Now that Passover is over and the matzah’s been consigned to a far corner of the corner cupboard, everybody’s thinking bread.
And the best bread is, of course, homemade. Rich, hearty loaves that fill the house with an intoxicating aroma can’t be beat. And bread making is simpler than most people think if you depend on easy-to-use packaged yeast.
If you plan to try, here are some tips to keep in mind to make the experience a positive one. (But if the first time isn’t a success, don’t give up. The process gets easier with each try and as your confidence grows — like your yeast!)
• Make sure the water you mix with the yeast is warm and let the dough rise covered in a draft-free area.
• Don’t over-use the salt. Remember you are going to eat this bread with other foods that contain salt.
• When making bread, do not be tempted to add more flour as you go. It will make the bread heavy.
• Check for doneness. A well-baked bread will sound hollow when rapped on its bottom.
Consider the recipe below the mother load for all breads. You will be amazed at how many variations on this recipe you can make.
1 and 1⁄2 Tbsps. active dry yeast
1⁄2 cup warm water
1 Tbsp. sugar
4 and 1⁄2 cups all-purpose flour (whole-wheat flour can also be used)
1 and 1⁄4 tsps. salt
1 cup warm water
2 Tbsps. olive oil
Mix the yeast, 1⁄2 cup of water and the sugar in a big bowl. Let the mixture sit for about 5 minutes. It will bubble (this step is called “proofing”).
Add the flour, salt, 1 cup of warm water and the oil. Mix by hand until just combined.
Turn the mixture onto a lightly floured flat working surface and knead for 10 minutes, turning the dough a quarter of a turn every 2 to 4 minutes and punching it down to eliminate any air pockets (or transfer the mixture to the bowl of an electric dough maker and set for 5 minutes of kneading).
Transfer the kneaded dough into a large oiled mixing bowl. Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free area for 2 hours. It will double in size.
Punch down dough and knead for a minute or so.
Shaping the loaves: If you like your bread crusty, shape the dough into three to four skinny loaves.
If you like less crust and more crumb, shape the dough into two medium loaves.
Place the loaves on a foil or wax-paper-covered cookie sheet, about 2 inches apart. Slash each loaf on the diagonal in several places with a sharp knife.
Bake in a preheated 400˚ oven for about 40 minutes.
Some variations for you to try:
Walnut Raisin Bread: Add 3⁄4 cup raisins, 1⁄2 cup chopped walnuts and 2 Tbsps. dark molasses. Knead all three additions into the dough before letting it rise.
Caraway or Poppy Seed Bread: Knead 1⁄4 cup caraway or poppy seeds thoroughly into the dough before you let it rise.
Herb and Cheese Bread: Knead into the dough 1 cup plain yogurt, 1⁄2 cup chopped dill and 1 cup of grated cheddar before you let it rise.