There is nothing better than freshly-baked bread - especially bread from your own oven. When you break or cut it, there's a burst of fresh bread scent you don't get from a bag; eat right away and it melts in your mouth. If you're willing to forgo the convenience of grabbing a loaf of cheap bread at the store or paying extra for "artisan bread" from a specialty shop, you'll find that making your own bread isn't that hard - and is very satisfying. In this article, I'll show you how.
One of the best kitchen innovations of the last 40 years other than the food processor is the bread machine. If you want it to do everything, you can dump your ingredients in, set the timer, and walk away. You'll have a loaf of nice, fresh bread in a couple hours or so.
If you like making bread but would rather skip the mixing and kneading, bread machines are the perfect partner. They make the dough, you shape it into whatever you want and then bake. It's the best of both worlds. I've had my faithful Breadman Ultimate TR2200C for 7 or 8 years and it's still running like a champ. When it finally does go to the big bakery in the sky, I'll be looking for another one from Breadman. The current-generation Breadman BR2500BC or Breadman BK1050S are at the top of my list, as they have the feature set that I'm using now with a couple of additions.
Other than my bread machine, a resource on my kitchen bookshelf that has become indispensable is my copy of the 1999 edition of Tom Lacalamita's The All-New Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook. The book has 101 recipes that run the gamut from very basic white bread to pizza dough and rolls to more-involved ethnic breads.
The book has been reprinted several times; it's available both new and used at Amazon. If you don't mind a used book, a copy can be had from Amazon for very little. If you're into making bread or thinking about getting started, this is money very well spent.
To show you how easy it is to make great bread for about the same price as a loaf of cheap bread from the store, here's a run-through of the "Basic European White Bread"from the book.
Basic European White Bread
Source: "The All-New Ultimate Bread Machine Cookbook," by Tom Lacalamita (Fireside, 1999), page 113.
This is for 2 pounds of dough. Wet ingredients first, then dry.
- 1 1/3 cups water
- 2 tablespoons Olive Oil
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 3 tablespoons medium rye flour
- 4 cups bread flour
- 1 tablespoon dry yeast
If you're going to let the bread machine do the baking, select a basic cycle, or French bread cycle.
If you want to shape the dough and bake it yourself, select the dough cycle, start the bread machine and read on...
You'll have about 90 minutes to fill. During this time, you can prepare your loaf pans and have your counter-top ready. I use a large cutting board, well-floured, to work with the dough.
To prepare the loaf pans for use, spray them with olive oil (I use a Misto) or another type of non-stick spray. Then, toss about 1/4 cup of bread flour in the pans to coat. When you're done, they'll look something like this:
When the dough cycle is done, punch the dough down and remove it from the bread machine to the floured cutting board or countertop. Divide the dough into two even halves. Using a long rolling pin, gently roll the dough out until it's just a little shorter than the length of the loaf pan. Fold in half, tuck the ends, and fold once more. Then, put the dough into the pans:
Place the pans in a draft-free location, and cover with a cloth towel. Preheat your oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit, placing a rack in the center position. When the dough has approximately doubled in bulk (probably about an hour), place the pans in the center of the oven rack. Bake for about 22 minutes, or until golden brown. If you're using a dark-colored pan, or your oven tends to run hot, keep watch to be sure that your bread doesn't burn on the outside and half-bake on the inside. Once done, remove the loaves from the oven and place on a cooling rack. If you like, lightly spritz the crust with olive oil:
As a variation to using the loaf pans, you could also roll the dough into baguettes, or use a Banneton basket to create something different. Bread dough is very versatile, so experiment and have fun.
Enjoy your bread!