized a couple of years ago that it not only tasted better but was healthier than store bought bread. (Most store bought bread is made using chemical leavening agents and preservatives.) After some experimentation, I’ve come up with this simple but tasty recipe.
The List of Ingredients You Will Need:
1.5 cups of warm water
1 teaspoon of sugar
2 teaspoons (or about a packet and a half) of active, dry yeast
5 cups of bread flour (approximately)
2 teaspoons of salt
2 tablespoons of melted butter or olive oil
The night before or approximately sixteen hours prior to when you want to bake the bread, you’re going to make the sponge. In a large bowl combine one cup of warm water and one teaspoon of sugar. Stir in two teaspoons of yeast. Let this mixture rest uncovered for about ten minutes. You will notice bubbles forming, that is carbon dioxide, a waste gas made by the yeast as it consumes the sugar.
After ten minutes, add one cup of bread flour to the yeast mixture and stir until it forms the consistency of a wet batter. Cover the mixture with plastic wrap, leaving a small opening so that the mixture can breathe. Leave this to ferment for about ten hours. The sponge will form the base of your bread dough and add character and complexity to the bread, making this step very worthwhile.
When the sponge is finished fermenting, add to it a half cup of warm water, two teaspoons of salt and two tablespoons of melted butter or olive oil. (I’m Italian and prefer olive oil, but butter works nicely as well.) Combine those ingredients well and begin to incorporate the bread flour about a half a cup at a time, stirring the dough until it forms a ball. At this point the dough will still be a little sticky. Roll it out of the bowl onto a floured surface, and pat the surface of the dough with flour.
Start kneading the dough using the palms of your hands to push it into the kneading surface, and away from you. Fold the dough and repeat. As you knead the dough, continue to add just enough flour to stop it from sticking to your hands and the kneading surface. Knead for approximately ten minutes. When finished, the dough should be fairly dense and have a nice elastic quality to it. It may also be a little tacky. If it is mealy or dry add a little warm water and knead until you reach the right consistency. (You may not use all of the flour, that's fine as long as the dough is the right consistency.)
Form the dough into a ball and place it back in the bowl to let it rise. Rub a little bit of olive oil on the surface of the dough, and cover the bowl with the plastic wrap again. Let the dough rise for two to four hours or until it has roughly doubled in size.
After your dough has doubled in size it is time to move it to the loaf pan to proof. I like to use a glass or stoneware loaf pan, I feel they bake more evenly. In my experience the metal pans tend to burn the bread a little easier. If you’re worried about burning the sides and bottom of the bread, try using a clear glass pan. You’ll be able to see the sides browning as the bread bakes. I like to apply a thin coat of canola oil to the sides and bottom of the glass pan with a paper towel. It stops the bread from sticking to the pan. You can also use spray oil, it works well too. I’ve found that I don’t have to apply anything to the stoneware since the bread doesn’t seem stick to it.
Roll your risen dough out of the bowl and onto a lightly floured surface. It will deflate when you do this, don’t worry it won’t affect the outcome. You don’t have to knead the dough again but you do have to roll it into a log shape in order to get it into the loaf pan. Gently flatten the dough and shape it so that it is about the same width as your loaf pan. Loosely roll the dough into a log shape, and place seam side down in the loaf pan. Lay a piece of plastic wrap or parchment paper over the dough, and let it proof for about one hour or until it fills the pan.
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Preheat your oven to 365 degrees. Cut a half inch deep slit in the loaf lengthwise and bake it for thirty five to forty five minutes. The top of the loaf should be medium brown and the loaf should sound hollow when you tap the top with a spoon. Every oven bakes a little differently so you’ll want to pay attention to your bread, especially the first time you make it.
When the bread is finished, let it cool for a few minutes before removing it from the loaf pan. Once you’ve removed it, let it cool another twenty to thirty minutes before cutting into it. I like to store my cooled loaf unrefrigerated in a large, reclosable plastic bag.
Making bread at home really isn’t rocket science; although, there are a few basic rules you must adhere to in order to be successful:
- Try to use bread flour whenever possible. It has a higher gluten content that helps to create a better dough consistency. I haven’t tried using gluten free flour although I’m sure there’s probably a flour blend that works well.
- When mixing your water and yeast, make sure the water isn’t too hot or it will kill the yeast. Tepid or lukewarm water works perfectly.
- Make sure you knead the dough for about ten minutes or so.
- Not kneading the dough enough will create a poor consistency in the finished bread. Under-kneaded dough isn’t tight, but rather falls apart when held up.
- Kneading the dough too much can cause it to become too dense. If your dough is very dense and lumpy it may be over-kneaded.
I know that the process of making homemade bread may sound time consuming but I assure you, it is well worth it. Try it once and you will see. You’ll be amazed what a little water, yeast, oil and flour turns into when combined and crafted with your own two hands.