Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Easy Fresh Baked Bread

Now anyone can make amazing fresh home - baked bread!  My first scratch loaf.

Nothing is more fragrant in spring than a loaf of fresh baked bread!  These days you can purchase an automatic bread machine for well under $200.  I started out with a Zojirushi or a "Zo" which retailed for about $400 at the time.  It made strange tube like loaves and was not very easy to program.
I moved on to The Breadman Ultimate which you see pictured here.  It not only costs less but does way more than the Zo ever did!  It came with an instructional video but I didn't use it.  I found a few traditional secrets from my grandmother's Light Rolls recipe worked well with this machine.  One gem from Grandma's baking bag 'o tricks is to "proof" the yeast before starting your bread.  Here's how it's done:
Dissolve 2 1/2 teaspoons (for a 2 lb loaf) of granulated dry yeast in 1/2 cup of 115 degree water and 1 teaspoon of sugar or honey.  After 10 minutes, the yeast should reach the 1 cup mark if it is active.  Dump it into the bread machine adding your milk and oil which should also be warmed.   This gives your yeast a head start over dumping it dry into the middle of the flour.

I use bread flour and bring all of my dry ingredients to room temperature.  Whisk flour, sugar, salt and any other dry ingredients such as oats into the bread flour and add to the machine.  Hit the start button and you're basically done!  The Breadman Ultimate goes through varying kneading cycles with 3 rises.  You can even control the crust color between light, medium and dark.  Medium is what I used for the loaf in the photo but you can go crazy with all the kinds of breads and rolls.  It even has a programmable timer so you can set up your ingredients before you go to bed and wake to fresh baked bread in the morning.  What a way to welcome the day!

Bread the Old Fashioned Way (well, sort of):
If you don't have a bread machine you can simply use a Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer's Dough Hook.  The bread machine recipes from the books cited below work just as well with this method but the dough hook still does all the heavy kneading work for you.  Better yet the Dough Hook allows you to add raisins, nuts and other extras at just the right time which is recommended after the initial knead.  Simply place all of your dry ingredients in the stand mixer bowl and slowly add your proofed yeast, milk and oil while the dough hook rotates on #2 Speed.  Usually about 6 minutes is good then lightly knead and allow to rise three times before baking.
These are the two books I've used:
Bread Machines for Dummies by Vance and Lacalamitia has a lot of good information if you are new to the art.  The bread I made was from scratch using their "Good Old American Sandwich Bread" recipe which I improved upon with the addition of brown sugar and almond meal.  This recipe was WAY better than the box bread mix as it rose higher and had a soft, chewy texture.
The second book is America's Best Bread Machine Baking Recipes by Washburn and Butt.  These recipes are more involved with many starting out in the bread machine but finishing in a conventional oven.
Either book will inspire and give you confidence to bake homemade bread for your family, friends and neighbors.  Watch the eyes pop when serve fresh baked bread at your next party.  A simple pleasure not to be missed! 

Fresh baked bread can be used in place of crackers to accompany cheese and deli meats served buffet style.

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