A while back, probably around a year now, I started hating what I was reading in my store bought bread ingredients. Take a look the next time you go to the store, many may have changed to a more natural sweetener, but most still contain HFCS, that is High Fructose Corn Syrup. It is a sweetener that has been the basis for much debate in the last few years. If you ask a lot of parents, foodies and nutritionists they would tell you that HFCS may just be the cause of childhood onset of diabetes these days. If you ask people in the corn industry, they say HFCS is completely safe in limited quantities and it is our culture that is causing the diabetes. The problem that I see with the corn industries argument is why is it in most of our processed foods that we eat on a daily basis- like bread? If you ask me, I say it is both, and regardless, I don't want it in everything I eat. Thus, I became the Maega bread baker!
I have never been a super big bread eater. In college I had a stomach issue and bread-y foods just made me feel icky. But the thought of warm fresh bread (with butter of course) was something I liked, and I like to try new things so I started learning how to make bread. Also, my DH is a carb consumer. You want him on board when selling carbs- he loves them. I thought it would be better for him too to have something wholesome and HFCS free.
So, my first, say, 5 loaves totally sucked. Seriously people. Bricks. It was worse than trying to make sandwiches out of large Melba toasts. And, to boot- they were completely wheat based- so try to swallow that. Uffda. Now, you are wondering, I can see the gleam in your eye, how did DH fare with this experiment of mine? Well, I happened to have married THE most patient man I could find, so he just ate the bread and said things like "great job" and "hmmm, fresh baked." At least our house smelled yummy, right?
Anyway, on to success. I figured out that, yes, it does matter what kind of flour you buy. Also, when the recipe tells new bread bakers to NOT start with wheat, they had a reason. Smart people! After a few successes with white bread, I tried my hand at wheat, and now can proudly say that I know some little tricks of the trade myself. It just took a few google searches, a Mississippi market trip, and some time and- voila yummy bread.
I must add a plug for the Kitchenaid stand mixer (I hated reading these when I didn't have one- sorry non-owners!). If you plan on making more than two loaves a year, get a dough hook!! It is like having a maid (I guess I wouldn't know, but it seems like it would be that awesome). I use the KA for all of my mixing needs- maybe I should just blog about that sometime.... adding it to the list.
I figured I would share my all time favorite recipe for everyday bread with you, with my changes and additions. The original is from a website called Hillbilly Housewife- because they are known for their baking skills... (I think) http://www.hillbillyhousewife.com/beginnersbread.htm
1-1/2 cups of White flour (plus a little extra flour for kneading)
1-1/2 cups of Wheat flour (NOT GRAHM FLOUR)
1 teaspoon salt
1 packet, or about 2 teaspoons yeast
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons EV olive oil
1 cup warm water (not hot, just warm)
~2 teaspoons of soy lecithin granules (I got mine from Mississippi Market in bulk area)
1. Ingredients:-Put your 1 cup of warm tap water into a Pyrex type deal, put your yeast and soy lecithin in there as well, mix just a bit with a fork and let sit.
-In a large bowl (or Kitchenaid [KA] bowl) put your oil, honey, and salt. Then get all your other ingredients out of the cupboards (to give your yeast and soy lecithin a chance to get to know each other).
-Gently mix the warm water mixture together a bit with a fork, then pour it into the bowl of your other sticky ingredients, mix around with a rubber spatula until all the ingredients have "met each other."
-Now, add one cup of wheat flour and mix with a spoon (or hook on your KA) for like 60 seconds. Stop, add the 1/2 cup of wheat flour, mix for a bit, stop add the 1 cup of white flour mix for a bit, stop add the 1/2 cup of white and mix until all of it is mixed together as best you can.
2. Kneading: important note* If you are mixing this by hand be ready for a work out. Dump your dough (it is o.k. if it is a little chunky) onto a slightly floured surface and start kneading like you hate someone and knead to get that energy out... (WOW bad jokes... can't help myself). You will knead to knead (can't stop!) for 10 to 15 minutes, until the dough looks like it has started to string up a bit (see above recipe link for more info on kneading). For you KA owners, "alls you gotta do is" scoop the bottom ingredients to the top and set your mixer to a 2 or 4 speed for like 5 to 7 minutes. You should consider lifting some weights during that time to get the same workout though.... Just a thought.
3. Rising/Baking: Here is a tricky deal. Your bread kneads (k, last joke) to rise enough to be beaten down before the 2nd rise. Here is what I do: microwave a cup of water for a minute to warm up the microwave. Pop your little ball of dough into a bowl that has been oil sprayed or EVOO'd a bit, cover with a tea or drying towel and put it in the micro (micro will be unavailable for a while). You aren't cooking it in the micro, it just sits in there! If you have to use your micro for other things- stick it in the oven or a warm cupboard. I let mine rise for about 90 minutes before I check it. It will take longer in cool weather and shorter in warm weather. You know that it is ready to be punched down when you stick your finger in it and it leaves a hole (that doesn't pop back up).
-When the hole stays, you use your fist and gently/slowly punch it down so the air is pushed out. Grab a loaf pan, or whatever you are baking it in, spray it with the cooking oil/ non-stick stuff (don't use EVOO- the bread will stick). Take your dough, gently massage (yes- I used massage for a bread recipe) it to be similar to the shape of the pan, and put the dough in. Cover it up with the drying towel and stick it back in the micro for about 90 minutes again. When it has risen (indeed) put it in the oven at 350 and bake for 30-35 minutes. It is done when you take it out of the pan and a flick to the bottom sounds sorta hollow.
Now- if you are like me and have a job, you just don't have time to sit around waiting for bread to rise (let's start saying that- "She is so lazy she waits for bread to rise!! ha ha ha!"). So, this is my modification. Go back to step 3. Rising. Instead of letting the bread rise a second time in the micro- stick it in the fridge overnight and bake it in the morning. The max it should be in the fridge is 12 hours. Forgotten dough gets tough- this I know from experience. The people you live with will love you forever by the way. Fresh baked bread in the a.m. is awesome.
The whole process takes about 25 minutes of my time total. I usually double the recipe and make 2 loaves. I freeze one and we have bread for a week and a half. This bread goes bad in about 3 or 4 days unless you keep it wrapped in aluminium foil, then you have about a week with it.
So I thought I would share with you my enthusiasm for freshly baked homemade "everyday" bread, seeing as we will soon be baking in the July sun ourselves.