Bread is one of the mainstays of the culinary world. Whether you call it baguette, naan, pain, brot, focaccia or pita, it is found in almost every culture in the world. Unfortunately for North Americans, bread is often an unnaturally soft leavened mass and not the chewy, golden domes and loaves of Europe.
Last year, I decided I was finished with buying bread. I had long ago abandoned all things Wonder-ful and had been buying beautiful loaves from small local bakeries. But I wanted more from my bread. I picked up a few bread books from the library, a bag of flour and a packet of yeast.
Baking bread takes time, but it can be suited to fit your day. To make bread there are four steps: mixing, kneading, rising and baking.
Start with measuring and mixing the ingredients. A basic recipe includes just flour, water, salt and yeast. Estimated time: four minutes.
Next you need to knead the dough. There are no fancy tricks when it comes to kneading bread. Gather the dough into a ball. Flatten it while pushing it forward and then fold it over onto itself. Turn it a half turn. Repeat. Estimated time: about 10 minutes.
Next up is the rising time. Put your dough in an oiled bowl, cover it, and put it in a warm place. Depending on your recipe, the volume of your dough after rising will vary; most recipes call for a doubling in size after the first rise. Punch it down to get rid of the excess carbon dioxide in the dough and knead it briefly. Shape the dough, then let it rise again. The second rising is shorter, but you’ll likely be looking for the dough to double in size a second time. Estimated rising time: four to eight hours; estimated shaping time: 30 seconds.
Lastly, baking. Depending on the size and type of bread, temperatures and times will vary. You’ll know it’s finished when the loaf is golden and sounds hollow when you lightly knock on its underside. Estimated baking time: 20 to 25 minutes.
While your bread is baking, relax. Soon the aroma of baked bread will permeate your home. This is the most pleasurable part of all. The smell of bread baking is one of the most heart-warming scents. That is why I bake my own bread.
And it doesn’t hurt that it tastes amazing.