Back in December I mentioned that Hannah and I baked some bread. As it turns out that was the first step in a bread baking kick. After 6 weeks or so, I think my bread is getting much better. I am still far from an expert though, so if you read this and think to yourself, “There’s a much better way to do this,” you’re probably right, and please drop me a line! I can always use helpful hints.
As for me the first thing that I discovered, the thing that has made the most difference, is using a stand mixer. I have two little kids. Yes, I could knead my own bread, but I always give in too soon because some mini-disaster is occurring and my presence is required. And I can’t really start bread after the little ones go to bed, because then I’ll be up at 1:30am waiting for the loaves to finish baking already. So it must be started in the daytime, and it must be kneaded, but I can’t do it.
This, as it turns out, is why people buy bread machines. But I don’t have a bread machine, I have only my trusty stand mixer. So I dug it out, attached the dough hook, and 15 minutes later I had a truly lovely bread dough. Elastic and soft and all the things that dough is supposed to be. Also, my dough was moister because I wasn’t adding too much flour during kneading, as I had been doing by hand.
The second thing that I did was buy new loaf pans. I chose ceramic, just because I like the idea of baking in ceramic. They’re great, but I’m not sure how much of that is the ceramic and how much is the shape. My tin pans were wide and shallow. I like a traditional loaf of bread with the mushroom shape. So I bought narrower, higher pans, and now my bread looks less like zucchini loaf and more like, you know, bread.
My final tip is that I leave my bread to rise a little longer. I think I’ve been a little too impatient in the past. By waiting until it was actually the shape I wanted it to be before baking, I’ve gotten much better results. Lighter, less dense bread. Certainly much closer to what one might buy from the store.
I’ve read reports that home-baked bread is cheaper than store bought. I’d believe it, although I haven’t done the calculations myself. The real reason I’ve been baking my own bread is just because I enjoy it. I know what’s going into it, I love the smell of bread baking, and there’s nothing tastier. Even if the cost is roughly equivalent, I think I would still keep baking it myself. After all, I want to be ready for local flour in the fall.
I’ve come up with my own bread recipe, by toying with some others. I rarely make it exactly the same way twice. Here is my current version, should you wish to try it yourself:
Amber’s Stand Mixer Bread
2/3 c warm water
1 1/2 T dry yeast
1 t honey
Stir to dissolve yeast and honey, then let sit for 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, combine in your mixer bowl:
1 3/4 c warm water
2 T honey
1 T lemon juice (optional, works as a dough conditioner)
1/3 c vegetable oil
1/2 t salt (or to taste, I add very little)
2 c whole wheat flour
Once the yeast has developed, add it to the mixer bowl and turn your mixer on low (using the dough hook), allowing the ingredients to blend. Gradually add approximately 4 1/2 c more whole wheat flour, until your desired consistency is reached. Knead for 15 minutes.
Once the dough has been well kneaded, turn off the mixer and remove the bowl. Add a bit of oil, turning the dough to cover both sides. Cover the bowl’s top with a warm moist towel, and leave to rise in a warm spot until doubled. I generally leave it for an hour or so.
After rising, punch the dough down, and separate into two balls. Cover and leave to rest ~20 minutes. Meanwhile, lightly butter two loaf pans. Then form the dough into loaves, and place in the pans. Spread butter over the top, and let rise until doubled again. I generally give it 50 minutes or so, until the loaves are the shape I want them to be. Bake at 375 F for 30 minutes, or until done.