Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Fresh bread!

When you think of a comforting smell, what comes to mind?  I mean, something that you'd love for your house to smell like 24/7?  Vanilla?  Cookies?  Flowers?  All good answers, but for me, I'd say my favorite smell is fresh out of the oven bread.  Smear some butter on it, and forget about it...I'm in heaven!  
However, I always believed that fresh, homemade bread was very difficult to make, unless you had a bread machine to make it with.  And those are pretty expensive, and take up a fair amount of room on your counter/in your cabinets.  So I stuck with making cornbread, yeast rolls, biscuits and the like, until I stumbled across this blog post that described a bread that sounded too good to be true.  There is no kneading, no machine needed (of any kind..not even a mixer!), all you need is a bowl, a couple of forks, a few easy ingredients, a gentle heat source, and some time.  Honestly, that's it!  And you'll end up with two loaves of bread that are so impressive that no one will believe you made it at home!  I'm excited to get started, so lets go over this easy grocery list, and get to making some bread!!

Here's your grocery list:
4 Cups unbleached, all purpose flour
2 tsp Kosher salt
2 C lukewarm water*
2 tsp sugar
2 tsp active dry yeast (there is slightly more than this in a packet, just use the whole packet, don't worry about it)
2 TBS room temperature butter, divided
That's it!  I'd be willing to bet that you have 90% of this in your pantry right now.  Now then, when I'm asking for lukewarm water, it needs to be roughly between 102-110 degrees.  You don't need a thermometer for this, just test it against the inside of your wrist.  Your body temperature is 98.6, so you want something that feels slightly warmer than you are!  

To start off with, we are not going to preheat the oven today!  That's a first, huh?  Instead, get your warm water measured out, and add in your sugar.  You can stir to dissolve the sugar, but I don't worry about it.  Pour in your yeast, and set it aside for the yeast to bloom.  This is fancy talk for activating the yeast.  This should take anywhere from 5-15 minutes, you'll know its done when there is a layer of foam on top of the water.  You'll see in a minute.  
While you're waiting, go on and mix the flour and salt together, in a medium sized bowl.  I just use the mixing bowl from my mixer.  You can sift all of this together, but I just dump it in.  I do give it a mix with a fork, though, just to try and incorporate them a little before adding the yeast, sugar, and water. 

Here is the layer of foam I was talking about; if your yeast mixture doesn't do this, toss it out and try it again.  Yeast isn't expensive, and since yeast is what makes this bread rise, you don't want to risk it not working.  I actually had to toss out my first yeast batch while making this bread; my water wasn't warm enough for the yeast to activate, but the second time it was great!  As you can see below, I don't stir my yeast in after I put it in.  I just dump it on top of the water, and it figures itself out.
Once your yeast has bloomed, pour it all into the flour mixture, and mix it together until it comes together to make a dough.

Don't worry if all of the flour doesn't get absorbed, just get most of it mixed in.  I ended up using my hands to mix it all together, after it got too much for my fork.  

Once you have something that looks like this, place a damp kitchen towel over it (I usually wet it with warm tap water, wring it out, and place it over the bowl), and set it aside, in a warm place, for an hour and a half, to two hours.  With most houses being air conditioned, it can be difficult to find a place warm enough to let dough rise, so I just turn the light on in my oven, and stick the whole thing in there.  I've never had a problem with a dough rising doing this.  This is the dough about an hour into rising.

And here is the dough two hours after rising!  It always amazes me that it works!  Isn't science great???
Now that your dough has risen, lets look at what you're going to bake it in.  You certainly could use a loaf pan, but I like to bake mine in Pyrex bowls.  Yes, they're oven safe.  They were actually developed to go into the oven.  I have two bowls that I use for this, as it makes two loaves.  I have a 1.5 qt and 1 qt bowl that I use.  Take 1 TBS of butter in whatever baking pan/bowl you use, and give the whole thing a good smear.  I use 1 TBS in each bowl.

Okay, now we have to "punch down" the dough.  This basically means that we have to remove the gasses that the yeast have developed, so the dough can rise again.  The easiest way to do this, is to take a fork, and scrape down the side of the bowl, bringing the dough back up on itself, by pulling it up toward you.  I think these pictures help to show what I mean better than I can explain it.  The phrase, "A picture is worth a thousand words" rings true here, that's for sure!

Once your dough has been punched down, take two forks, and divide the dough into two, by splitting it down the middle.  Scoop up half and dump it into one of the prepared bowls, and dump the other half into the second bowl.

As you can see, I like to put mine on a cookie sheet (easier to move them in and out of the oven).  Cover these and put them back into the warm oven for another thirty minutes to an hour, until the dough has risen up over the top of the bowl.
Once they have reached this point, pull them out of the oven, and preheat it to 425*.  
After your oven has preheated, slide these babies in, and bake for 15 minutes, then reduce the heat to 375* and bake for another 15-17 minutes.  Pull them out and turn the loaves out onto a cooling rack.  This bread falls right out of the bowls, with no effort.  Wait at least 10 minutes before cutting into these, then enjoy your fresh, homemade bread!
I mean, seriously, how easy was that??  This bread makes amazing French toast, croutons, or just a snack!  Yum!!  I make this bread once every couple of weeks, and my daughter just loves it!  She's a bread lover, just like me!