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Winter Warmth and Comfort: Bread Baking

By Lisa Truesdale

 

If you love a good, warm, crusty loaf of fresh-baked yeast bread, you can thank the ancient Egyptians. About 1350 B.C., the yeast used by this beer-brewing civilization somehow ended up in their bread, which previously had only been flat and unleavened (and sometimes used as a plate).

There’s nothing that compares to the aroma of baking bread. It’s a smell that’s soothing, comforting and warming, especially in the colder months. Since bread is a staple food and has been for millennia, it has the power to evoke nostalgic memories of childhood and simpler times.

Bread-baking at home has enjoyed a renaissance of late, sparked by quarantine and continuing long after. Those who finally gave it a go realized that it’s not a chore but an enjoyable activity that yields tasty results. Making bread also offers stress relief. While kneading is essential for developing the gluten strands that give the loaf structure and lift, all that pounding and stretching is also an excellent way to get out your frustrations. (Kids especially love helping with that part!)

Making bread from scratch might sound complicated, but it’s not. If you follow the recipe, taking care not to overheat the yeast mixture, you’ll be rewarded with hearty, delicious bread that can be enjoyed on its own or paired with classic winter soups and stews.

 

Basic Homemade Bread

Bread-baking doesn’t get any easier than this! After you’ve mastered the process, experiment with additions like herbs and spices.

INGREDIENTS

1 pkg. (¼ oz.)                     active dry yeast

3 Tbsp. plus ½ tsp.              sugar

2¼ cups                             warm water (110° to 115° F)

1 Tbsp.                               salt

6¼ to 6¾ cups                    bread flour, divided

2 Tbsp.                               canola oil

 

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast and ½ teaspoon of the sugar in warm water. Let it stand a few minutes, until bubbles and a light foam form on the surface.
  2. In another large bowl, whisk together the remaining 3 tablespoons of sugar, salt, and 3 cups of the flour.
  3. Stir the oil into the yeast mixture, then pour that into the flour mixture and beat by hand until smooth. Stir in enough remaining flour, ½ cup at a time, to form a soft dough.
  4. Turn the dough onto a floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 8-10 minutes. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1½ to 2 hours.
  5. Punch dough down. Turn onto a floured surface; divide dough in half. Shape each into a loaf. Place dough in two greased 9-x-5-in. loaf pans. Cover and let rise again until doubled, about 1 to 1½ hours.
  6. Preheat the over to 375° F. Bake until golden brown and bread sounds hollow when tapped or has reached an internal temperature of 200° F, about 30-35 minutes. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool.

Get Creative!

Bread-making is chemistry, so you’ll want to follow the recipes closely. But there’s a bit of wiggle room when it comes to adding savory or sweet ingredients to enhance your bread’s flavor, texture and appearance:

Mix in olives, chopped nuts, seeds, dried fruits or chocolate chips. Tossing them in a bit of flour first ensures they’re evenly distributed and won’t sink to the bottom.

Add herbs and spices like thyme, basil, rosemary, oregano,
garlic, onion, nutmeg, cinnamon
or cardamom.

To keep bread moist and ensure a lovely golden crust, try honey as a replacement for sugar. (Use about ¾ of the recipe’s sugar amount.)

Add ¼ cup leftover mashed potatoes per loaf to make bread soft and fluffy.

Replace some or all of the liquid in the recipe with flavor enhancers like beer or buttermilk.

 


 

Multigrain Seeded Bread

The seeds listed here are just suggestions; feel free to use your favorite nuts and seeds when making this bread. Just be sure to use about 9 tablespoons total.

INGREDIENTS

1½ cups                        whole wheat flour

¾ cup                           all-purpose flour

1 pkg. (¼ oz.)               active dry yeast

½ tsp.                           salt

3 Tbsp.                          shelled sunflower seeds

3 Tbsp.                          shelled pumpkin seeds

3 Tbsp.                          sesame seeds

⅓ cup                            rolled oats

1 cup                             water

2 Tbsp.                          molasses

1                                   egg white

1 Tbsp.                          1% milk or non-dairy milk

 

