There are few things more satisfying than a loaf of freshly baked bread. It tastes delicious, makes your house smell irresistible, and gives you the feeling that you've just performed some form of baking alchemy.
Sadly, many avoid making their own bread because they don't feel comfortable baking with yeast. They worry that the bread won't rise or that it will rise too much, or they've been traumatized by a bad baking experience. But it's far easier and rewarding than you might think.
This basic white loaf is the perfect place to start: It bakes up beautifully soft and golden. It's delicious plain or as sandwich bread. But – in my opinion – it's best enjoyed sliced thickly, toasted until golden, and served with butter and jam. I've included instructions for both kneading the dough with a mixer or by hand. I love the ease of tossing the ingredients into a bowl and letting a machine do all the work but sometimes it's nice to get your hands a little dirty.
Stephanie Eddy, who writes about her baking exploits at clockworklemon.com, lives in Okotoks, Alta.
Ready time: 4 hr 10 min, including rising time
1 cup very warm water
1 cup milk (or buttermilk)
3 tablespoons liquid honey
2½ tablespoons canola oil
2¼ teaspoons salt
¼ cup warm water
2¼ teaspoons instant yeast
5 cups (740g) bread flour
1 cup (148g) bread flour
Combine the water, milk, honey, oil and salt in a bowl, and stir to help dissolve the honey. Set aside.
In a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of your mixer, combine the ¼ cup warm water and yeast. Let sit for two minutes.
KNEADING BY HAND:
Add the five cups of flour to the bowl with the yeast in it. Then pour the milk mixture on top. Stir with a large wooden spoon until a dough has formed. Add the remaining cup of flour and turn the dough around in it a few times. Then tip the dough and the extra flour onto a clean counter top.
Knead the extra flour into the dough by pushing the dough away from you, folding it, turning it, and then pushing it away again. Once the extra flour has been incorporated, use a bit of butter or oil to grease your hands and your work surface to stop the dough from sticking. Try not to add additional flour in order to avoid a dense loaf. Knead the dough for 10 to 15 minutes until it is smooth and elastic. Tip: Set a timer so that you know how long you have been kneading.
KNEADING WITH A MIXER:
Add the five cups of flour to the bowl with the yeast in it. Then pour the milk mixture on top. Add the remaining cup of flour and stir on low with the paddle attachment. Once a shaggy dough has formed switch to the dough hook and knead for 7 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. Check your mixer’s manual for the correct speed to use with your dough hook (most are speed 2).
AFTER DOUGH IS MIXED
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in size (about 1 – 1 ½ hours).
Once the dough has doubled take it out of the bowl, briefly knead it to remove the air bubbles and then split into two equal-sized pieces. Roll each piece into a rectangle (about 7 inches by 14 inches), then roll up to form a loaf. Place seam side down in a well greased 9x5 loaf pan (grease your pans thoroughly! Nothing is sadder than bread stuck to the pan). Brush lightly with a small amount of oil, cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise until the dough has domed an inch or two over the rim (1 to1½ hrs)
Preheat oven to 350
Once the loaves are doming 1 to 2 inches over the rim, bake at 350 (regular, not convection) for 20 minutes. After 20 minutes rotate the pans and bake for an additional 20 to 25 minutes (40 to 45 minutes total). If the loaves are getting too dark on top then use a piece of foil with a crease in it to cover the top of the bread.
Remove loaves from oven. Remove from loaf pans and set on a cooling rack. Wait until loaves are completely cool (40 minutes to 1 hour) before slicing to allow the crumb to set properly.
The bread will keep at room temperature in a plastic bag for 4 to 5 days. For longer storage, slice the loaf, put into a large freezer bag and then freeze for up to two months. That way you can pop the frozen slices in the toaster as needed. Makes two 9 x 5 loaves.