You can do it. You can make tasty, healthy bread every week. You can be the busy mom of three or the work-10-hours-per-day dad or the away-from-home-most-the-time couple and STILL have that homemade bread on the table every night.
Let me level with you: I am a wife, a mother of two, a farmer, a freelance designer and a writer all in one day. Once I’m up, it’s GO GO GO until the sun sets. I know how it is. I get it. Having a healthy meal in and of itself is challenge enough without the laborious task of mixing and kneading bread. But last November I came across a recipe and concept that changed our dinner table forever.
One of our favorite magazines published an article about a bread recipe that one could accomplish in 5 minutes per day. Not only that, it would taste like you just came out of a New York bakery. I was skeptical, but eager to be making my family’s bread. The article was talking to the authors of a book called Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. Even though I am going to tell you about the basic techniques in this blog, I highly recommend purchasing the book to learn even more!
From the first batch of dough I made, it was a raving success! I bought the book and continued to learn for the last year. I have made a large batch of dough to last the week and I have not missed a single week (except for a two month period during our harvest season).
You can do this too! I have shared this recipe with countless friends and mothers within my sphere of influence. It is easy. It’s beyond delicious. And the ideas are really fun. Let me take you through my steps. These are little variations that I’ve found work for me and you can build off my experience.
The Basic Dough
This is a basic mix, and I do mean basic. People almost always raise their brows when I tell them the four ingredients that went into it. You can make a lot of different breads from this recipe alone. Pizza dough, cinnamon rolls, dinner buns. And of course bread loaves!
1.5 tablespoons dried yeast
1.5 tablespoons salt (preferably NOT table salt)
3 cups warm water
6.5 cups all-purpose flour
I do this recipe in a stand mixer with a dough hook. This is very important to the ease and timeliness of the breadmaking. If you do not own a stand mixer, a food processor might work (have not tried it) or a hand held mixer with a dough hook. If you are serious about getting into baking in general, I highly recommend a stand mixer. I went years without one but now cannot imagine baking sans that stand!
Pour the three cups of warm water into your 5 quart capacity stand mixer bowl. If you live in an old farmhouse like me, you might want to slosh hot water around the bowl to warm it up first as it will likely have the appearance of frost coming out of the cupboard. Some people are adamant that you have to have a certain temperature in which the yeast will “awaken” and do their little yeasty dance.
Pssshaw! I haven’t used a thermometer yet, and I have never had a bread come out flat. I like to dip my thumb in there, and if it feels comfortably warm, you’re probably good to go.
Next, I add the tablespoon and half of salt. In our house, we haven’t used table salt since ... well ... pretty much since I met Andy (the former chef). We buy rock salt, and prefer Morton’s Kosher Salt just because we use so much of it. Otherwise, we recommend sea salt, for those with a higher budget. In general, avoid table salt. Nasty stuff (whole other blog).
We like our bread a little saltier, so I actually now add 2 whole tablespoons of salt. Trust me, this won’t overpower your bread.
Put the salt in first as it has the quality of halting the yeast’s development. It will sink right to the bottom anyway.
It really doesn’t matter what brand of yeast you choose. All you need to know is that buying those little packets will cost you big! Even if you buy the $7-8 jar in the grocery store, it will only last you about a month (if you make bread every week like we do). I poked around online and found bulk yeast at King Arthur Flour in two pound bags (that’s a link there, by the way). I ordered four pounds last November and have half a pound left. Did you know you can freeze yeast and it will be viable for up to two years? I just froze the big bags and dumped a small amount into one of those jars to keep in the fridge. When that gets emptied, I add more from the stock in the freezer. I found that even including shipping, I was saving almost a whole dollar per loaf by purchasing this way!
Gently pour in the tablespoon and half of yeast and it will spread over the top of the warm water.
The basic recipe calls for all-purpose flour. This is because unbleached, white flour is the most common flour for baking breads. You can use organic flour or bleached if you prefer. From a health standpoint, the least messed around with flour is the best. I use unbleached all-purpose flour as my base ingredient.
Now, I know there are those of you who are hard-core whole wheat fans. I respect that completely! And I have an answer for you ... later. This is the base recipe to get you started. From my experience in learning to be a bread maker, starting with white bread is the best way to build up your confidence. Whole wheat can be very unforgiving.
Measure the flour cup by cup with a dry measuring utensil. Scrape off the heap of flour so that it is even with the top edges of the cup. I use the back of a butter knife to accomplish a nice even line. I never used to think that packing in the flour made a difference, but it really does. A lot of extra weight is added to the dough if you don’t gently add flour to the cup. It takes a few more minutes but makes for more consistent breads.
Dump the flour into the bowl and place it back under the mixer.
Turn on the mixer at the lowest speed. It will begin to incorporate the ingredients and slow down. Then turn it up one notch and wait until the dough starts to form a ball and pick up extra flour around the edges. At this point turn off the mixer and remove the bowl. I usually have to scrape some of the dough off the hook, and Elly usually helps me. :-) This whole mixing process takes less than a minute.
Cover the bowl with lid that doesn’t seal completely. Let the dough rise for two-ish hours. It takes longer if you have a colder kitchen and less time if it’s the heat of July. It will about double in size, sometimes more.
Now you are ready to make up to two, 2-pound loaves of bread. The dough is supposed to be sticky like that. In fact, I recommend putting it in the refrigerator for an hour or so to make it more manageable.
Get your baking containers ready. I use either a pizza stone for rounded, deli-style bread or bread pans for traditional dinner-style bread.
To keep it from sticking, I cover the bottom with cornmeal, flour, oatmeal or even grits! It works just as well as cooking spray and adds a unique texture to the finished bread. Another option that I really like is parchment paper. You just cut it to fit, and it can be reused over and over again. (It can also be found on the King Arthur Flour website ... or any place that sells baking equipment.)
