Bread is at the very foundation of the way we eat. Every culture has their own, and all it takes is flour, water, and leavening, and yet few of us take the time to make our own. Plus, it’s dirt cheap — Why pay upwards of $4.00 for a tiny loaf of whole wheat bread when you can make your own for literally 10% of the cost? It takes time, yes, but it’s both meditative and rewarding, and you can do it all between other work, as long as you have a couple of hours around the house. By making two loaves and freezing the extra, all it takes is a couple hours a month. Still intimidated by bread recipes? Here’s a recipe in pictures for all of you future bakers!
I used this simple recipe from Pennies & Pancakes. In the future, I think I’ll use slightly less water and flour for a fluffier loaf, but this recipe is a great jumping off point for bread making.
EDIT: I’ve tinkered with the recipe and found a winner! The process is exactly the same with 2.5 cups of water and 1 3/4 tbsp. yeast. 6 cups of flour is all you need, and the result is much lighter. See the bottom of the post for an updated photo :)
The dough: Your life will be easier if you have a standing mixer. Like, in general, they’re amazing for everything from lotion making to ratatouille (if you get the fantastical Kitchenaid slicing attachment). But enough of that business. Back to bread.
Begin by proofing your yeast. Quite simply, yeast makes bread rise by eating sugars and putting out gas. All fluffy breads begin by giving the yeast a cozy environment. Mix yeast with lukewarm water and sugar and allow it to sit for 10 minutes. After mixing with the flour, oil and salt it should look like the photo above. After rising for an hour, it should look like the photo below.
At this point, roll the dough out on a floured surface* and cut it into two chunks. Each piece of dough should fit into one greased bread pan.
*On the subject of floured surfaces, really really the easiest thing to do is just clean the hell out of your counter (as long as it’s not tile) and roll your dough out directly onto it. Otherwise, cover it with plastic wrap, or find yourself the world’s largest cutting board to roll out on.
Right, this is the last time I cover my counter in saran wrap. It pretty much always ends up being a big bunchy mess.
And now the dough rises again. This time for much less than an hour. Maybe 20 minutes or so. It really depends on your dough and your kitchen. Cover the dough and let it rise over the top of the pan. Until it starts to look quintessentially bread-y, y’know? At this point, it would be wise to pre-heat your oven.
Now bake for 25 minutes at 375. This isn’t really one of those cake mix “or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean” sort of things. If you’ve followed the rules so far your bread will be done at the end of 25 minutes at 375. Don’t overcook it.
Ding! At this point, your house should smell like a delicious bakery, your bread should be done and you should be pretty darn proud of yourself. Loosen the sides with a knife if necessary and get your bread out of the pan before it has a chance to get stuck. Plus, eat a slice while it’s hot — there are few things better than hot, fresh bread. This recipe makes two loaves, and to be honest, I wouldn’t spend the time making any less. This everyday bread is just fine for sandwiches, toast, etc. and keeps in the freezer for at least a month. Just make sure to slice and and store it appropriately before freezing.
Make it while you putter around the house on weekends. Here in San Francisco, good whole wheat bread runs at least $3-4 a loaf. Replacing this with homemade can save over $100 a year.
Above is a photo of the updated recipe, fresh out of the oven and much fluffier than the original recipe!