Tuesday, March 4, 2014

My secrets to basic bread making

If all I am known as for the rest of my life is "the girl who made really tasty bread", well then I will die a happy human. I love making bread and I can honestly tell you it makes such a huge difference in my mood and happiness the days I have time to make it at home.
I grew up with a grandmother and a mother who loved making bread. I remember working on the farm for my Dad during potato harvest, and we could always, ALWAYS count on grandma bringing a big pan of hot caramely cinnamon rolls as a treat for the help. Now that Grandma is a little older and unable to do this as much, she has shared with me that she felt this was her way of participating in the harvest. She knew this was a special way that she could contribute.
My mother learned these skills as well, and we were lucky to grow up with a warm slice of homemade white and wheat bread slathered with butter and honey.
Not all people have interest in learning to make bread. Some think they don't have the time. Some are frightened at the word "knead" and worry that they will mess it up somehow so they don't even bother trying. I will tell you that learning to make bread is something that can bring a lot of confidence and joy, and once you get over the idea that it is impossible for you, you might just fall in love with it as I have.
Serving up a beautifully browned loaf of fluffy heaven on your kitchen table will have the kiddos (and spouse) gathering close and even if its just for a moment, you have family time.
My son is 4 and in the last few years, he has loved being my little helper in the kitchen. It brings a closeness to our relationship that I cant find during other activities as I am swept up in the stress that motherhood can bring.
Today I want to share with you some of my best kept secrets on basic bread making and help you see how easy and fun it really can be.
Secret #1.
Have the right attitude. Oh sure I've thrown a ball of dough or two in the trash... any great baker has. The point is, you are learning in the process. Start with a good (not terrified) attitude and show some love to what you're doing. It WILL make a difference.
Secret #2.
What kind of yeast are you using? I have tried red star and many others. My Grandma and Mother both swear by SAF-yeast and after using it I will never go back to anything else. The main difference that I can tell you is, the taste of the bread has ZERO "yeasty flavor" with the SAF. Some of the others I have tried simply give the bread a stronger tangy yeast flavor that can be unappetizing. Make the change and don't look back. You will NEVER regret it.
Secret #3.
Did you know that proofing your yeast with a sugar water mixture will make a huge difference? All bread recipes call for some kind of sweetener (sugar or honey usually). Mixing the warm water with the sugar and the yeast will actually "feed" the yeast and help it start to foam up.... insuring an airy fluffy bread that will rise for you.... that my friend, is the ticket to good bread. Salt will kill the yeast, so you want to make sure and add the salt in with the flour AFTER the yeast has already proofed (become foamy and bubbly)
Secret #4.
Have you ever tried replacing bread flour for all purpose? I started using bread flour this year and it has made a big difference in my bread! Bread flour has a higher gluten content. Gluten is what gives dough its elasticity and chewiness once baked. You can use all bread flour in your bread recipes. I have found the only time I had trouble with it was when I was forming the bread into pretty shapes. All purpose flour helps bread hold its form better, so if you are making crazy bread or something that is needs to keep its tight shape, you can use half all purpose and half bread flour or just all purpose for that.
Secret #5.
If you are scared to death of ruining your bread by kneading it, know this. Unlike cake recipes that tell you to "mix just until moistened" bread can be punched, rolled, tossed, heck even thrown up in the air a few times, and it only makes it better. Kneading the dough helps develop the glutens in the flour so the more you knead it, the chewier the bread. If you hate getting your hands dirty, than lucky for you there is another solution. Stand mixers come equipped with "dough hooks" that you can hook on while you're in the middle of adding your flour. This hook will stretch the dough and do the job for you. Then all you have to do is cover the bowl and let your dough rise..... hands free bread making? While our grandmothers may be disgusted, we live in a busy world where this handy tool comes in as a life saver.
(These are examples of the dough in stages of mixing, switching to dough hook kneading, and rising)

Bonus: Not all bread recipes are the same. If you are hung up on "I don't have the time"... well that's just a bad excuse. Sure there are recipes that take 2-3 hours sometimes longer to make... but I have found so many that can be done in an hour or less. Here are two great examples... Easy hot and chewy buttered pretzels and Triple loaf french bread in a flash. If you are home on your day off, take the 10-15 minutes it makes to mix the dough, and then go and spend time doing what you need to while it is rising. Typically this is the most time consuming part of making bread and the yeast is doing all the work for you!
These are my 5 secrets to the basics of bread and I sure hope it has inspired you to give home made bread a try. Be sure to check out the BREAD SECTION of my recipe index where you will find some of my favorites!
I am thankful for my knowledge of baking and the happiness it brings me. For some reason when I am making bread, my cares and stresses seem to disappear and I am left with happy memories from growing up of helping mom and grandma in their kitchen. Along with that I am building memories with my own family, and sharing a little homemade goodness with friends and neighbors to show our love. Happy baking and good luck!
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