Homemade Bread

Cooking | January 16, 2017 | By

Do you make your own bread? I love to – I like making it in all different shapes and adding different flavorings and toppings, but my all time favorite is pizza. I love to cook them in the oven, or if the weather’s nice, outside on the grill. I change the toppings depending on the seasons and who I’m cooking for. But it’s time to let you in on my dirty little secret… I don’t actually like making bread. Honestly, I don’t have the patience to knead, proof and babysit bread dough for hours at a time – ask anyone who knows me – I have zero patience. So how do I make my own bread you ask? Well here’s where the little secret comes in, but before I tell you, here’s some background…

When I first started cooking at home, and I mean proper cooking not just heating up pre-made food, I’d dream of making my own bread. I had these romantic notions of kneading it and watching it rise, kneading some more, watching it rise again, and then baking the dough into the most perfect rolls and loaves. Unfortunately for me, at that stage in my cooking life, I was prone to impatience when cooking things (something that really hasn’t changed too much since then). My first couple of attempts at bread making were terrible to say the least – hard little balls, barely risen despite my efforts to follow the instructions and ingredient lists precisely. Initially I thought it could be the recipe I was using, so I moved on to others, still with no success. I resigned myself to the fact that I was not a baker, and should leave baked goods well alone. Bread was just another in a series of kitchen disasters I chalked up to my inept ability to bake.

But then a curious thing happened several years later. We moved from New Zealand to the US and had to leave our electrical kitchen appliances behind (a minor issue related to voltage). So having arrived and settled in our new home for a few weeks, off we went in search of new appliances to tide us over. Little did we know, electrical appliances in the US were far more reasonably priced, and suddenly our budget allowed us to purchase a much needed food processor as well as splashing out on a bread machine – something we’d always talked about getting, but never got around to.

I was so excited over the concept of having my own freshly baked bread waiting for me every morning, although I had no intention of using it every morning – but I could if I wanted to. This “whim” purchase had an unfortunate outcome. I hadn’t really looked into what I wanted from a bread machine and what I’d be using it for. After several loaves of okay bread, the machine was retired to the bottom of the cupboard. The problem wasn’t with the bread so much, but more with the machine. The model we purchased had a vertical pan rather than a horizontal one, which meant it yielded very tall square loaves with a small top crust. My other gripe was, I really hated digging into the bottom of each hot loaf to retrieve the paddle from the machine (something which is common with all bread machines, no matter what design). But the thing I disliked the most was having to get the loaf out of the bread machine immediately after it had finished it’s baking cycle, otherwise the crust on the loaf would go mushy due to condensation build-up on the top of the bread machine. So I’d been sucked into the notion of waking up to wafting smells of freshly baked bread only to be disappointed with the reality. I must say, this was my only experience with a bread machine and I’m sure there are people out there with some decent bread machines that have good experiences, I just wasn’t one of them.

It wasn’t until a few years later when we were packing up the kitchen to move houses, I retrieved the barely used machine from the back of the cupboard. Of all it’s short fallings, this particular bread machine had a bunch of different options including a “Dough Only” option. This revelation got me thinking… rather than using the bread machine to do the whole process, why not try making my original recipe on the “dough only” setting, and then bake the bread in our regular oven? Surprise of surprises, it made the most delicious homemade bread we’ve ever had! Since then, our bread machine is in regular use several times a week to make all sorts of different breads and rolls, and even pizza dough.

If you’re not familiar with the “dough only” option on a bread machine, basically it mixes the ingredients, and kneads and proofs it without any user intervention. It’s just a case of putting the ingredients in the pan and turning it on. In about an hour and 20 minutes (well that’s how long ours takes for a “dough only” circle) you come back and have perfectly kneaded and risen dough, ready for baking.

Some tips:

  • You can use the sachets of yeast found in the baking aisle in your grocery store but I actually prefer the jars of yeast because they work out to be a little cheaper. There are usually two kinds, a regular yeast and one for bread machines – I always buy the regular. It’s important to note, once the jar of yeast is open, make sure you put the lid on tightly and store the jar in the refrigerator.
  • Always add the salt in the recipe last after the flour has been added. If you were to add the salt directly onto the yeast mixture it would kill the yeast and the bread wouldn’t rise.
  • The temperature of the water you add to your bread mixture is important. If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast, too cold and it won’t activate the yeast and the bread won’t rise. When I make bread, I just use hot tap water – I run the water for a few minutes and then fill a measuring cup with the amount I need.
  • I have to admit, I don’t get too hung up about what flour I use. If I have bread flour in the cupboard I’ll use it, but if I run out I just use regular all-purpose flour. I’ll also sometimes replace all or half of the flour with a wholemeal flour.
  • You may notice that some recipes have 2-3 cups of flour. You might think this is strange because as I’ve mentioned before, baking is a science reliant on chemical reactions to occur to produce a quality baked product. The reason for the range of 2-3 cups is that flour is susceptible to humidity – you’ll need more flour if you have high humidity than you will for low humidity.
  • The unbaked dough can be frozen. I freeze any unbaked leftover dough and actually will often make double quantities so that I can use half for that day and freeze the other half. To freeze the dough, either spray the inside of a resealable plastic bag with olive oil or drizzle a teaspoon of olive oil into the bag and squish it around so the oil coats the inside of the bag. Place the dough in the bag and close, making sure to remove as much of the air from the bag as possible. Then place it in your freezer for up to a month. To use the frozen dough, remove from the freezer and allow it to defrost. Once defrosted, place in the pan ready for baking – shaping if necessary. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the dough to come up to room temperature before baking it as per the recipe instructions.
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