I started baking bread in September, 1978, and I have baked bread once or twice a week ever since. I sometimes mention this to my classes and, when I do, somebody often asks me about baking bread. So I added this page to my Web site.
July 4, 2005
If you can make one bread you can make just about any bread. As long as you keep the same proportions of wet ingredients to dry ingredients, you can hardly go wrong.
Bread is very forgiving: it's easy to fix your mistakes. If the dough is too wet, add a little more flour; if it's too dry, add a little more liquid (it's always easier to add flour though).
Gluten is important in making the dough rise and I believe it's only in flours made from wheat. If you use a lot of dry ingredients other than wheat flour (oats or soy flour or corn meal, for example) it's a good idea to add a little high gluten flour. If you use only wheat flours then a high-gluten flour is not necessary (but I always use a little).
Here is how I make my bread (3 loaves):
1/2 cup oats (I use Quaker Old Fashioned uncooked, right from the box.)
honey (I don't measure; I take a spoon like you would stir your coffee with, get as much honey as I can on it, let it dribble into the bowl, and do that 6 times. In hot weather when the honey gets real thin I might do it 8 times. It's probably around 1/2 cup.)
1/3 cup oil (I use safflower oil; I used to use most of one stick of butter.)
1 1/4 cups boiling water
1 cup cold water
2 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups unbleached flour
1/2 cup "vital wheat gluten" (If you can't find it in a supermarket, try a health food store.)
1 teaspoon salt (I used to use 2 teaspoons.)
4 teaspoons dry yeast (2 of those little packages will do. I buy yeast at Costco in a brick-size package.)
I heat up the oven to 175 F. I put the oil, oats, honey, and boiling water into the mixer bowl, attach the dough hook, and use it to mix this stuff together.
Then I add the cold water, mix it a little more, turn off the mixer, and sprinkle the yeast over the top of the mixture (you want warm, not hot, water at this point; you can kill the yeast with very hot water and your bread will never rise; this has never happened to me though). I don't mix the yeast in; I just let it sit on top. The yeast dissolves and starts bubbling a little while I'm doing the next step.
Then I measure the three different flours into a sifter and sift the flours onto a big piece of wax paper. I carefully pick up the wax paper, carry it to the mixer bowl, and dump the flours onto the top of the mixture in the bowl all at once.
Then I turn the mixer on again (low speed) and it mixes and kneads the dough. This should go on for at least 20 minutes (30 minutes is better). The dough is ready when it's all in one ball around the dough hook and has kind of a dull satiny look. You can knead bread too little at this point, but you can't knead it too much. The more you knead it the better it will be.
Then I put the dough in a greased bowl (I used to use Crisco; now I use a Canola oil spray), cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and put it in the warm oven. I turn off the oven when I put the dough in. I leave it there to rise for about 45 minutes.
Then I take the dough out of the bowl and put it on a big floured cutting board, punch it down, shape it into a ball, put the bowl over it upside down and let it sit and rest for 10 minutes.
While the dough is resting I grease 3 medium size loaf pans (mine are 4 3/8 inches wide x 8 3/8 inches long x 2 1/2 inches deep). I use Crisco. I also turn the oven on to 175 F again.
Then I knead the dough a little by hand, cut it into 3 pieces, shape them into loaves*, and put them in the loaf pans. I put the loaf pans into the warm oven, cover them with a towel, turn off the oven, and let them rise for 30 minutes (at this point, if you let the dough rise too long the loaves will collapse).
* There are some things you just have to learn by doing them and shaping dough into loaves is one of those things. I could easily demonstrate, but I don't think I can explain it in writing. I'll just say one thing about it, which may not make any sense to you until you actually try doing this, and then I think you'll understand. That one thing is this: you want to avoid having any seams in the top of your loaf. In fact it's best to shape your loaves in a way that you have only one seam, it's at the bottom, and you pinch it together a little.
Then I take the loaf pans out of the oven, turn the oven on to 375 F, and let it heat up.
Just before I put the loaves into the oven again I use a razor blade to cut a slash about 1/2 inch deep lengthwise down the center of the top of each loaf (this prevents a bubble forming under the crust, which occasionally happens if I don't slash the tops).
Then I put the 3 loaves into the 375 F oven for 30 minutes. Its best to let the loaves cool on a rack for about 30 minutes before you slice them. That's it.
To make bread the way I do, you need a good mixer with a powerful motor and a dough hook. I use (and recommend) a Kitchen Aid mixer.
You'll need a flour sifter, measuring cups (for both liquid and dry ingredients), a teaspoon, wax paper, and a razor blade.
And you'll need loaf pans.