Recently, I’ve noticed a lot of people trying out homemade bread for the first time. I remember my first time making yeast bread. I was nervous about everything – the amount of flour I was kneading into the dough, the rising time, the baking temperature. There’s so much uncertainty involved with bread baking, and I’m not sure why. Bread isn’t any different from a recipe for anything else – just follow the directions and everything should go smoothly. There are a few more variables to take into account – the freshness of the yeast and the temperature of the room can affect the rate of rising, but as long as you follow the visual clues, everything should come out okay. Plus, I’ve found bread to be relatively forgiving. You can add some extra flour, knead too long, let it rise a bit longer (or less) than ideal, but the effect on the final product will be minor. No worries!
One thing about bread though, is that I always feel like kind of a jerk when I make it. It all starts with these little fungal yeasties. So you give them some food, and a nice warm place to the live. Give them plenty of time to grow and start a little community. Then you cook them and eat them. Poor little dudes. (Yes, yes, I eat meat, I know it’s considerably worse. I’m a bad person.)
This is one of my favorite breads. It’s just a nice, simple sandwich bread, but it has plenty of flavor. My mom serves it at holiday meals, and it’s one of my favorite foods on the table. For this particular loaf, we snacked on it a few hours after it came out of the oven in between doing chores, and then I made French toast with it the next day. Both were really satisfying.
Update 3/16/10: I’ve successfully used this method to make this bread whole wheat. Complete instructions for adapting this recipe are included in that post.
Country Crust Bread (called Rich Egg Bread in recent additions of Betty Crocker cookbooks)
Adapted from Betty Crocker and Cooks Illustrated
Makes one 9-inch loaf
I used honey and butter, and I substituted about 1/3 of the white flour for whole wheat flour. You can increase that to half the total flour without any detrimental affects to the bread, although the rising time will probably need to be increased.
To braid the loaf instead of baking it in a loaf pan, divide the dough into three equal portions. Gently roll each portion into a 16-inch length. Braid the pieces together, then pinch the ends together and tuck them under the loaf. Reduce the baking time by 15 minutes.
3 – 3½ cups (15 – 17½ ounces) unbleached flour, plus extra for work surface
1½ teaspoons table salt
1 cup water, warm (110 degrees)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil or unsalted butter, melted
¼ cup (1.75 ounces) granulated sugar or 3 tablespoons honey
1 package (2 1/4 teaspoons) rapid-rise yeast (also called instant)
1. Adjust oven rack to low position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Once oven temperature reaches 200 degrees, maintain heat 10 minutes, then turn off oven heat.
2. Mix flour, salt, and yeast in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Mix water, egg, butter, and honey in 1-quart Pyrex liquid measuring cup. Turn machine to low and slowly add liquid. When dough comes together, increase speed to medium (setting number 4 on a KitchenAid mixer) and mix until dough is smooth and satiny, stopping machine two or three times to scrape dough from hook if necessary, about 10 minutes. Turn dough onto lightly floured work surface; knead to form smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds.
3. Place dough in very lightly oiled bowl, rubbing dough around bowl to lightly coat. Cover bowl with plastic wrap; place in warm oven until dough doubles in size, 40 to 50 minutes.
4. Form dough into loaf by gently pressing the dough into a rectangle, one inch thick and no wider than the length of the loaf pan. Next, roll the dough firmly into a cylinder, pressing with your fingers to make sure the dough sticks to itself. Turn the dough seam side up and pinch it closed. Finally, place dough in greased 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan and press it gently so it touches all four sides of the pan.
5. Cover with plastic wrap; set aside in warm spot until dough almost doubles in size, 20 to 30 minutes. Heat oven to 350 degrees, placing empty loaf pan on bottom rack. Bring 2 cups water to boil.
6. Remove plastic wrap from loaf pan. Place pan in oven, immediately pouring heated water into empty loaf pan; close oven door. Bake until instant-read thermometer inserted at angle from short end just above pan rim into center of loaf reads 195 degrees, about 40 to 50 minutes. Remove bread from pan, transfer to a wire rack, and cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.