Martha Stewart Living (February 2009)
Like many in the mid-Atlantic region, the recent snowpocalypse spurred us to cook, and eat, and then cook some more.
After all, what else are you going to do with two-and-a-half feet of snow on the ground? Go for a jog?
Early on in the storm, we also got the hankering to do some baking. But we'd never baked bread before. Our baking to date has been relegated to desserts and sweets.
So we set off to make our very first loaf of bread. How did two novice bakers do?
Turns out, just okay. This is one we chalk up 100 percent to user error.
We've read our fair share of bread recipes. And this one is indeed classic, in that it has all the steps you come to expect, from the sprinkling of the yeast to the kneading to the rising, punching down and forming of the loaf.
MarthaStewart.com has an excellent step-by-step guide to making this bread that easily walks you through each step and shows you exactly what you're getting yourself into.
We believe that we made our first error at Step 4, in the kneading process, in that we didn't knead our dough long enough. Or at least that's our hunch. Our dough was still very tough, not "smooth and elastic" when when we set it to rest and rise. We had already kneaded it for at least five minutes, but then it didn't seem to be changing consistency at all and we left well enough alone, convincing ourselves that perhaps instead of "smooth and elastic," the author meant "tough and difficult to work with."
Our second potential error came in Step 7. After our bread had risen on the counter for about 10 minutes, friends called and asked us to come play in the snow and watch movies at their house. We were already several days into being snowbound and needed to leave the house. So we did some Googling and decided that we could leave our dough resting in the refrigerator and come back to it later. We didn't bake the bread until the next morning, let it warm a bit and then proceeded from there.
So what was wrong with our bread? It was a bit tough and chewy. The taste was excellent, but the consistency was slightly off. It was still delicious, just not as light and airy as we had hoped.
But we'd do it again in a heartbeat. We loved worked with the dough. From the mixing to the kneading to the shaping, making this bread is a great tactile experience, the kind of hands-on cooking that we often crave.
Though we don't consider our first bread outing a raging success, don't consider us scared off by bread making. We quickly got back on the horse and made a second loaf of another sort. We'll share more about that next week.
Do you have a go-to bread recipe? If so, please let us know in the comments!
(This photo: Martha Stewart Living)
One simple recipe is all you need to bake four types of bread, each one hearty, wholesome, and delicious.
Tips: To make bread without a stand mixer, stir together ingredients with a wooden spoon in a large bowl. All the loaves can be stored at room temperature for three days or frozen up to three months.
Ingredients and Equipment
• 1 tablespoon plus 1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast (two 1/4-ounce envelopes)
• 2 1/4 cups warm water (110 degrees)
• 3 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons honey
• 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, plus more for bowl, pans, and brushing
• 7 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for surface and dusting
• 4 teaspoons coarse salt
Step 1: Sprinkle yeast over 1/2 cup water. Add 2 teaspoons honey. Whisk until yeast dissolves. Let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes.
Step 2: Transfer to the bowl of a mixer fitted with the paddle or dough-hook attachment. Add butter and remaining 1 3/4 cups water and 3 tablespoons honey. Whisk flour with salt; add 3 cups to yeast. Mix on low speed until smooth.
Step 3: Add remaining 4 cups flour, 1 cup at a time, mixing until dough comes away from sides of bowl and forms a ragged, slightly sticky ball. Butter a large bowl.
Step 4: Knead dough on a floured surface until smooth and elastic but still slightly tacky, about 5 minutes.
Step 5: Shape into a ball.
Step 6: Transfer to prepared bowl; cover with plastic wrap.
Step 7: Let dough stand in a warm place until it doubles in volume (it should not spring back when pressed), about 1 hour.
Step 8: Butter two 4 1/2-by-8 1/2-inch loaf pans. Punch down dough.
Step 9: Divide in half.
Step 10: Shape 1 dough half into an 8 1/2-inch-long rectangle (about 1/2 inch thick). Fold long sides of dough in to middle, overlapping slightly. Press seam to seal. Transfer dough, seam side down, to pan. Repeat with remaining dough.
Step 11: Brush each loaf with butter, or dust with flour for a rustic look.
Step 12: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Drape loaves with plastic. Let stand until dough rises about 1 inch above tops of pans, 45 minutes to 1 hour. Reduce oven temperature to 400 degrees. Bake, rotating pans after 20 minutes, until tops are golden brown, about 45 minutes. Transfer to wire racks. Let cool slightly; turn out loaves. Let cool completely before slicing.