I love baking. For several years now, I've been making most of the bread we eat. But I remember the first time I tried to bake bread for my own family. The word "flop" doesn't come close to describing it. I think "comical" would be more accurate. First, I used way too much flour. Then, I decided to run an errand while the dough was in its final rise. By the time I got home, the loaves looked like they were ready to explode! I ended the day with two heavy, bloated loaves of bread-and probably a few tears.
But I've come a long way, baby. I've tried many different recipes. Too many to count! And I've learned lots of lessons. Here's a few secrets I've picked up:
-If at first you don't succeed......that's right, keep trying. Many factors can affect how a loaf of bread turns out. Try a different recipe. Try a different day. Don't get discouraged.
-Use "rapid-rise" or "instant" yeast. Instant yeast is super cheap in bulk at Sam's Club. Store it in the freezer, and use two and one-fourth teaspoons for each package or envelope the recipe calls for.
-If you have too many distractions (like your sweet kiddos), grab a pencil and scrap of paper to jot down the ingredients you've put in and tally the cups of flour you've used. It's easy to lose count in the midst of life going on around you. Been there, done that.
-Don't use any more flour than you just have to. I use my heavy-duty mixer or food processor to help me with this. You can make bread by hand. Mothers have been doing it for centuries. Just be careful not to overdo on the flour. That's the biggest problem with hand mixing and kneading.
-Use a warm oven to help the dough through the first rise. I put one oven rack in the highest position and one in the lowest. Then, while I'm mixing my dough, I preheat the oven to 200 degrees. After about ten minutes, I turn the oven off (that's important!). When I'm done mixing my bread, I cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place it in the warm oven. This really helps give the bread a consistent environment so it can rise quickly.
WHOLE WHEAT BREAD
This makes one loaf of bread, but could easily be doubled. I use my stand mixer to make and knead this dough.
1 pkg. rapid-rise yeast or 2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/3 cups hot water (120-130 degrees)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar or honey
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 Tablespoons butter, melted
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 to 2 1/2 cups all purpose or bread flour
In the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, dissolve the yeast in the warm water. (This just means that you sprinkle the yeast over the top of the water, and wait for it to look a bit "creamy," about five minutes.) Then, add in the brown sugar or honey, salt, butter, and wheat flour. Mix by hand or on low speed until moistened. Increase the speed to medium and beat (with the dough hook) for 3 minutes. Gradually add the white flour, with mixer on low, until the dough is pulling away from the sides of the bowl. Let the mixer knead the dough for a few more minutes. The dough should be clinging to the dough hook, and the bottom of the mixing bowl should look clean. When you touch the dough, it shouldn't stick to your fingers.
Spread a very little bit of oil around a medium-sized mixing bowl. Take the dough and form it into a ball. Put it in the oiled bowl, turn it over once to get a little oil on all sides. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let rise on a warm counter or in a warm oven (as described above). Let rise until doubled in size, about 35 minutes.
Grease an 8x4 or 9x5-inch loaf pan. Punch down the dough. Place dough on a lightly floured surface, and pat into a rectangle that is about 8 or 9-inches wide. Begin rolling the dough, pressing the seams closed with your thumbs as you go. Pinch the final seam closed, and tuck the ends under. Place in the prepared loaf pan, and gently pat it down into the pan. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap and allow it to rise for about 30 minutes. Your dough should now be at least to the top of your loaf pan. When it is almost done rising, heat your oven to 375 degrees.
When oven is preheated, uncover dough. Bake for 30 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees, and bake for an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Immediately remove from pans; cool on wire racks.
This bread is great with butter and honey, but it also works well for sandwiches. Try it with some mayo and my quick chicken recipe! Yum!
For more great recipe ideas, head on over to Life as Mom.
Photo credit: Martin LaBar