I love fresh bread. About a year and a half ago, I started learning how to bake it myself. I was tired of soft, spongy, store-bought bread, which is not only bland, but also full of all kinds of completely unnecessary additives. Now that we live here, far from bakeries and grocery stores, I’m glad that I learned how to make my own. Here’s the secret to making your own bread at home: don’t be scared. It is easy and anyone can do it. And it doesn’t take much time either.
You don’t even need a recipe to bake bread, really. There are only 4 necessary ingredients, and as long as you have the amounts kind of close, you can bake a lovely homemade bread. I thought today I’d share generally how to make bread, and then over time, give some recipes that I like. (If you want to get fancy then you can follow recipes.) The four ingredients you need are: flour, water, yeast and salt. That is all.
Start by running water from the tap until it feels warm. Put one cup of the warm water into a bowl and sprinkle about a tablespoon of yeast in and stir until it is dissolved. (Just to emphasize that you don’t really need a recipe, any amount of yeast from one teaspoon to over a tablespoon would work). Add about a cup and a half of flour and about a teaspoon (or two) of salt. Stir this until you get a smooth, runny dough. Then add more flour. Probably about another cup and a half. Keep stirring and when it starts to come away from the sides of the bowl and the flour is all incorporated, it is about right. The dough should be kind of sticky (stick to your spoon), but not runny. If it is runny, or looks wet, add more flour. Make sure at least some of your flour is white flour – yeast really like it and the bread will rise better. If learning, I’d start by making a few all-white loaves before experimenting with different types of flours.
Now let it rise. You don’t have to knead it (gasp!). You really don’t. I’ve read so many recipes where people get all tied up in knots worrying about how long to knead dough (just long enough, but not overworked) that I think we should just forget about it all and not knead. So, to rise the bread, cover the bowl with plastic wrap tightly (if the wrap doesn’t make a seal, just put the whole bowl in a plastic grocery bag and tie it off with a twist tie. Leave the bowl in a warm place for an hour or two, until the dough has about doubled in size.
If you want, you can now get ready to bake the bread. If you’re busy and want to do something else for another hour, just squish the dough down, turn it over a few times until it is smaller, and let it rise again.
To bake the bread, first take the dough out of the bowl by pouring it onto a floured surface. Make it into the shape of loaf you want, and put it on a greased cookie sheet (I grease with either butter or olive oil). And let it rise again for a while. Preheat the oven to 450º and put the bread in. Immediately lower the temperature to about 375-400º. In about 30-35 minutes your bread will be done. Easy. (You can get all more fancy than this, and be careful at a few steps to improve your bread, but not worrying too much and just trying it will pretty much always make a wonderful bread that is much better than anything from the store.)