Do you ever look at stuff in the food section of the store and wonder “What am I eating?” Start reading labels, and after a while you get chemophobic. I seriously have trouble buying half of what they sell as food because when the list of chemicals you can not pronounce is longer than all the other ingredients…there may be a problem with that “food”! To me, that is almost like an Alice in Wonderland moment with a sign that says “Don’t eat me”.
One of the most widely used items in a grocery store is bread. Bread is, as it has been since the ancient history of man, a staple for many families. Not only was it simple to make, it was filling, and capable of being stored longer than other food items. Making bread is an art anyone can do.
The art of making bread predates written history. Ancient Egyptians learned to isolate yeast to be added to bread and discovered a new form of wheat for making the more refined bread the modern world is most familiar with.
Making your own bread by hand (yes by hand not with a machine!) can be a satisfying labor culminating in the wonderful scent of fresh bread wafting through your kitchen, and much healthier eating for your family. No matter what recipe you choose, there are little tips and tricks to making a near perfect loaf of bread that is also healthy and filling.
Healthy dough is the basis for all good homemade bread. There are several small changes you can make in your recipe to make your dough not only healthier for those who will eat your bread, but also to create dough that is smooth and airy instead of lumpy and leaden.
The flour you choose will be important to healthy bread. You do not need bleached or high gluten flour to make bread. There are several companies who market unbleached, natural, and organic flours, all of which make exceptional, healthy bread dough. Bleached and “enriched” flours are actually very bad for you. One of the bleaches used by flour companies is chloride oxide. When mixed with protein (there may be some left in your flour!) chloride oxide produces alloxan which is basically a poison proven to cause diabetes by in research animals.
Some ingredients in even homemade bread recipes are not necessary to every loaf of bread. Mass produced bread may have several types of sugar added, sugar that has no purpose other than to feed our addiction. You can cut all the sugar from your recipe except one pinch thrown into your yeast mixture which helps the yeast rise. Eggs also can be removed or lowered to just one. Exchanging the vegetable oil with Olive Oil not only makes healthier dough but also fluffier bread. You can even replace the milk with warm water, or a water/milk mix. The recipe simply needs the same amount of fluid.
You don’t need a lot of fancy tools to make bread. After all, our ancestors used mere stones to grind wheat and corn while we can buy our flours ground and packaged all neat and tidy. Nature itself gave us the best tool for bread making… our hands.
When your dough gets more solid than gooey, turn it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured counter. “Kneading” is the act of actually massaging the dough and pressing out the air bubbles that form. With firm pressure of your palms or the knuckles of your fists, knead the dough while turning it into itself several times. As you knead add flour until your dough is smooth and elastic. When you pinch the dough it should reshape. Form into a ball and place into a lightly greased bowl. Place a dampened dish towel over the bowl and wait until the dough has risen to double.
Don’t make your loaves yet. Instead, punch the dough back down (gently, this isn’t the time to think of someone’s face), cover with a damp towel again, and then let it rise once more. Once the dough has risen a second time, turn it out onto the counter and once again knead. Pinch, don’t rip, the dough into sections for your loaves. Knead these while forming into shape, turning in towards the bottom. Roll the bottom through your palms to smooth. Place into your lightly greased bread pans, cover once more with a damp towel and place on top of the stove while you preheat your oven to 400 degrees (too low of a temperature will not allow your bread to properly rise). By the time your oven is up to temperature your loaves will have risen for their third time.
A Perfect Finish
Baking times are never exact for bread. There are always variables that determine the length of time your bread should remain in the oven, including oven performance, altitude, pans, and recipe. The average is 45 minutes. When done, you should be able to tap on the top of the golden colored loaf without denting and it will sound hollow, the bread should be pulling slightly away from the pan edges, and if you stick a toothpick in the center it will come out clean.
Before pulling from oven, lightly brush the crust with either butter or a whipped egg white. Put a dry towel down on counter and turn your bread out onto its side. To cut while hot, leave the loaf on its side while you cut it with a serrated knife. This keeps it from falling apart under the pressure of cutting.
To keep your bread soft, after the bread cools put it into a plastic bag. Plastic bags from the store or from other bread works well. Bread can also be frozen in double bags.
Remember trial and errors are the best learning aids of any cook. So be brave, try out those recipes, create your own methods, and enjoy the act of simple bread making.