These days, I cheat more days than not and make my dough in my two (yes, two) breadmakers. Then I knead, let rise and use the cold-oven method (we'll talk about that in the next blog post) to bake our daily bread. On the weekends, however, you'll find me making pitas, naan bread, crackers, French loaves and all manner of rolls and buns. If I didn't think that it would kill my love of bread, I would consider opening a bakery.
If you've never made your own bread, you have no idea what you're missing. There's something comforting and safe in the smell of bread baking in the oven. The danger, of course, is that you may never go back to eating the pasty, cardboardy substance they call bread in the store.
The trick to making great bread is simply practice. After a while, you will get a feel for the dough. You can take exactly the same ingredients and make bread on two different days, and it will come out differently. Temperature, humidity, flour settling and a host of other variables all come to the dance to create the chemical and biological process of creating bread from scratch. Knowing how the dough should feel will help you adjust it as you go until it is perfect.
You can knead bread by hand or pick up a breadmaker at a yard sale for $5. You can make the entire loaf in the breadmaker but it will never come out the same as a hand-shaped oven-baked loaf. There are a few other tricks I've picked up along the way:
- Don't rush bread. Let it rise luxuriously out of breezes or other environmental shocks. The longer the rise, the better (and lighter) the bread.
- Keep your whole wheat flour and your yeast in the freezer. This will stop the flour from going rancid and keep the yeast strong. Take out what you need for each session and allow to come to room temperature.
- Use the cold-oven method for baking bread (see the next blog entry). I wish I had learned this method years ago. Makes a perfect loaf every time.
- Cut the first slice while the bread is still warm and slather it with butter. Enjoy it and revel in your new kitchen skills!