Bread, As I Make It

I wrote this post back in February. I have NO idea why I didn’t post it then! Anyway, here ya go!

I love to make yeast bread. I’ve done it for over 30 years now, off and on. The first thing I learned is that following a recipe does NOT work for me and bread! That first loaf was used as a doorstop for several years … BUT I learned along the way that bread is super flexible! You can put pretty much anything in it that you like, as long as you have the basics down.

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What are the basics? Liquid, flour, sugar, yeast, and salt. That’s it. I do usually measure the liquid, and base everything else upon that.

For one loaf, 1-1/2 cups of liquid works–half that for a pizza crust. What kind of liquid? Whatever you like. Water, milk, potato water, veggie water, broth, juice, really whatever tickles your fancy! Egg counts as liquid, but you can’t use JUST eggs as the liquid. Just make sure that whatever you use is around body temperature.

For the flour, I prefer whole wheat bread flour as the basis. It’s got plenty of gluten to stretch out and let the little yeastie critters blow bubbles. I often add some portion of all purpose flour, just to lighten it up a little. Total flour? Um … more than twice as much as you used liquid? Until the consistency is right.

For sugar, I usually use honey, but sometimes will use molasses or a mixture of the two. Granulated sugar, whether white or some form of “raw” works well, too. I use about a spoonful per loaf, as it helps a LOT in feeding those little yeastie critters so they can burp bubbles to make the dough rise.

For yeast, I like the plain old whatever they’re selling in bulk at the food co-op. It works, and I’m happy. Sourdough is wonderful as well, but that’s a different post.

For salt, I use Celtic Sea Salt. That’s the only salt I buy! One teaspoon per loaf of bread.

For optional ingredients, I’ll often add some fat–usually butter or ghee, sometimes coconut oil … again, a spoonful. Vinegar or orange juice to acidify the dough helps the gluten to develop. Since I found out that bakeries used to use iodine as a dough conditioner but switched to bromine in the 60’s … and most of us are deficient in iodine … I’ve started to add a few drops to my dough, as well. Nuts, fruits, onions, garlic, seeds, cheeses, herbs, all kinds of things CAN be added. Be adventurous!

My process for making bread varies some, but basically, mix together the liquid (not including eggs, if using them) with 1/2 of the flour and the yeast in a glass bowl. Cover with a plate and let it sit for anywhere from one to 24 hours. Add eggs if using, salt, fat if using, sugar, a splash of vinegar & a few drops of edible iodine as dough conditioners and beat it up. Add flour 1/2 cup or so at a time until the dough is stiff, and knead until it’s satiny and elastic. Put it into a buttered bowl, turn so the whole ball of dough is coated, cover with that plate again, and let it rise until doubled. This can be 1 hour or it can be 3, depending on how much yeast I use and what the room’s temperature is.

Shape the loaf as I like, and preheat the oven. For that “artisan” loaf you see in the pictures, I went with 450f, but you can bake bread at pretty much any temperature from 350f on up. Bake it until done. Again, for the “artisan” loaf in the cast iron dutch oven, I preheated the pan with the oven, then baked it for 30 minutes with the lid on, removed the lid and baked for another 15 minutes. I like to butter the crust so it’s more tender, but some people prefer the crunch of not buttering it. You get to choose!

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