How to make bread
After I learned how to make bread by myself I began to believe it is one of the greatest mysteries of Western civilization why people ever stopped making their own bread. "You mean with a bread maker?" People ask me. The answer is "no," regular bread, with a recipe from the 1970's requires no special tools, not even an expensive mixed. The recipe is so simple a 10 year old could do it. I know because I taught my son how to make bread. His comes out as indistinguishable from a loaf of mine. It may cost slightly more to bake than a loaf of Wonder bread, and it is absolutely cheaper than buying artisan bread from the deli. Plus you can put what ever you want in your own bread. Its healthier for you than buying bread, tastes better and makes the house smell so nice.
One mistaken idea people have is that it "takes a long time." Nothing could be further from the truth. Of course you can get faster with time and practice and even the first time it will take no more than an hour and a half. Of that time hours, 30 minutes is bake in the oven time and two sets of 20 minutes is rise time. It's really about 15 minutes to throw together the ingredients in a bowl, and five or so to punch down dough. In the Summer when the dough rises faster you can cut down the second rise time to as little as ten minutes with the use of "rapid rise" yeast.
The basic ingredients for bread are 4 to 6 cups of flour, 2 packets of yeast (4.5 teaspoons if you buy in bulk), 2 teaspoons of salt, 3 tablespoons of sweetner, 2 tablespoons of fat, 2 cups of liquid. The amount of flour will be more if you use all white flour, although why would you want to? You can tell the amount of flour you need because too little and the dough feels too sticky and difficult to work with, and took much makes the dough tough. It wants to be smooth and elastic, and have a little spring to it if you make an indentation in the dough. Erring on the side of two sticky is better than too dry.
I start with a large bowl and put 2.5 cups of whole wheat flour in it. If you want to use whole wheat flour, it has less gluten than white flour which is why the loaves don't expand as much. You may have noticed that whole wheat bread from the store can seem dry and unpalatable. Mix whole wheat with white flour for a softer loaf. Or, if you want to have a more exotic bread use other kinds of flour. Flour is pretty interchangeable measure for measure. I have substituted oatmeal , flaxseed, cornmeal, and rye just to name a few. If you are using a flour as gluten free as cornmeal lessen the ratio to 1 cup of corn meal to more white flour. Or mix two or three flours such as a half cup corn meal, 1.5 whole wheat and the rest white flour.
In the bowl with the 2.5 cups of what ever exotic flour you want to use I add the dry ingredients: the yeast, the salt, the sweetner if I am using "dry sweetner." You can use wet sweetners for example honey, agave, maple syrup or corn syrup in equal measure as a substitute for white or brown sugar. The only difference is, if you are going to use wet sweetner, wait and add it when you are adding other wet ingredients. If you are using plain granulated sugar, white or brown, add it in at the beginning with the dry ingredients. Mix all the dry ingredients around together in the bowl with a spoon. For sweeter bread use more than three tablespoons, I usually use a quarter cup of sugar. The more sweet the bread the more slow the rise time.
In with the dry ingredients you can add whatever spices, herbs, or dried fruit you want to make your bread more yummy. Some of the add ins I use are rosemary, ginger, dates, nuts, raisins, saffron. Be creative. Once I had a tired looking pear on the counter, so I ground it in the blender and added to my bread for additional moistness. That loaf had awesome crumb and no one at the table guessed their was pear in the bread. It didn't have a distinctive taste.
After you have all the dry ingredients mixed, add in the wet ingredients. Basic bread calls for two cups of water and 2 tablespoons of butter, but you may substitute milk or cream or even juice for the liquid. You may use half milk and half water. You may use margarine or peanut butter interchangeably with butter as the fat. You may use a tablespoon more of fat for a softer crumb. If you are using a liquid sweetner such as honey, add it in with the liquid ingredients now. Slightly warm the liquid to activate the yeast. Don't boil the milk, too hot and it will kill your yeast. You can tell the yeast is dead if your batter doesn't have any bubbles. If you wait a few minutes after adding wet to dry and no bubbles form something is wrong. If you want longer and the dough doesn't seem to be expanding something is wrong, if the dough doesn't feel elastic or springy something is wrong. Might as well throw it out at that stage rather than adding the additional flour. If, however, all is well, all you have left is to add about 3 more cups of white flour to the mix. Add an egg or two if you like for a richer flavor.
After you have all the additional flour kneaded in, give the dough a rest for 10 to 20 minutes covered and sprayed with grease in the bowl. Then punch it down and split the dough in half. Roll out each half into a tube, pinch the ends together and set them in greased loaf pans or shape the dough into round loafs and put in a flat baking pan. After a short second rise, bake it at 400 for 30 minutes, 35 at a high altitude.