I was with my mom in the grocery store yesterday – she doesn’t love grocery shopping – and we were headed down the bread aisle when I saw the price of loaves of bread. I steered us right out of that lane and said I’d make bread for dinner. “Oh ! Great ! Scratch that off the list…”
We’ve been a bread-making family ever since I was little. My dad was in charge of everything that required yeast as an ingredient. We’d throw everything in the bread machine, let it rise, shape it ourselves, and let it bake. It’s been awhile since the bread fairy paid us a visit, but that all changed after our chicken marsala dinner SO – here is the recipe for the bread shown with the mushroom dish. (It was so good, I made more last night).
*This recipe makes two long loaves OR multiple little rolls. If you have extra, cook it all and freeze the finished product – bread keeps well frozen. In fact, it’s the best way to store fresh bread, as it won’t go soggy and it won’t dry out. The French taught me this lovely trick.
Basic bread recipe :
6-7 cups flour
1 tablespoon yeast (not Brewer’s yeast – active, dry yeast).
3 tablespoons granulated sugar OR honey
3-4 tsp salt
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups water (warm)
1 cup milk (warm)
3 pinches dried rosemary (this is optional, but I love rosemary and it pairs well with many dishes. Leave this out if you want plain white bread.)
Put all of the dry ingredients together in a large bowl. Stir together to incorporate the yeast well within the flour mixture. Set aside.
Combine the milk and water in one container, and place this in the microwave for about 90 seconds. This needs to be warm in order to activate the yeast. Yeast is a cool little ingredient – it’s actually alive BUT purchased in a dormant state. We have to wake all of those little yeast particles up so that they can get to work eating the sugar molecules in the flour and the sugar and start creating gas. Yes, ladies and gentlemen – bread rises thanks to yeast farts. Pretty fantastic. 🙂 Anyway, they need a little heat to kickstart the reaction HOWEVER BE WARNED : yeast is sensitive – if it’s too hot, you will kill the yeast particles. Sad sad. I use my finger to test the heat – if you can put your index finger in the milk mixture and it isn’t too hot to burn you, it’s probably fine.
Add this to the flour mixture. Using one hand, mix together the flour and milk combinations. It will be sticky and it will be messy but it’s not difficult. Add the oil.
Once combined enough to hold a shape, dump the dough out onto a well-floured surface, such as a countertop. Wash your hands and douse them in flour. You many want to sprinkle a little flour on your dough as well.
KNEAD FOR 10 MINUTES. THIS IS VERY IMPORTANT. The bread’s texture is going to change as you knead it (you are forming gluten networks. Cool, right ?). The heel of your palm will be helpful – stretch the dough and then reform it into a ball. Punch it. Let out your emotions. I don’t have a photo given that both of my hands were covered in flour but as long as you are stretching the dough out repeatedly, you should be all set. You will need to constantly dust the dough with flour. Once you’ve kneaded the dough for a good 10 minutes (no skimping!) it should look like this :
Forming it into a ball is usually a wise plan. Put this in a large bowl (like the same mixing bowl as before…just cleaned and oiled) and let sit covered and undisturbed for anywhere between 45 minutes to 1h30. The dough should double in size.
Now comes the fun part. Dump the dough out onto the countertop and punch all the air OUT. I like to use my fingertips and poke the dough all over. You have two options at this point : you can either let the dough rise again (this improves texture) OR you can prepare it for baking. I’ve done it both ways and I think that even with one good rise, the bread tastes great. If you let it rise a second time, just repeat the same steps as above. If not…
Cut the dough in half using a serrated bread knife. Form it into a flat round – like pizza crust. Fold the top two corners of the round together so that you make a triangle shape. Then, starting at the tip of the triangle, roll the dough down until you have a baguette-type shape. It’s like making a snake out of clay or Play-Doh. (Come on, we all did it.) Roll to seal the bottom and shape the tips so that they are rounded (or pointed – it’s as you like). Place on a well-oiled baking sheet and dust with flour. Do this to both rounds of dough. Cover with a tea towel and let sit for another 30-45 minutes. Yes, they are going to rise. At this point, preheat your oven to 500F. Hothothot. I use steam to help cook the bread by placing a jelly-roll pan filled with water in the bottom of the oven (on the second rack). YOU DO NOT HAVE TO DO THIS. It will be fine if you skip it.
When the loaves have just about doubled in size, remove the tea towel. Using the serrated knife, make a series of quick slashes on the top of the bread. These help the dough to expand more while cooking. Be confident and don’t cut too deep ! We want to keep the gas in. I was nervous the first time I did this (a couple nights ago) but it all worked out.
I put a little salt and pepper and herbs on the top of the bread before throwing it (gently…) in the oven. Let bake for 8 minutes at 500 before reducing the temperature to 400 (or lower, depending on the browning of the bread). The bread is done when you knock it and it sounds hollow. You’ll know what I mean.
Let cool on a baking rack. It’s best to wait until cool to slice BUT if you are going to rip it…then it can still be warm. 🙂
Bon appétit !