Saturday, December 19, 2009
THE best bread you'll ever make
Raise of hands—who thinks they can’t make bread? Don’t worry, no one’s watching. Admit it, the thought of using yeast in baked goods scares you almost as much as the upcoming SpongeBob marathon on Nickelodeon.
I once thought I couldn’t make bread either—turns out, it is all about the recipe. My good friend Melissa made this bread for me when she invited my family over for dinner one night. “I wish I could make bread like this,” I told her. “You should try this recipe. It’s really easy,” she said. Sure it is, I thought sarcastically. I didn’t believe her at all. Still, I dutifully copied down the recipe fully intending to throw it away once I got home but instead decided to give it a try. I’ve been making loaves at least once a week ever since.
And the best part about making this bread is it’s a stress reliever. Seriously, follow me on this: Once the dough is mixed, you have to (or rather, get to) punch it down every 10 minutes. My middle child calls it “beater” bread. Now I’m no food science expert, so I’ve no idea why the punching makes this bread so good (probably has something to do with the two tablespoons of yeast in it), but I can tell you it does do wonders for the bread and your psyche. Give it a try—even my brother-in-law made perfect loaves the first time with this recipe.
Ready for your house to smell like baking bread over the holidays? It’s good to the last crumb (if you can find one!).
2 ½ cups warm water
2 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
2 Tablespoons oil
6 cups flour
2 Tablespoons yeast
Fill a measuring cup with the warm water and then add the yeast and sugar. Let it sit for three to five minutes (bubbles should form, letting you know that the yeast is active). There are a couple different ways to mix up the dough. Sometimes, I beat half the flour with the wet ingredients with my handheld mixer. The dough will get a little unruly after you add the full 6 cups and you’ll spend more time kneading, but the end result is still perfect. Lately, I’ve been using my food processor to mix up the dough. If you have a large upright mixer, that will work well too. In a large bowl, or the food processor bowl, add six cups of flour and the salt. Mix. Add the oil to the wet ingredients and then gradually pour in the yeasted liquid to the flour (again, if you’re using a handheld mixer you should only use half the flour at first, then add in the rest until the mixer won’t mix any longer). Pull the dough out onto a lightly floured cutting board and briefly knead until smooth. Place the dough into a large, oiled mixing bowl (I spray mine with cooking spray) and cover with a slightly moist kitchen towel.
Now, for the fun part! For the next 50 minutes, you’re going to punch down the dough every 10 minutes (so, four punching rounds). Set a timer at each ten minutes then punch away--you may need to dust your fist with flour. After the last punching session, let the dough rise for 10 minutes. Pour the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and separate it into two balls (or three, or four, depending on the size of loaf you want). Let the dough rest for about five minutes before kneading it and rolling it out to a thick rectangle (about one-inch), then roll up the loaf tightly as you would a jelly roll. Place the loaf onto a lightly greased baking sheet. Cover with the kitchen towel and let it rise for 30 to 60 minutes (I once forgot about the bread rising and it went for nearly 90 minutes without any problems). Preheat the oven to 400 degrees and bake for 25 to 30 minutes.