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Cheap and Good: Bread

bread Probably the only people in the United States who have not noticed the change in prices of baked products are folks who “do Atkins.” Over the past year or so, grain/flour prices pretty much have gone through the roof, affecting everything from meat and eggs to pizza and that humble household commodity, bread. Perhaps now is a good time to learn how to make your own.

To make yeast dough (which is what everything from bread, rolls, and pizza is made of), you need only the following things:
Bread or general purpose flour, dried yeast, sweetener of some kind to feed the yeast, hot water, salt, and a little fat.
You will also need 2 bowls:
One to mix in(something the size of a mixer bowl) and
One that is larger(grease the inside with oil or shortening).
You will also need a couple of wooden spoons and a rubber scraper.

If you have these ingredients, you can make: Basic white sandwich bread, French bread, Cuban bread and pizza. It’s not a terribly exciting sort of bread, but it is a very good basic bread and will give you the skills necessary so that you can bake other more interesting things. Here is how it works:

yeastMix up the sweetener (honey, sugar, molasses), 1T of dried yeast and a cup of hot water and put in a warm place like the inside of your stove if you’ve heated it a little bit. Go away for 15 min. When you come back, it should look like the picture (frothy!) and smell like beer. If it does not, put it back for another 10 min. If it still isn’t like that – throw it away and go back to the store and get a fresher packet of yeast (the expiration date will be on there).

If you’ve got that nice beer smell and foam, then you have now “proofed” the yeast – you’ve proven that the yeast is good and is going to work.

Pour this and another cup of hot water into your mixing bowl along with a pinch of salt and 2 tablespoons of melted butter or olive oil or some other vegetable oil.

Pour in a cup of flour and mix this all up. See how it looks and smells. Keep putting in flour, a cup at a time and mix it up. The more you mix it, the more the gluten in the flour will get developed. When the dough starts to clean off the sides of the bowl when you mix it around (by now, your arm may start to hurt), it’s time to knead it.

Kneading does two things: The warmth from your hands develops the gluten AND as you add more flour, the dough gets less sticky. Pour a cup of flour on your clean kitchen counter and dump the dough on top. Pour some more flour on top of the dough so your hands don’t stick. What you will do is basically fold, punch down, roll up, and work the dough and work the flour into the dough. Keep doing that until you start seeing little blisters form on the outside of the dough – it’s ready to raise the dough.

Preheat your oven at the lowest temp you can – leave that on until when you stick your hand in, it feels good and hot, but not so hot that you can’t keep your hand in for the count of 5 or so. If it is, leave the door open for a min. Turn off the heat in the oven and shut the door.

Take your dough and put it into the other, greased bowl – turn it over so that both sides now have a little bit of grease on them and cover the bowl with a dish towel, plastic wrap, and put into the oven. Close the door and set the timer for 45 min.

dough2 Go away and do something else. When the timer dings, open the door – your dough should now look like this – it almost fills the bowl!!

If it doesn’t, put it back for another 15-20 min. Take out your dough, punch it down and put it back on the kitchen counter with a little flour and knead it a little bit. Now is time to bake it.

Put your hand back into the oven – still nice and warm? If not, heat it a little bit like before. Grease whatever baking container you are going to use for the bread: bread pan, cookie sheet, whatever.

Take your dough and squeeze it into the form you want. If you want to put it into a loaf pan, spread it out on the counter (your hands will do) in about the length of the pan. Roll it up and put it into the pan.

Let’s say you don’t have a loaf pan. You can still bake this, free form style. Grease a cookie sheet or even a doubled up heavy aluminum foil piece in about the size of a cookie sheet. Take your dough and make it into any shape you want: a big flattened ball, French Bread sticks, animals…whatever you want. Put it on the sheet.

Put it into the oven and set the timer for 30 min. It should rise nicely. Take it out.
Pre-heat your oven to 375 degrees F. Put in your pan of bread and bake for 30 min.

Check the bread – you can tell if it is done by rapping the top of it with your fingers. If it makes a hollow sound, it is done. If it does not, leave it in for another 10-15 min.

Take the pan out. If you have a cooling rack, put the pan on that. If you do not and are using a loaf pan, lay the loaf pan with the bread in it on its side on a (non-plastic!) cutting board. If you are doing this on a cookie sheet or aluminum foil, then leave it on the top of the stove to cool.

Control yourself – this stuff is going to be hot for a while. Give it a good 30 minutes to cool off before you try to dive in. Take out the bread from the loaf pan by running a knife around the inside edge of the pan and giving the pan a good rap on the counter. The bread should pop right out. With free form, run a spatula underneath it and pick it up. There you have it – bread for you!! Let it get completely cold before you put it into a plastic bag to store it in your fridge.

(originally published at Oxdown Gazette)

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  1. siri says:

    Toby, is there a way to make yeast? How did the pioneer women do this? I’ve heard of them keeping yeast dough cooled or in a jar or some such thing. Is there a way to do that or to make yeast from whatever yeast comes from?
    should i just google this?

  2. htwollin says:

    ‘Making yeast’? Well, pioneer women used to pass their ‘sourdough’ from hand to hand. That stuff was like gold. But you can pick up yeast by mixing flour, water and putting it out in the open air to pick up airborne yeasts..but you’ll also pick up fungus as well. Bakers yeast comes from the brewing industry.

  3. siri says:

    Thank you again, Toby.
    It must keep you up at night, knowing everything like you do.

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