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Feb 13, 2012

Creating Your Own Bread Recipe

There is nothing more satisfying than the aroma of freshly baking bread coming from the oven and wafting through the house. It is like saying welcome without a word being spoken. There really is no mystery to bread baking and it is probably one of the easiest things to do, even though most people may think that baking bread is a really difficult task. Granted, it does take time, but like my Mother used to say, anything worth doing is worth doing well and is well worth the time.
If you can bake a loaf of bread, you can create your own recipe to your own taste buds and preferences. There are just a few things to remember to create a proper loaf. First of all, bread baking is actually a chemical process which involves the use of wheat gluten (flour), yeast for rising, a sweetener to feed the yeast and warm water to provide a moist environment for the yeast and to bind the other ingredients together. Therefore, there are only 4 basic ingredients to making a loaf of bread: flour, yeast, sugar and water. In addition, salt needs to be added for flavor and to keep the yeast from growing too rapidly.
The four basic ingredients plus salt are the only ingredients in your basic French bread. Other ingredients may be added to create different types of bread. For instance, if you add butter and eggs, you will have Challah or Egg Bread. Other ingredients that can be added are fruit, olives, onions, and molasses in place of sugar or honey.
Some of types of flour that are used for bread are: All-Purpose Flour or Bread Flour, Whole Wheat Flour and Rye Flour. Cornmeal can be substituted for some of the flour and oats can be used in bread also.
Yeast comes in dry granulated form and this is the easiest way to use it. It can also be purchased in cake form. The dry yeast is sold in the market in strips of 3 packages. Warehouse type stores also sell yeast in 1 lb packages. If you are going to be doing a lot of baking, the one pound package is the way to go as it is much more economical. Store your yeast in the refrigerator and this will increase its shelf life.
Sweeteners commonly used in bread are sugar, honey, molasses, and malt powder or simply allow the yeast to derive its food from the sugar commonly found in the flour itself.
Liquid provides a growing medium for the yeast and acts as a binder for the other ingredients. The liquid is usually water but can also be milk. Fresh milk needs to be scalded before being used for bread making as the enzymes in the milk will inactivate the yeast and prevent the dough from rising to its full capacity. Evaporated or dried milk can also used instead as the enzymes are already deactivated.
Butter or Oil used in some types of bread, provides moisture and allows for a longer shelf life.
Eggs enrich the dough and also help to lighten it up. Bread made with eggs is not as heavy as that made without.
You can start out by placing a given amount of warm liquid in a large mixing bowl along with the sweetener and the given amount of yeast. Generally in a batch of dough that will require six cups of flour, 1 tbsp or a single package of yeast will be sufficient. Give the yeast about 5 - 10 minutes to proof. You will know if the yeast is alive if it starts to grow and bubble. If the yeast shows no signs of life, discard it and buy some new yeast.
Two to four ounces of butter or about 2 tbsp of Olive Oil may be added to the proofed yeast. Then it is time to start adding the flour. The flour should be added in small increments and mixed in thoroughly before the next addition. You want to end up with soft dough that can be kneaded. If the dough is too stiff, you will not be able to knead it properly and it will be very heavy and not very digestible. Generally, 1 cups of liquid will be enough to absorb about 6 cups of flour.
One thing you should keep in mind when making bread is that not all flours are alike and that the weather affects the absorption rate of flour. When there is a lot of humidity in the air, more flour will be needed and when it is very dry, less flour will be needed.
Once a dough has formed (that is not sticky but is soft enough to knead) then it is time to put it on a floured surface and start kneading it. To knead the dough, you must use the heels of your hands (the firmest portion above the wrist). Start from the top and push with your heels and fold back with your fingers. Never knead with your fingers. First of all, there is not enough strength in your fingers to knead the dough properly and second of all, when you first start kneading the dough it will be soft and ooze up between your fingers, making it a very difficult and messy job. As you are kneading add flour as needed only to keep the dough from sticking. The kneading process will take about 10 minutes. When the dough is sufficiently kneaded, it will be soft and elastic. That is when you press on it, it will immediately return to its original position.
Once you are satisfied that the dough is kneaded properly, place it in a large greased bowl and cover it with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel. Place in a draft-free area and allow it to rise up until it has doubled in bulk. This will take anywhere from 45 minutes to two hours, depending on the warmth of the air surrounding it. On warm days, the dough will rise very quickly and on cool days it will take longer.
Once the dough has risen, punch it down and knead for about a minute. Allow to rest for about 5 minutes and then shape it into a loaf or two, if it is a large amount of dough. Generally speaking 6 cups of flour will make a very large loaf of bread or two smaller ones. The bread can be placed in greased loaf pans that have been sprinkled with cornmeal or can be free-formed on a flat baking sheet. Either way, make sure that the pans are greased or sprayed with a vegetable spray. The cornmeal will act as an interface allowing the bread to be released easily from the pan. It also adds a texture interest to the bread.
Allow the shaped loaf to rise (covered with plastic wrap or a clean dish towel) in a warm place until doubled in bulk. Bake in a 375 degree oven anywhere from 25- 45 minutes depending on the ingredients and the size of the loaf. If you tap the baked loaf on the bottom it should sound hollow when it is done. You can also use an instant read thermometer to test the inside of the bread. It should reach 200 F. when it has finished baking. When the bread is done remove from the oven and allow to cool. When cool enough to handle turn the pan over (loaf pan) and place the bread on a cooling rack to finish cooling. If you bake the bread on a sheet pan, you can removed it with a large spatula.
When slicing hot bread, it is easiest to do it with a hot knife. Your knife blade can be heated by running it under the hot water faucet. However, you should allow your bread to cool for some time before slicing it as hot bread when sliced, may tend to be gummy. Cooling it allows the excess moisture to escape.
Hopefully these instructions will encourage you to try and make your own bread. There is no greater satisfaction than the aroma of fresh bread baking. And when you bite into a slice of fresh bread it is pure heaven!
If you are a novice at bread baking, start out by using All-Purpose Flour as it is the easiest to handle. Once you have gained some experience you can start adding other Flours. Bread Flour is great for bread but is a little more difficult to knead. Bread can also be made in your standing mixer if it has a dough blade or in your food processor. Before using these appliances for bread though, please consult the direction booklet that came with the appliance.
After you have mastered the technique of making bread with All-Purpose Flour or Bread Flour then you can try variations with other types of flour and additional ingredients to give your bread more flavor interest.
Remember that there is a lot of satisfaction in making and baking a loaf of bread. Just the physical exercise alone that is involved in kneading the dough can release a lot of built up tension, something that most people who are in the work force experience from time to time. The pleasure of eating home baked bread straight from the oven is a wondrous experience in itself. Try it and see what happens. If your first try is not to your satisfaction, figure out what you may need to do differently and try it again. The price of the ingredients of a home-baked loaf is about 25% of what a loaf of bakery bread will cost the monetary cost of failure from time to time is rather insignificant.
Just remember that bread baking is a science and that you need to keep the ratio of liquid to dry ingredients such that an edible loaf of bread will be produced.