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large bowl, combine the whole wheat flour, all-purpose flour, yeast, and salt. In another bowl, mix the seeds with the oats.
  2. In a saucepan, combine the water and molasses and warm the mixture over low heat until a thermometer reads 120° to 130° F.
  3. Add the liquid mixture to the flour mixture with the egg white. Mix together until a soft dough forms.
  4. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 10 minutes, then shape into a ball. Place the dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease the top. Cover with a tea towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1½ to 2 hours.
  5. Punch dough down with your fists and add all but 2 tablespoons of the seed mixture, working it into the dough. (Reserve the other 2 tablespoons for the topping.)
  6. Shape the dough into a loaf by rolling it into a 12-x-8-inch rectangle and then rolling it up by its shortest end. Pinch the ends together and tuck underneath. Place in a nonstick 9-x-5-inch loaf pan with the seam underneath. Cover the loaf pan with a tea towel and let rise for 1 hour until doubled in size.
  7. Preheat the oven to 350° F. Brush the top of the loaf with milk and sprinkle on the reserved seed mixture. Bake until bread sounds hollow when tapped, about 30-35 minutes. Remove from pan to wire rack to cool.

 


Herbed Focaccia Bread

Homemade focaccia with fresh herbs gets deliciously golden and fluffy as it bakes—no kneading required! Serve this bread alongside an Italian meal, or use it to make sandwiches.

INGREDIENTS

2 cups               bread flour or all-purpose flour

1 tsp.                kosher salt

1 cup                warm water (105° to 110°)

1⅛ tsp.             active dry yeast

½ tsp.               sugar

Olive oil, as needed

1 tsp.               minced fresh rosemary (or ½ tsp. dried)

1 tsp.               minced fresh parsley (or ½ tsp. dried)

1 tsp.               minced fresh thyme (or ½ tsp. dried)

Flaked sea salt, as needed

 

DIRECTIONS

  1. In a large glass bowl, mix the flour and salt to combine.
  2. In a small bowl, mix the warm water, yeast, and sugar. Let it stand a few minutes, until bubbles and a light foam form on the surface.
  3. Stir the yeast mixture into the flour mixture with a wooden spoon just until the dough starts to come together.
  4. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and place in the fridge for 8 hours or up to overnight.
  5. In an 8-inch round cake pan, drizzle oil and place the dough in the center, tucking ends under. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise 2 more hours.
  6. Preheat the oven to 450° F. The risen dough should now fill the pan. Drizzle with a little olive oil, then use your fingers to press “dimples” in the dough. Sprinkle with herbs and salt.
  7. Turn the oven down to 425° F and bake the focaccia for 22-24 minutes or until golden brown.

 


Bread-Baking Tips and Tricks

  • Yeast is pretty finicky—the secret to success is making sure your warm water isn’t too hot. Don’t go hotter than 110° F. (Also, make sure your yeast hasn’t expired.)
  • To knead bread dough, push on the dough with the heel of your hand, then push it forward to stretch it. Fold it in on itself, give it a quarter turn, then repeat. Knead until the dough is smooth, stretchy and elastic; this normally takes about 10 minutes.
  • Always let your bread rise in a warm, humid environment until it’s doubled in size. Try the top of the stove, with the hood light on, or place it right in the oven (without it turned on).
  • Store homemade bread in a plastic bag or a bread box. You can also wrap it tightly in plastic and freeze it; it will stay fresh for at least a few months.

 


 

How to Make Any Bread Gluten-Free

  • Although just about any bread recipe can be made with a gluten-free flour (almond, buckwheat, amaranth, oat, a special blend, etc.), you may need to make some adjustments to the recipe to ensure success:
  • Gluten-free flours are drier and more absorbent, so you may need to use more liquid. You could also use carbonated water or a non-diet soda; the extra bubbles help lighten up the batter. (The extra sugar from a non-diet soda also provides extra action for the yeast.)
  • The yeast has to work a bit harder in dough that has no gluten, so you also may need to use a bit more yeast. Start by increasing the stated yeast amount by 25 percent.
  • Use deeper bread pans; unbaked gluten-free bread is more of a batter than a dough and therefore cannot stand up on its own.
  • Gluten-free bread takes longer to bake, and you don’t want it to burn. Lower the suggested oven temperature by 25° for most of the baking time. Then increase it 25° towards the end to get the desired golden-brown color.
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