I'll never part with this lovely vintage crockery bowl my great Aunt Mary used every time she mixed and raised her bread dough. But when I'm making bread, this lovely bowl is usually safely tucked inside my cupboard. That's because I've learned that a bread machine is far more efficient than I when it comes to mixing and kneading dough.
Although it goes against the old-fashioned side of me to use a bread machine, every time I slide that beautiful, perfect, tasty loaf of bread out of my oven I know I've made the right choice. A mixer with dough hooks may do a great job with mixing and kneading bread dough, too. However, keeping that dough at a consistent temperature is more challenging outside a bread machine pan.
My tools include: bread machine, 2-cup glass measuring cup (to mix and start yeast), large mixing bowl to measure all dry ingredients, fork to blend dry ingredients, measuring cups (to match all the measurements called for in my recipe) and measuring spoons. I also use a couple small mixing spoons and at least one spatula to help thoroughly clear measuring cups of their contents.
Photo property of Loretta Sorensen.
I generally measure flour and salt into the mixing bowl and set it aside. No need to warm the flour, however, if you store your flour in the freezer or refrigerator, it's advisable to allow it to sit out overnight at room temperature.
When outdoor temperatures are cold, I use hot tap water to warm the bread machine pan and glass measuring cup. I fill the bread machine pan at least half full and set it aside and let the measuring cup warm up about 5 minutes. I discard the water used to warm utensils and proceed with recipe directions, using hot tap water mixed with the remaining liquids.
Refrigerated liquids (milk, maple syrup, etc.) typically bring the water temperature to 110 or 105 degrees Fahrenheit. I then add 3 tablespoons of sugar and stir the ingredients well to help dissolve the sugar.
At this point I use a digital thermometer to check the temperature of the liquid. If you don't have a digital thermometer, I highly recommend that you invest in one. There are brands that cost under $5. Since the temperature range of your dough is so critical to the success of the bread itself, it's well worth the cost of buying the thermometer.
If the liquid is too hot, it will kill the yeast, so inexperienced elbows and fingertips just aren't accurate enough to ensure baking success! If your liquid is too warm, you can use a cold spoon to stir it again and help reduce the temperature. You can also simply allow it to sit at room temperature until it cools. Don't add any additional liquid as this will mess up your recipe.
Once the liquid reaches the proper temperature range, it's time to add the yeast, stir it to help dissolve it (not absolutely necessary but always my habit), then allow it to sit and start "working." It will feed on the sugar and produce a foam on the top. Allow it to sit for approximately 5 minutes.
A couple minutes before it's ready, pour the water out of your bread machine pan. Once the yeast mixture is ready, pour it into the bread machine pan.
Most bread recipes call for some kind of fat — butter or oil. This can be added to the yeast mixture once it's in the bread machine. Gently add the flour/salt mixture, set and start your machine.
I find the bread machine to be a great tool for both the mixing, kneading and first rise. Mixing and kneading is thorough and the temperature remains consistent so the dough temperature is constant.
First rise times will vary according to your bread machine operation. My machine mixes and kneads, rests 25 minutes, then kneads a second time for 15 minutes. Once your machine completes the second kneading, it will be time to place your dough into a bread pan and set it in a warm, humid area for the second rise.
Winter or summer, I heat my oven to 100 degrees, fill my bread pan with hot water to warm it up, and complete all this before the kneading process is finished. When my pan is warmed, I pour the water out, dry the pan, then spray it with non-stick aerosol. It's ready for the dough. You may want to butter or oil your hands to handle your dough if it's a bit sticky.
GENTLY shape it so it stretches across the pan lengthwise. Set it into the oven and place a towel over the top to help keep the dough moist during the rise. Make sure the towel is loose so the dough can rise up above the pan. Rising time should take between 30 and 45 minutes.
Once your rise is complete, carefully remove your pan from the oven, set it in a warm area with no drafts and leave the towel on it till your oven is heated to 350 degrees. This is your baking temperature.
Once the oven is ready, remove the towel, GENTLY place the pan in the oven and bake for 30-45 minutes. After the crust is thoroughly browned, remove the bread from the oven, slip it out of the pan onto a cooling rack and be prepared to be delighted!
Loretta Sorensen makes her home in eastern South Dakota. Read more about her and her family's draft horses and hobby farm experiences at www.ourdakotahorsetales.com. And if you're loving this home-made bread tutorial, watch for the release of "Bread Maker's Primer" in October 2018.