I always wanted to learn how to make bread, but yeast was somehow terrifying. Maybe because it’s ALIVE and every recipe talked about how you want to be careful about feeding it and not killing it, and wow, as if unexpected caterpillar motherhood wasn’t enough! (He’s still in the fridge, still burritoed up in his cauliflower leaf. I hope he’s alive…what have I done…)
Only after reading a few yeast recipes at Smitten Kitchen did I actually get the courage up to try. What’s the worst that could happen?
I felt a great disturbance in the Force, as if millions of voices suddenly cried out in terror, and were suddenly silenced.
Well, sure, Obi-Wan, THANKS. I could kill some yeast. But even if that happened, things were going to be okay.
I wish I remembered where I got this recipe; I wanted simple and basic and something that wasn’t going to intimate me more than I already was (yeast, egad!). That’s what this recipe is. You don’t need a machine other than your hands, and you don’t even
knead need a bread pan. If you have a stainless steel bowl, I highly recommend using it, but if you have pottery or ceramic, these are good too, because you can warm them. Your yeast is going to like warmth. Making bread in the winter might be trickier, but it’s not impossible. I usually cut this recipe in half — my photos here are half a recipe.
20 oz. flour (approx. five cups)
2 tsp. salt
12 oz. warm water
sloop of olive oil
2.25 tsp. yeast (eta: I use active dry!)
1 tsp. sugar
Put your yeast in a cup (I usually do this in a 2-cup glass measure) and add enough warm water to cover it, plus another quarter to half an inch. Sprinkle your sugar in, stir with a fork. Let bloom 5-10 minutes. If you’ve never seen yeast bloom, watch it, because it’s awesome. And alive. Don’t panic.
While my yeast is blooming, I warm my bowl. I let warm water run all over it until it’s warm through and through; I pat the inside dry, but never really worry about it. This is no stress bread! Add the flour — you can measure it by cups or weight. I usually do weigh it, because depending on the kind you use, it might add up differently. Add the salt. (Never forget the salt, because flour on its own is sad.) Whisk together. Make a well in the flour. Once your yeast is bloomed, pour it into the flour.
Add half of your remaining warm water. Drizzle olive oil all over (a tablespoonish if you are halving). I like a silicon spatula for this step, but you also have your hands. Use what works. Fold the flour into the yeast and water, go round and round and round the bowl and you will see the dough begin to come together. It’s nearly like magic. If you need to add more warm water as you go, do. I’d add it a tablespoon or so at a time.
Knead your dough for a couple minutes; it shouldn’t be too sticky, it should be easy to handle. If you want herbs or seeds in your bread? You could totally add them here. Form the dough into a nice ball and leave it in your bowl. Cover your bowl with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place. You can drizzle the dough ball with more olive oil if you want, but mine hasn’t stuck to the bowl yet, so…
Let it rise at least 45 minutes (if it’s colder, you might let it go longer). When you come back, it should half fill the bowl. Admire your work! And then, punch it in the face. Punch the air out of the dough, scrape it out of the bowl, and knead it a couple minutes. Throw it down a few times, really mess it up and be sure that gassy air is out of there. Then, ball it up, cover the bowl, and let it rise AGAIN. (If you actually want to bake it in a bread pan, do the second rise in a buttered/floured bread pan.)
This second rise takes as long as it takes. Much depends on heat and humidity. I often make dough around noon and then don’t bake it off until 4 or 5. Yeast is pretty darn flexible. But if you’re using the bread pan, you’re ready to go when it looks like a loaf; if you’re using the bowl, I’d let it fill half way up again.
Removing it from the bowl, I generally give it another kneading and shape it into a beautiful loaf on a sheet pan. I drizzle it with olive oil, and sprinkle it with herbs. Sometimes salt and pepper. Sometimes seeds. Ooo, brown flax. You can really do anything to this dough. Cinnamon and sugar. Whatever.
Start with your oven at 450. Bake for 15 minutes.
Lower your oven to 400. Bake for 15 more minutes.
My bread is usually done at this point — keep in mind: I am baking at high altitude, and I’m not using a loaf pan. I’m also only doing half a recipe. If you have a full size loaf, you may well need more time.
If your bread needs more time, lower your oven to 350, and go another 10-15 minutes. Your bread will sound hollow when you tap on it — that’s how you know it’s done.
Or maybe it’s done when you seriously cannot take the smell any more and have to have a warm slice with butter or jam.