Baking homemade bread is surprisingly simple
When it comes to my diet, I follow Michael Pollan's advise: Real food is made with ingredients that your great grandmother would recognize.
Take Nature's Own whole grain white bread, for example. Is it food? Below is a list of ingredients and the bold ingredients are not food by this definition:
WATER, ENRICHED FLOUR (WHEAT FLOUR, MALTED BARLEY FLOUR, NIACIN, REDUCED IRON, THIAMIN MONONITRATE, RIBOFLAVIN, FOLIC ACID), WHOLE WHEAT FLOUR, SUGAR, BROWN RICE FLOUR, CONTAINS 2% OR LESS OF EACH OF THE FOLLOWING: YEAST, WHEAT GLUTEN, SALT, SOYBEAN OIL, CULTURED WHEAT FLOUR, VINEGAR, DOUGH CONDITIONERS (CONTAINS ONE OR MORE OF THE FOLLOWING: SODIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE, CALCIUM STEAROYL LACTYLATE, MONOGLYCERIDES AND/OR DIGLYCERIDES, CALCIUM PEROXIDE, CALCIUM IODATE, DATEM, ETHOXYLATED MONO- AND DIGLYCERIDES, AZODICARBONAMIDE, ENZYMES), CALCIUM CARBONATE, AMMONIUM SULFATE, MONOCALCIUM PHOSPHATE, SOY LECITHIN, CHOLECALCIFEROL (VITAMIN D3)
And that's one of the better brands. Many brands add high fructose corn syrup to the mix (or are we calling that "corn sugar" these days?). Now, compare the above with my homemade bread ingredients:
WATER, ORGANIC ENRICHED UNBLEACHED FLOUR, SEA SALT, YEAST
How simple it really gets! So, if you can find a bakery that sells bread with just four ingredients and you don't mind the extra spend, great. But if you're looking for an easy way to have fresh bread in your kitchen everyday, here's the answer. Let me re-emphasize, this is really simple. I work all the time, and I am not Holly Homemaker by any stretch. The reason it's so easy is that you can make the dough for multiple loaves in advance and just bake one loaf at a time as you need it.
This recipe and breadmaking method requires no kneading and no special kitchen gadgets (no clunky bread machine), and you can make a loaf of bread with about 10 minutes of actual work. This is one of the simpler recipes in Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. I highly recommend the book if you are going to start baking bread from home. All of the recipes that I've tried in the book so far are this simple, and there are so many varieties you can bake. So, lets get down to it! I'll go into a bit of detail here so you can learn from my various trials at this.
Bread Boule (Artisan Free-Form Loaf, great for sandwiches)
Prep Time: 10-15 minutes; Total Rise Time: 2 hours 40 minutes; Bake Time: 30 minutes
Makes 2 boules
3 cups luke warm water
1 1/2 tbsp, or 2 packets, granulated yeast (active dry yeast, not rapid rise yeast)
1 1/2 tbsp course sea salt
6 1/2 cups unbleached flour (I used organic. Also, you can use whole wheat or a mix of white and wheat if you like.)
1) Combine the above ingredients in order into a mixing bowl. When measuring the flour, just scoop it up and sweep it level, do not pack it.
2) Mix together. If you use a Kitchen Aid stand mixer like me, use your dough hook and mix on low for about 1-2 minutes, just until mixed. You can also use a wooden spoon. Mix the dough as much as you can with the spoon and then mix the remainder of the flour in with your hands (this method will be a bit messier). You essentially want the dough mixture to be combined enough that all the flour is mixed in, but no additional kneading or mixing beyond that is necessary.
3) Allow dough to rest at room temperature for 2 hours in a loosely lidded bowl. Apparently, they make dough containers for this purpose. I don't have a dough container, so I use a regular plastic container with a lid and just don't snap the lid closed but rather place the lid on top. No need to keep an eye on it rising. Just come back to it 2 hours later. If you forget and it rises for up to 5 hours, no biggie.
4) After 2 hours, refrigerate the dough until you are ready to bake bread.
--So at this point, you should have spent all of 10 minutes labor getting your dough ready. Not so bad. You can move on to step 5 immediately, though working with chilled dough will make the rest of the process easier, according to the book. I always chill mine for at least a few hours, if not a day. That's the best part of this recipe. You can keep the dough in the fridge for about 7-10 days until you are ready to use it!
5) Whenever you are ready to bake, grease a cookie sheet (I grease mine with organic all-vegetable shortening). You can use a pizza stone if you have one, that's what the authors recommend. But a cookie sheet works fine. If you use the stone, you need to preheat it for 20 minutes.
6) Pull off about half of the dough you refrigerated (I leave the other half in the fridge for later in the week, but you can bake both loaves at once). Dust the top of the dough you are preparing with flour. Then shape quickly (should take less than 60 seconds) into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough up and around to the bottom on all sides, rotating a quarter turn as you go (the bottom of the resulting ball will have some seams from this process).
7) Let the ball rise again on the cookie sheet for 40 minutes. Once the second rise is finished, you can sprinkle a little flour over it and slash the top of the dough with a bread knife, which will make a pretty design.
8) Time to bake! Preheat the oven to 450, placing a broiler pan (or 9x13, anything works) on the shelf below where the bread will be. Use an oven thermometer. This is the only fancy equipment you really need. I bought a thermometer for $7 at the grocery store. When the temp is at 450, open the oven and pour a cup of water into the broiler pan and place the bread in the oven. The temperature in the oven will go down below 450 after opening the door, but it will rise back up again. Just make sure when it rises back up, it stays at 450. Bake for 30 minutes until the crust is browned and hard to the touch.
9) Remove from the oven and let cool on a rack. Make sure to let it cool completely. If you cut it while it's still warm, the inside will be gummy. Resist the temptation to cut it until cooled!
So, that's the simple way of making bread. Try it out and let me know how it works for you. Again, check out the book, which is full of tips and tricks and amazing recipes.