How To Bake Bread And Make Your Friends Feel Inadequate
Are you tired of being upstaged by friends who can make authentic congee or grow their own parsnips in the community garden? Well’s here’s your chance to upstage them by making bread from scratch. Take it to your next dinner party and enjoy the jealously that ensues!
Let me preface this article by saying that the first time you bake bread it might be a disaster like a Jennifer Aniston movie. Your bread might not rise properly and bake into a lumpy, coarse mess or it might burn and stick to your so-called non-stick pan. Whatever misfortune befalls your bread the first time, just remember that patience and tenacity are probably more important in making you a good baker than any equipment you have or recipe you follow. So just because you cannot produce bread like a master baker the first time you follow a recipe doesn’t mean you can’t have good, home-baked bread in the future.
The first time I made bread it was an unmitigated disaster. The seams of my French bread popped open like the button on my pants after Thanksgiving dinner. Even worse than the French bread was the focaccia I made next. While the teacher’s bread was light and chewy, mine was dense and almost rubbery. I was severely disappointed in myself because I had secretly harbored the belief that I was going to be the Van Gogh of breading baking. I figured that since I was so good at eating the stuff, that I would be a bread baking savant. Since that wasn’t true, I swore off making bread again.
But as luck would have it, the first pastry chef I worked with was a great bread baker with a lot of patience so he took it upon himself to teach me how to bake edible bread. It took a while for him to teach me how to make bread that wasn’t ugly or an unholy alliance between dry and tough, but I finally figured it out. Now it's your turn. Here is a relatively easy recipe to start your foray into bread baking. And by the way, if things go wrong with your bread, it’s probably your fault. But before you get started, there are just a few simple things you need to know about making bread:
- Yeast can die. Check to see if your yeast is alive by mixing a small amount with sugar and water and wait for five minutes. If it’s bubbly it’s active, but if nothing happens it’s dead so throw it away and buy a new batch.
- Yeast is most active at 75F and 95F but it begins to die at 120F and is completely dead at 138F so for the love of Thor, please use warm, not hot water when mixing yeast with water.
- Yeast dies when it comes in direct contact with salt so mix the salt with flour then pour the yeast mixture on the flour.
- The best way to check to see if the dough is properly kneaded is to take a small piece of the dough and stretch it gently until you can see through it. This is called a window pane test and it shows whether the gluten (what gives bread its structure) in the bread has properly developed.
- Lastly, bread machines are the work of Satan. I hate bread machines more than I hate my treadmill so you will never, ever see a bread recipe for bread machines.
For a more in-depth, and significantly better account of bread baking, check out Peter Reinhart’s book, The Bread Baker's Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread.
NAA’S FRIENDSHIP BREAD
Food scale (buy a scale-they are relatively inexpensive and they make you a better baker)
Stand mixer with paddle and dough hook
Large mixing bowl
9X5 loaf pan
2 packets of dry active yeast
1 oz sugar
12 oz warm water
16 oz all-purpose flour
¾ oz salt
1. Mix yeast, sugar and water together with a whisk or fork and let stand for 5 minutes or until foamy.
2. Meanwhile combine flour and salt together in stand mixer bowl and fit machine with paddle.
3. Pour yeast mixture into bowl and mix ingredients at low speed with paddle until all ingredients are combined.
4. Switch to the dough hook and mix dough at medium speed for 5-7 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic. Make sure to use the window pane test.
5. Place dough in a clean bowl that has been sprayed with cooking spray (you can also use oil). Spray the top of the dough so it does not dry out. Cover with plastic wrap. Allow dough to rise until double in size, about 1 hour. Please note that how long it takes the dough to rise depends on the temperature of the room so keep a close eye on your dough.
6. Punch dough down. Shape into a loaf and place into a well oiled 9x5 inch loaf pan. Allow to rise about 30-45 minutes or until dough has risen 1/2 inch above pan.
7. Bake at 350 degrees F (175 degrees C) for 30-40 minutes. To verify if bread is done, insert a wooden skewer into the bread and check to make sure it comes out clean.
8. Wait for bread to completely cool before serving. If you cut your bread before it is completely cool you will screw up your bread and feel like a moron, so don’t do it.
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