Friday, February 24, 2012

Homemade bread...the easy way!

I have been making bread from time to time over the years.  Over the last few months, I became more serious about making all the bread we consume.  We have not bought a loaf of bread since!  Yes, it is that simple too switch.  Some of the rewards is that I know what ingredients I use and can make it to our taste.
The basic recipe has been found in an article in Mother Earth News, it is based on the book “Artisan bread in 5 minutes a day”. It is very simple and guarantees you great results.
Once the dough is done, it can be kept for days in the fridge.  The longer it stays and the more sourdough”y” it gets.   The batch I make is good for 4 small loaves or 2 large.  I like to divide it in 4 as it gives enough to be served for dinner and left over for breakfast or to use for sandwich bread too.
At times, I bake the 4 loaves and freeze them once cooled down, that way I always ensure to have  bread ready. 
Of course, the recipe can be tweaked any ways you want.  You can use whole wheat or rye flour, you can add sourdough, nuts, seeds, dried fruit…The possibilities are endless.
I like using my homemade sourdough starter in this recipe as it adds a nice flavor to it.  I also usually substitute one to one and a half cup of flour for whole wheat flour, it makes the bread hardy but not too hardy.  Whole wheat can be pretty intense.
So here it goes:
6.5 cups of flour
3 cups of water
1.5 tablespoon salt (kosher or sea salt)
1.5 tablespoon dry yeast
Optional: 1 to 1.5 cups of sourdough
If you have a kitchen aid mixer, use the bread hook and knead all ingredients together for a few minutes, during the process monitor and if the dough appears too dry add a bit of water or if it is too wet add a bit of flour (these adjustments happen when changing flour types).  The dough needs to feel wet but not stick to the bowl.
If no access to a bread machine or mixer, use your hands!  I personally love the feeling of kneading bread dough.
Once the dough is well kneaded, let it rest for about 5 hours at room temperature to give it a good rise.  Place a dish towel or plate over the bowl.
After that punch the dough, re-knead for a few minutes and let it rise again (a few hours) or place it in the fridge.
When ready to use, take a fourth of the dough, flatten it (with your hands) on a lightly floured surface and then fold it to form a ball.  Place on a baking sheet.  Let it rest while pre-heating the oven.  Pre-heat the oven to 410F with a dish containing water on the lower rack.  Once the oven is ready, lightly flour the surface of the ball and with a sharp knife make three to four incisions on the top (about ¼ inch deep).
Prior to placing in the oven, I like to splash some water around the oven to create a “steam oven”, this and the water already in the oven will help make the crust crispy.

Place the bread in the oven and bake for approx. 30-35 minutes.
Let it cool completely or at least for 30-45 min.  Enjoy right away or freeze.