It used to be when someone told me they bake their own bread I’d picture them covered in flour, kneading dough and slaving over a hot oven. All that work makes a great end product and fills the house with that heady perfume of freshly baked bread but there is a way to have that without all the toil.
On Craig’s list any given day one might find at least 12 bread machines looking for a new home. I found one for a song a few years ago and though it takes up some space, it is the key to baking artisan quality bread without all the work. I don’t care for the 6″x 6″x 6″ cube of bread the bread machine produces. It’s hard to make a sandwich with such a huge slice and the bottom always has this gash where the paddle cuts into the bottom…Awkward! Instead I let the machine do all the kneading and the first rise then I put the dough in a loaf pan or I’ll make make buns by rolling up little pieces of dough and putting them on a cookie sheet for a couple of hours until the second rise is complete then bake either a loaf or buns, the way bread should be made, in a 400 degree oven for about 20 minutes.
- 1 cup water
- 2 and 1/2 cups all purpose flour
- 1 and 1/2 teaspoons dry yeast
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon steak sauce (optional but decrease salt by 1/2 tsp.)
- 1 tablespoon chopped basil (optional)
- 1 tablespoon chopped dried tomatoes (optional)
- 1 teaspoon salt
Pour in the water flour, yeast and honey first. Turn on the machine and let it mix. When the flour is nearly incorporated add the steak sauce and/or other optional additions. You can make many variations…cinnamon and raisins for instance. Steak sauce is an odd ingredient but it makes a bread with a savory depth of flavor. The steak sauce contains salt so I use less table salt than usual. Since salt inhibits the action of the yeast, let the first rise happen in the confines of the machine but just before the second rise and go ahead and add the salt so the yeast has the best chance of doing its thing. You’ll know when the second rise is happening because there will be a long pause and suddenly you will hear the machine engage again. This is when you add the salt The machine will mix it in for you. It will pause again which means the second rise has begun. About 15 minutes into the second rise this is the time to transfer the dough to a loaf pan or cut it up in pieces and place on a cookie sheet if you are making buns.
Using flour dusted fingertips pull the dough out of the pan of the machine. It will be sticky but the flour on your hands will help. Try not to deflate the dough too much but dust a board lightly to prevent sticking while shaping the dough into a loaf gently pulling the ends and rolling it with light pressure in the middle with your palms. Place it in the loaf pan, brush it with olive on top and cover it with plastic film. You could also cut the dough into small pieces the size of a plum and put them on a baking sheet for the remainder of the second rise. What ever form of bread you choose to make, just set it in a place that’s warm but not drafty. Buns also will need to be brushed with oil and covered in film. When the dough rises up and over the edges of the pan, or has doubled in size, and this could take up to two hours, it is then ready to pop into a 400° oven for 20 minutes or until the internal temperature is 200°. Just before you put it in the oven it helps to score the top of the loaf or each bun with a very sharp knife. This gives the bread room to expand in the oven.
Remove the loaf from the pan and allow it to cool completely before you slice it. Same with the buns. They need to be completely cool or all the steam will escape and make the bread dry and tough. The aroma is so tempting but the results will be worth the wait. Patience will insure a crunchy crust and a tender crumb in the end. Using a bread machine to do the kneading and rising helps you reserve some of that patience. So dust off the machine you’ve never used since your wedding, or check out Craig’s List for a cheap one barely used and start making your own delicious bread without all the mess and hassle. You’ll save money too!