If you have been following my posts for a bit, you know that making bread is one of my all-time favourite things to do! I can wax poetic about making bread - what is not to like about a fresh loaf of bread that is golden, warm, and aromatic right out of the oven? It is so relaxing and nourishing for the soul and later, for the empty nook in our stomachs.
I have been making bread it seems forever. I made bread occasionally when I lived at home with my parents and continued to make it when I lived alone. My mother made wonderful bread that still makes my mouth water thinking about it. I find it easier to make a quick loaf of bread than to run to the grocery store (that is four blocks away) to buy one. (truly not logical!)
Using olive oil gives a wonderfully moist bread. I have tried many different types of oils but have found that the olive oil gives a much nicer loaf of bread. Your dough should feel soft but not sticky and dry but not hard. You will know that you have it right when it feels like on of those soft stuffed toys that flatten out easily when you squish them. The other reason I don't use exact measurements is because flour can be drier or moister depending how fresh it is and the amount of humidity in the air.
And yes, there are days that the bread just won't rise properly for love nor money - I personally think it has to do with the barometric pressure but who knows? Thank goodness those days come only once every year or so.
There are so many types of breads out there - from limpa to flat bread to oatmeal bread. I generally make a simple white or oatmeal bread because it is quick and I can just whip it up. I recently taught a breadmaking session to a group of teachers. It was a lot of fun and I think they all came away with a good feeling about making bread.
The measurements are not exact measurements because making bread is a pleasure not a science. It is also remarkably forgiving. I prefer smaller loaves so it will fit into my toaster after it is sliced.
Here are the instructions for a wonderful loaf of bread:
Basic Bread Dough Instructions for one loaf
traditional Fleischman's yeast
Pour about 1 cup or so of warm water into a large bowl - it should feel like a good warm bath but not hot.
Add about 1 tsp. sugar - you can also use honey.
Add about 1-2 tsp. traditional Fleischman's yeast.
Proof for about 10 minutes or until you see most of the yeast has "bloomed," or risen to the surface.
Using a fork, stir lightly.
Add about 2-3 tbsp. olive oil, 1 small tsp. salt, and start adding flour. Mix enough in so that when you stir it it becomes like a super thick pudding.
(If you want, you can add about a handful or so of barely warm cooked oatmeal at this point. Dry oatmeal will make your bread dry out quicker because it will absorb the moisture from your bread - cooked oatmeal won't do that.)
Clean your fork off well under running water. (It will adhere like concrete if you don't clean it right away.)
Continue to add flour and start to knead the dough while in the bowl until it has a soft but not sticky or tacky consistency - you don't have to do this for a long time. If your dough is too moist, you will get a large air bubble just under the crust - just add about 1-2 tbsp more flour to correct this. If it is too dry, it will feel hard to knead -in this case, make a hole in the dough and add about 1-2 tbsp of water and gently knead it in. It will be gross and sticky, at first, then will incorporate itself in.
Cover with a clean tea towel and let rise in the same bowl for about 1/2 - 1 hour - more or less. If time is an issue, this first rising can be shortened up as much as 40 minutes without much effect on the final product.
Punch down the dough and form into a loaf.
Preheat your oven just before the hour is up. (350F)
Bake about 20 minutes for white bread and a bit longer for whole wheat. Check it when the top is a nice very light golden colour.
Remove from oven if it sounds hollow when tapped and when the bottom is lightly browned. Bread is best if it is not over-baked and hard.
Place on wire rack and brush with butter. Buttering the top and covering it will create a nice soft, flavourful crust. Cover immediately and let cool at least 10 minutes before slicing. (If you can!)
This bread can also be baked on the barbeque by heating one side of it and placing the bread pan on the unheated side. I would lower the temperature to 325F because barbeques seem to run hot, at least mine does. Also - rotate it once so that the side adjacent to the barbeque burner doesn't burn. Making it into two small loaves will also shorten the cooking time, which is best for the barbeque.