When the Husband and I got married, we got a lot of amazing gifts. Not to at all denigrate any of them, I still have to say, my favorite was the bread machine. My own bread machine!! Once again, I could come home from school to the smell of fresh bread!! Hot, fresh baked slices of bread!! I took it out of the box, read the instruction manual, cooked one delicious loaf of bread, put it in the cupboard.......and there it sat. For about 3 years.
Then one day...I rediscovered it. And rediscovered my love for bread. I was cooking a loaf of bread a week. I bought Costco sized containers of bread flour and yeast. I was set for life! And then....I discovered Dave's Killer Bread. Seriously, if you have not ever had this bread, you are missing out. It is....amazing. I have no words. I was a white bread only girl. I hated wheat bread. And as I have mentioned in previous posts, I hate nuts and seeds in things. But Dave's Killer Good Seed Bread. Ludicrous. So once again, the bread machine got put away. I got it out every once in awhile, but very infrequently.
And then....we got broke. And rather than buying bread from the store, I figured I should probably get back to work on that 50lb bag of bread flour taking up excessive amounts of floor space in the pantry.
And then I was reading StoneSoup's blog about setting up a minimalist kitchen and the variety of equipment that we could easily do without. And there at number 5 was my beloved bread machine. The horror!!!! How on earth could I get rid of my bread machine???? How would I make bread?? Bread is crazy and complicated and intense. That is why we built a machine to do it for us!!! Right?? ...........right? ............hmm.
So, I looked through cookbooks for a recipe. It didn't look too hard. More intense than the average recipe, but not undo-able. Although the 3 pages of intense instruction on proofing, kneading, mixing and rising were a bit intimidating..... So then I called my Mom. "Is it hard to make bread? Real bread? Not in a machine?" She and my Dad both assured me that it was not that hard. All you had to do was make sure the water was neither too hot nor too cold, that the bread was rising in a place that was warm but not hot and that didn't have any drafts, that you put a bowl of water next to the bread to ensure that it stays moist....on and on and on. And yet they and others continued to insist that it wasn't that difficult. So I set out to prove them wrong! I was going to prove that making bread was a ridiculous task and that I should instead save my energy to build a shrine for my life saving bread machine!!
I picked out a sandwich bread recipe from America's Test Kitchen Cookbook and went to work. (I'll post the recipe at the end for those that are interested.
First of all, I don't really have an accurate kitchen thermometer. So when recipes tell me that the water and milk need to be 110 degrees and any hotter or colder means your recipe won't work, I can either freeze in panic or....guess. So I guessed. It described 110 degrees as "warm" so I nuked the water and milk until they...felt warm! Very scientific of me....I mixed the liquids together and poured them into the dry ingredients and mixed it all up using the stand up mixer (Another brilliant invention that StoneSoup claims is unnecessary....I will take that issue up at another time...). I mixed it until "the dough clears the side of the bowl but sticks to the bottom". An oddly specific direction, but there is a reason that I don't write cookbooks. Then I turned the dough out.
Well....It looked like bread dough!! So I began to knead. And then immediately got tired of kneading. I made the husband call my Mom and put her on speaker phone so I could find out how long I had to knead this stupid dough. I got a lot of instructions about "consistent levels of moisture", "smooth and elastic", "Firm but soft" and finally "5 or 6 minutes". I hadn't been timing myself, but I thought I had probably been kneading for about 10 minutes. I asked my husband to double check and discovered he put it closer to 2 minutes.....and that was being generous. So I kept going until I hit 5 minutes. It still looked like bread dough. It appeared...smooth and elastic and firmly soft with consistent moisture levels...So, I went with it. I set it in the oven to rise. The big test. Did I kill the yeast? Were the hours of kneading (yes hours. It felt like hours, so I get to call it hours...) a complete waste? I checked back in an hour. And.....YAY!!!! It rose!!!! Next step? Turn the dough out and press it into a 9 inch square, roll it up into a "tight cylinder" and pinch the seam closed. Now, I swear I pinched the -hell- out of that bread and the seam had absolutely no interest in closing! So.....I just smashed it together and put it in the pan seam down....And hoped that worked....
Not exactly awe-inspiring, but there was still one more rise to go! So, I put it in to rise again. And when I checked back...
Hooray!! It was sort of starting to look like bread!!! I brushed it with butter and put it in the oven next to a bowl half full of boiling water and set it to cook for about 45 minutes. And then I sat back while the smell of freshly cooked bread filled the house. The timer went off, I got it out and I saw this beautiful sight:
Bread!!! Real bread!!! That I made myself!!! SO COOL!!!!!!!!!!! So pretty!! And after it cooled down, SO delicious. It was light and airy and sweet and delicious. It was perfect!!! But was it worth chucking out my bread machine? I don't know. The process was much easier than I thought it would be!! It was not super simple, but neither was it the back breaking trial that I had anticipated. I think with more practice I could get the process smoothed out. And there is something so enticing about being able to bake your own loaf of bread from scratch. But at the same time.....there is something so enticing about being able to dump ingredients in a machine and wander off for a few hours and then reap the delicious rewards.
Ultimately, I am undecided. But I am going to try this out for awhile and see where it goes. And if it goes well, I never thought I'd say this, but...............I may decide I don't need the bread machine anymore! Wow. In the meantime, I've got bread!!!
American Sandwich Bread
1-9 in loaf
1 cup whole milk, warm (110 degrees) I used buttermilk because we didn't have any whole milk
1/3 cup water, warm (110 degrees)
4 Tbsp unsalted butter
3 Tbsp honey
3 3/4 bread flour with extra for the counter
2 1/4 tsp (1 envelope) rapid rise yeast
2 tsp salt
1-Whisk the milk, water, 3 tbsp of butter and honey together in a large measuring cup. Mix 3 1/2 cups of flour, yeast and salt together in a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the milk mixture and mix until the dough comes together, about 1 minute.
2-Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (If, after 5 minutes, more flour is needed, add the remaining 1/4 cup of flour, 1 tbsp at a time) Mix until the dough clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom.
3-Turn the dough onto a clean counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl and wrap tightly in plastic wrap (I just covered it with a dish towel) Let it rise in a warm place until it doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
4-Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently press it into a 9-in square. Roll the dough into a tight cylinder and pinch the seam closed. Place the loaf seam-side down in a 9-in loaf pan, wrap with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until it has nearly doubled in size and springs back slowly when indented with a finger, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
5-Adjust the oven rack to the middle position and heat the oven to 350. Bring a kettle of water to boil. Brush the loaf with the remaining 1 tbsp of butter. Set the loaf pan on the oven rack and place an empty loaf pan (or metal bowl) next to it. Fill the empty pan about half-full with the boiling water. Bake until golden and the center of bread registers 200 degrees on an instant read thermometer (Or until it looks right.....) 40 or 50 minutes. Flip bread out onto a wire rack and let cool to room temperature before slicing, about 2 hours (Or.....let it cool some but get that first slice while it is still nice and warm!! Not too fast. Don't let all the steam escape, but you went through a lot of effort! You deserve a nice, fresh, oven warmed slice of bread!)