Owen was home for the day and decided it was a good day to learn to bake bread.
I have a lot of old cookbooks from as early as 1899 (it is a reprint of the book that eventually became the Fanny Farmer series), an original (and in pretty good shape) 1916 Fanny Farmer cookbook, plus a 1950s Beard On Bread, an original 1944 Fanny Farmer cookbook. And more. I think the best bread recipes are from old cookbooks. The recipes are simpler. The only thing is that they leave out information we expect, like oven temperature. They might use measurements we don’t use these days, like “cakes of yeast.” I use dry yeast which I buy in a 16 ounce bag and which lives in the refrigerator. As long as you refrigerate it, it can last a year or more. It costs less to buy a pound of dry yeast than to buy a dozen pre-made packets of dry yeast. So for the uninitiated, 1 cake OR 1 packet of yeast = 2-1/4 teaspoons of dry yeast.
His bread came out very well for a first loaf. He was a little puzzled by the kneading process, but I think he’ll remember is for next time. He’s a quick learner. The thing to know about baking bread is that basically, one recipe can easily make three or four different kinds of bread by changing how much of which kind of flour you use. Whole wheat flour is pretty heavy and I have always preferred whole wheat bread made with 50% whole wheat and 50% white flour. It’s not nearly as dense. When you use all whole wheat flour, the bread has weight. It tastes good, but one slice is the better part of a meal.
Also, when you bake bread, you have to eat it quickly, within one day or less, or freeze it. Without food additives, it goes stale in about four hours, after which it needs toasting. A few hours after that, even toasting won’t save it.
Here is a bread recipe that with changes to the type of flour and whether you use sugar or molasses (treacle to those who speak non-American English).
- 1 cup scalded (very hot but not boiled) milk
- 1/3 cup molasses or sugar (I prefer molasses, but I’ve done it both ways) (NOTE: Many people substitute honey for molasses.)
- 1/3 cup warm (not hot) water and 2-1/4 teaspoons dry yeast (which equals one cake or one packet)
- 4-1/3 cups of flour regular flour — not the stuff that already has baking powder in it!
You can use all white flour (use sugar, not molasses), all whole wheat flour (molasses),
50-50 white + whole wheat (use sugar or molasses). Use four cups in the first mix
and the rest when you are kneading the bread.
- Put the yeast in the warm (skin temperature) water and set aside. The yeast will grow and become fuzzy. Yeast is alive!
- Scald the milk.
- Add molasses or sugar to the hot milk. Allow milk/sugar or molasses mix to cool until it’s warm, not hot.
- If you have a big mixer with a dough hook, put the milk and molasses, then the flour, and finally the water/yeast mix in the mixing bowl. (If you don’t have a mixes, wear an apron and ignore phone calls because mixing raw bread dough by hand is very messy.)
- Turn the mixer on LOW (lowest, slowest speed) using the dough hook and mix until it is ready. NOTE: If you turn the mixer up even a little bit too fast, flour will fly all over the kitchen and you will be cleaning for a long time. Seriously. Use a VERY LOW speed!
- Put a light layer of oil on top of the dough mix and cover the bowl with plastic wrap. Put it in a warm place in the kitchen. Rising will probably take about an hour, but if you leave it a while longer, that’s okay. Baking allows more leeway than cooking. You want the mixture to rise until just about double its original size.
- Turn it out on a floured surface. Coat your hands with flour, too. Knead and add bits of flour until it feel plump and warm and doughy and I can’t even explain that. When dough feels right, it just feels soft, not sticky, warm, and fragrant. You can feel it in your hands. I love the feeling of warm, fresh dough.
- Knead until the dough looks finished. Shape into a torpedo shape.
- Put it in an oiled loaf pan.
- Let it rise again. This rising should take about an hour.
We baked it in a convection oven which meant it took slightly more than half the time to bake as it would in a standard oven. Exact heat and time setting? Beard on bread say 450 F (230 C) degrees for an hour. Other books call for 400 F (200 C) degrees for an hour. The cookbook didn’t give any information about temperature because I think it was meant for a wood-burning oven.
We went with 450 F degrees in a convection oven. It baked fully in about 40 minutes. Maybe it was 35. It should have a golden crust and sound hollow when you tap it with your fingernail. It should also have pulled away from the sides of the loaf pan. All I can tell you is that bread looks baked when it is baked. Every oven is a little different. Every flour is different, too. Some flour absorbs liquids faster than others. Know your kitchen equipment and expect surprises, so until you know you instruments and keep your eyes open. Watch everything. That is how you get to know it how everything works. And if you are required to change flour, remember that different flour needs watching.
I have a full size electric (not convection) oven.
To make more than one loaf of bread,
I’d use the big oven: 4 loaves, 2 per shelf.
This is a very basic and pretty simple recipe. There are lots of other things you can do with it. Add more molasses to make a darker, slightly sweeter bread. Add a quarter of a cup of burghul to whole wheat or 50-50 whole wheat-white bread to give it a little crunch. Spread melted butter on top of the bread when you take it out of the over to make a softer crust.
When you take the bread out of the oven, you should be able turn it out of the pan with no sticking of clinging. Also, invest in a cooling screen. All baked good cool down better on a screen. They aren’t expensive. The only hard part is figuring out where to put everything. I didn’t take bread pictures yesterday. I should have, but I’m having a problem with dizziness. It’s hard for me to stay on my feet and not fall sideways. Why? I have not idea, nor does the doctor. NO other symptoms. No fever, no cough, no sniffles. Just dizziness and an intermittent headache. It has slowed my progress for the week. I hope whatever is wrong, it goes away soon.
Meanwhile, while I’m lurching around the house, but Owen is pleased with his first baking efforts. Baking is addictive and I’m looking forward to bread to come.It isn’t all that hard if you a strong mixer with a dough hook and enough time to wait for your bread to rise. You need at least three to four hours to make the dough, wait through two risings, and still have time to bake.
Homemade bread is wonderful.