Many people are sort of scared to bake bread for the first time, but the process is so uncomplicated that just about anyone can achieve good success with the help of these few tips below. All you need is 20 minutes or so to get the dough ready and a few hours around the house occupied with other projects while you check in on the dough. The delicious aroma and wonderful taste – not to mention the nutrition benefits and pride of making freshly baked bread is well worth the effort.
Preparing the Dough
A basic recipe for one loaf of sandwich bread is:
1 package of yeast
1/2 cup of lukewarm water
2/3 cups of lukewarm milk
1/4 cup of vegetable oil
2 tablespoons of sugar (this is variable, but we like our bread a little sweet)
1 teaspoon of salt
3 1/2 cups of flour, usually half white and half whole wheat
Sprinkle the yeast onto the water and add a little of the sugar. Wait for about 10 minutes for bubbles to appear that prove that the yeast is active. Add the milk, egg, oil, remaining sugar, and the salt and mix with a whisk until thoroughly blended.
Add half of the flour and beat with a spoon. Beating the batter now helps to reduce the kneading time later. Add the rest of the flour and incorporate it into the dough. If you are a beginner, you may get the best results by starting with bread flour that has more natural gluten. If you are using heavy stone-ground whole wheat flour, you may want to lighten the loaf by replacing some of it with white flour and adding extra gluten. Other finer ground whole wheat flours may do fine. This is something that you gain with experience with the flours available in your store.
Turn the dough out onto the counter and knead it by folding and pressing repeatedly, adding flour to keep it from sticking to the counter, until the dough is smooth and springy. Kneading develops the gluten in the flour and gives the bread its texture by creating spaces to contain the gases produced by the yeast that make the dough rise. Beginners may need to set the timer for 6 or 7 minutes to make sure they are kneading enough. As your kneading gets more effective and you develop a feel for the dough, you won’t have to knead quite so long.
Place the dough in an oiled bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and let it rise in a warm place until doubled. Punch it down, roll it up tightly, tuck the ends under, and place it in your oiled 5″ x 8″ pan seam down.
Cover it with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in the pan until it is just higher than the top of the pan and bake bread at 350° for 30-35 minutes. Remove it promptly from the pan. Buttering the top of the loaf while it is hot keeps the crust soft and adds that warm glow of buttery flavor.
Really anyone can bake bread. Don’t be afraid of it, just try it. If your first effort is less than perfect, it will still taste delicious, and you will probably achieve better results with practice. Your family will love you for it.