Pull out a chunk of dough in your bare hands. It really helps to sprinkle a lot of flour over the surface of the dough and your bare hands to keep it from sticking too much. I use a simple kitchen scale to get roughly 2 pounds, but if you lack a scale, the dough will be about the size of really large grapefruit or small muskmelon.
Pull the dough together with your hands, making a rough ball and place it into a bread baking pan or onto a pizza peel. The pizza peel should be covered with cornmeal, oatmeal, etc. When the dough is ready, you simply slide the dough from the peel into your oven onto your pizza stone.
Of course, we don’t own a pizza peel. I didn’t even know what one was until I looked it up online. I found that a side-less cookie sheet works just fine in the same capacity.
Once you have the dough ball in the proper baking container, let it rest for 40-60 minutes to warm up. Or, if you did not refrigerate the dough, it is ready now!
Baking It Bread-Pan Style
Let’s say you took the bread pan route. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place a broiler tray on the lowest shelf. If you do not have a broiler tray (or didn’t know what that was, like me) you can use a brownie pan or a pie pan or any sort of oven safe dish that will hold water.
Take a serrated knife, like a bread knife and cut slashes into the top of the dough. This is not just for aesthetics; it really helps the dough rise in the oven as dough sitting out tends to get a semi-hardened outer surface. If you’ve ever seen or made bread that had an explosion out one side or the bottom, this was because the top was too hard to the bread to push up. Slashing just before it goes into the oven reduces this risk. (Super important when working with hard to rise whole wheat.)
At this point I like to sprinkle some more salt on the top. Just a personal preference and something you might want to try. Or, add another tasty topping of your choice; granola anyone?
When the oven is ready, pour a cup or more of hot water into the brownie pan, being careful not to spill or burn yourself. Then add the bread pan and close the door as quickly as you can.
Set the timer for 60 minutes. I have found that our particular oven requires 70 minutes for a light brown crust. You may prefer a really dark crust and will have to play with timing in order to find what works in your oven.
At the end of the baking time, the water should be about evaporated and your bread should be scenting up your whole house! Take it out and immediately dump it out of the bread pan to cool on a cooling rack. If it gets a little stuck, take a non-metal spatula to the sides and scoop down. The oatmeal or grits should be enough to free the bread from the bottom.
Baking It Pizza Stone Style
If you chose the pizza stone route, preheat the oven for 450 degrees and slash the dough a few times. Then slide the dough onto the stone when the oven is ready. Yes, your stone should have been in the oven as it was preheating. This will assure you an evenly crisp crust. Don’t forget the cup of hot water, and shut the door!
Set the timer for 30 minutes. Yes, half the time to wonderful tasting bread! I have found that 30 minutes is pretty dead on for getting fully cooked bread, but of course you may want a deeper crust. Feel free to play with longer times if you wish.
When the timer rings, carefully remove the bread from the stone. It is so robust, that I just grab it off the stone with an oven mitt and place it on the cooling rack.
Time to Eat!
Now is the time to be patient. You have worked hard and you are pleased with the bread. But it will really cut a lot better when it is cooled down.
But come on, fresh warm bread with butter melting on it? Ok, wait at least 10 minutes so you can hold the bread with your bare hands.
You did it! But guess what? You can do so much more now.
Once I got this recipe down, I got a little bored. I wanted to see how far I could push it. There was a recipe for light wheat bread that called for 5.5 cups of all-purpose flour and 1 cup of whole wheat. I liked that option, but wondered how many cups of whole wheat I could do without messing up the recipe.
2 tablespoons salt
1.5 tablespoons yeast
3 cups warm water
2.5 cups whole wheat flour
4 cups all-purpose flour
Prepare the same as the basic recipe. Now you have 40% whole wheat bread for your family!
Then I got a little goofy. Try 2.5 cups of rye flour. Or 2.5 cups of OATMEAL! It works! Try any sort of baking flour in place of the all-purpose up to 2.5 cups. Anything beyond that began to affect the rise of the bread in baking. Get crazy; try corn flour. Why not?
Another fun variation is to add dried herbs to the flour just before it is mixed for an Italian bread. Oregano, rosemary, thyme, or savory are great.
Try one cup of warm milk and two cups of water.
I almost forgot to tell you the best part! This recipe can be doubled or quadrupled with ease. In fact, I triple it nearly every time I make bread. With my capacity mixer, I have to do the process three separate times, but then I dump the dough into a medium sized Tuperware container that fits in the bottom shelf of our fridge. It has a flap lid that doesn’t close tight so it’s perfect for letting several batches sit and rise and then refrigerate. (You can see it in the dough rising photo above.)
This dough can be made in bulk and then refrigerated for up to two weeks. In fact, if you let it go even one week, it starts to sour naturally. Imagine, sourdough bread without a starter and all you had to do was let it sit!
It seems like the initial process is very time consuming, but it rarely takes me longer than 20 minutes (with two kids at my feet). Then you have a whole week or two of ready-to-bake bread. You may find that your bread consumption increases, as we did. But that’s the beauty of this recipe. You are saving money in the long run and providing a healthy bread for you and your family. Plus, people love homemade bread as gifts. After trying this recipe out, you can give away six 2-pound loaves at a time and only have to spend about 40 active minutes in your kitchen!
The 100 percent whole wheat recipe is a little more complicated with ingredients, but not in doing. However, I gotta leave some of it for the book! Now, give ’er a try! Make it tonight when you get home from work and put it in the fridge overnight. Then get up an hour early and serve homemade toast to the family when they come groggily into the kitchen.
Use it. Own it. This recipe will empower you to take bread making into your own bare hands!