Recipe For Homemade Bread Without A Machine

Recipe for making a tasty, delicious loaf of bread using equipment you have on hand. No bread machines allowed!

With the advent of bread machines, the hand-made loaf has received a bad rap. It's considered difficult, time consuming, and out-moded. At the same time, lots of people give away their bread machines after the initial infatuation wears away.

Too bad, because making bread by hand is easy, efficient, and amazingly tasty. This article demonstrates how to make a basic, hand-shaped loaf with minimal equipment and time investment.

First, approach bread in the same way you would laundry. Sure, from start-to-finish it may take a while, but you spend very little time with the bread (or laundry) itself. Bread, of course, is better than laundry, because you eat it when you're done.

Second, bread takes very little equipment. More importantly, it takes no specialized equipment. You don't have to worry about counter clutter, since you'll use items that have many purposes. At minimum, you'll need

*a large bowl for mixing and raising the dough (Use a soup kettle, stock pot, or large Tupperware container if you lack a conventional mixing bowl.)

*a surface or pan in which to bake the bread (A pie plate, a cookie sheet, a casserole dish. Really, anything food and oven-safe will do)

* a fork or spoon for stirring

* a cup for measuring (a coffee mug will suffice)

* plastic wrap, foil, or a clean cloth (even a t-shirt works)

What? No measuring spoons? No measuring cup? They're nice, true. But water content in flours varies because of humidity. You won't use the same amount of flour every time. My recipe will describe measurements, but measurements really describe proportions. Proportions, texture, and smell are the key to mixing up your bread dough just right.

Having discovered you have the equipment, you'll need the raw materials. The basics are:

* flour (preferably all-purpose or unbleached white)

* water

* yeast

* fat (oil, lard, margarine, or butter)

If you're feeling fancy, incorporate

* salt (iodized, kosher, whatever)

* sugar (honey, cane, or brown sugar, but not aspartame, please!)

Of this list, yeast is the most expensive item. Don't be fooled by the five dollar price tag on a jar of yeast. One jar goes a long way, since the yeast keeps well in the fridge. In the long run, it's a lot cheaper than the paper sealed packets.

This recipe should make two baguettes, one medium largish freeform loaf, or 2-3 pizza crusts.

Ingredients:

* 3-4 C white flour

* 3/4 C of warm water

* 1 T yeast (or one package)

* honey or sugar (OPTIONAL)

* salt (OPTIONAL)

* fat (melted butter or oil)

Now, for the instructions.

* Put the water in the bowl. If you're relying on a mug instead of a measuring cup, fill it ¾ full. Dry the cup so you can use it as you control for the flour measurements.

* Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the water.

* OPTIONAL-Toss in sprinkling of sugar. If you have honey in a squirt bottle, give it a squirt. Yeast feeds on sugar, but most commercial yeast can do just fine without it.

* Break up the yeast granules with the fork or spoon.

* Wait about 10 minutes. The yeast should be foaming or beginning to foam. The effect is not dissimilar to that on a head of beer. Foaming yeast is growing yeast, and growing yeast will provide the gas that causes bread to rise.

* OPTIONAL-Toss in a pinch of a salt. Salt helps strengthen the gluten in the flour. Gluten is a type of protein in wheat flours. (Don't know what a pinch is? Pour some salt into the palm of one hand. With the other hand, grab some of the salt with your thumb and two fingers. You'll be using a pinching motion. Discard the remaining salt.)

* OPTIONAL-Stir in a tablespoon or so of oil or melted butter. Fat alters the texture and flavor of bread. It can also help home-made bread keep a little better.

* Stir in a half cup or so of flour. Don't worry whether it's exactly half a cup or not.

* Continue stirring in flour a half cup at a time until the mixture beings to pull away from the sides of the bowl.

* Roll up your sleeves. Take off your watch and rings. Wash your hands. Liberally sprinkle about a quarter cup of flour with the dough. Work the flour in with your hands. Yes, it's sticky; cope.



* Continue working flour into the dough with your hands. Begin to use a kneading motion. (Fold half of the dough over itself and press it in. Turn it a quarter turn and repeat the process all over again.)

* To save clean-up, you can do all your kneading in the bowl. Just remember to turn the dough and not the bowl.

* Knead the dough for about 10 minutes.

* You're done kneading when the dough loses its stickiness. The texture of the dough will be similar to that of soft skin. Another signal that you've kneaded the dough sufficiently is that it springs back after you poke it.

* Set the ball of dough on a clean surface. Wash the bowl. Dry it very thoroughly.

* Rub the inside of the bowl with fat. (It's easiest with solid fat, such as butter or shortening. Oil will do just as well. Spray products ,like Pam, will give your dough a strange taste. Don't use them.)

* Form the dough into a ball. Roll it in the bowl to coat it with fat. Coating the bowl and the dough with fat prevents the outside of the dough from drying out and getting crusty.

* Cover the top of the bowl with plastic wrap, foil, or clean cloth. Place the bowl in a nice, relatively draft free place. Try on top of your refrigerator or in your oven

* Now you have at least an hour to yourself. Dough is forgiving, so you can stretch this to up to two hours. Use the time to vacuum, make that trip to the library, or change your hair color.

* The dough has risen enough when it's doubled in volume. The poke test will leave an indentation in the dough.

* Grease your baking sheet or surface. Again, avoid non-stick sprays. If you'd rather not grease it, sprinkle it with flour or cornmeal.

* Make a fist and punch your dough. Punching deflates the dough.

* Squeeze and work the dough with your hands. The bubbles inside it will pop.

* Form the dough into a loaf or loaves. For a loaf, make the dough into a ball, and then smoosh it down onto the baking surface with your hand. For baguettes, roll the dough out into rectangles and fold the rectangles into cylinders.

* (If you're making pizza, form the dough into pizza crusts and make pizza. You're done with these steps.)

* Cover the dough again.

* Now you'll wait again, between a half hour and forty-five minutes. Do your own thing in the meantime.

* After 30 minutes or so, preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.

* OPTIONAL: Cut slashes in the tops of the dough. If you don't, the bread might tear open while it bakes, but it will still taste good.

* Bake for about 25 minutes. The bread is done when a tap on the bottom of the loaf makes a hollow noise.

The last step of course, is to eat it. You might not be able to restrain yourself, but, if you can, let it cool. Oven-hot bread is more difficult to slice.

This is a very basic bread recipe, but it should arm you with enough confidence to tackle "real" recipes with more involved techniques, shapes, or ingredients.

© High Speed Ventures 2011