I had such a good time making homemade blueberry pancakes the other day, that today I was up for an even bigger challenge: baking bread from scratch. I’ll admit that at first I was a bit ambitious, and had thoughts of whipping up some jalapeno-chocolate chip bread. The problem? I didn’t have a recipe for this, so would just have to make it up as I went along. My husband, knowing too well my previous kitchen troubles, suggested I start with a simple recipe for basic white bread.
When was the last time you read the ingredients on the bag of your store bought bread? We bought our’s at a health food store and it contains soybean oil, lactylate, calcium peroxide, datem, and soy lecithin, among about 35 other ingredients. Homemade bread? All it takes is a package of active dry yeast, 1/4 cup of warm water, 2 cups of milk, 1/2 cup of sugar, 1/4 cup (1/2 stick) of butter, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 egg, 6 cups of all-purpose flour, and a bit of melted butter.
Start by combining the yeast with the warm water in a small bowl and set aside. In a saucepan, bring the milk to a boil and pour into a large mixing bowl. Add the sugar, butter and salt and wait about 10 minutes for it to cool. Next add the yeast mixture and egg. Gradually add the flour 2 cups at a time and stir well. Here, electric mixers come in handy, but since I have none, I used a wooden spoon until it was so gummy I had to use my hands. Note to self: next time flour your hands good before touching dough. You’ll end up with a blob that looks something like this:
Now comes the fun part – kneading the dough. Sprinkle your clean countertop liberally with flour, otherwise you’ll end up with another sticky mess. I kneaded the dough for about 5 minutes to give it a good consistency.
When you’re happy with the dough, place it back into the now-cleaned out bowl that is greased with butter. I also added a bit of melted butter to the top of the dough for good measure. Cover with plastic wrap and leave it sit for about 1.5 hours, and when you come back the dough has magically doubled in size. This time the dough looked a lot prettier.
Next is the super fun part: punch the dough. I had to call my mom to ask how to do this correctly, and she basically said, ‘make a fist and, well, punch it down.” I ended up punching it about 5 times for good measure.
Leave it sit for another 10 minutes. Then divide the dough in half. Here’s where a rolling pin would have come in handy, but, alas I have none. Nevertheless I was able to form the two halves into what looked seemingly like bread loaves. The two bread pans definitely helped (don’t forget to grease the sides first and drizzle a little more melted butter over the top of the bread). Cover and let sit for another 45-60 minutes once in the bread pans.
Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the bread bake for 40-45 minutes. I left mine in for 45 minutes, and my seemed a bit overcooked. When the bread is done, it should be a golden brown and the loaf should sound hollow when tapped.
Remove from the pans and leave the loaves to sit on your countertop for at least 1 hour before you even think about cutting into it. The finished product, with a little pat of butter, was simply divine.
The con to baking bread from scratch is that it is pretty much an all-day activity that requires you to be home and check on it just about every hour. It’s not bad if you’re self-employed and work from home like me, but not as easy for someone who works outside of the home. My mom swears by her breadmaker – it’s less time-consuming and you still get that great smell of fresh-made bread in your house.
Now about that chocolate chip-jalapeno bread. A couple of years ago, when I was going through a massive sweet tooth phase, I bought a book called 500 Cupcakes. My favorite recipe in that book is the vodka-chocolate chip-jalapeno cupcake, which happens to combine my favorite 3 food/drink items ever (especially good if you use Van Gogh Dutch Chocolate Vodka and also sip some while you assemble the cupcakes). I’m not sure how vodka would work in bread, but stay tuned for a future post as I attempt to create the perfect chocolate chip-jalapeno bread recipe.