Monday, January 8, 2018

Basic Bread

I was recently asked to share my recipe for home made bread.
I've been making bread for more years than I really like to admit.
During the winter before we married one of the women's magazines which my Mother regularly bought had a feature on making bread. As I recall the recipe was for 2 loaves of plain white bread. 
I found that the most crucial step was in having the liquid at an agreeable temperature to dissolve and activate the yeast--too hot and the yeast was killed--too cool and nothing much would happen.

My late mother-in-law made all her family's bread except when she worked full time as a Registered Nurse. Under her tutelage I learned variations on the basic recipe and refined the art of producing good bread.

My oven accommodates 4 loaves made in tins which measure 3 1/2 by 7 1/2 inches on the bottom edges. These are slightly smaller than the standard pans which I used when I had more mouths to feed.  If you have larger tins this recipe would likely produce 3 loaves.  You might also choose to shape some of the dough into dinner rolls.

The following directions are in US measures--hopefully if you are baking in a country with a different standard of measurement, either you keep a set of US measuring cups or know how to convert.

Basic Ingredients
[These don't change from one variation to another.]

4 cups warm water
1 Tablespoon salt
1 Tablespoon or one pkt of dry yeast granules
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey or molasses [treacle]

You may substitute other sweeteners.  If I am planning a 'dark' bread using rye or whole wheat flour I may use molasses.  Brown or raw sugar would be acceptable.
If you wanted dinner rolls you could substitute 1/4 c of melted butter and beat in an egg when the flour is added.
Now for the variations.  It would be rare for me to make bread using all white flour.
All my baking is done with unbleached flour--currently available to me in 50 pound sacks is Seal of Minnesota Baker's Flour. 
Our favorite bread is a New England variation called 'Anadama Bread.' 
I learned to make this bread by first cooking cornmeal and water into classic cornmeal 'mush' then using that as the base for bread.
My friend, Sonny Young, shared that he adds the dry cornmeal directly to the batter.  I tried this and now use his method exclusively--it is quicker and I like the texture.
 To make Anadama bread, add one cup of yellow cornmeal to the above basic mixture and whisk to moisten the cornmeal.
If you choose to make Oatmeal Bread, 2 cups of rolled oats would be added to the warm water mixture [instead of cornmeal]  and allowed a few minutes to soak.
A cup of Wheat Germ is also a healthy addition.

We like a fairly fine textured bread that serves well as toast or sandwiches.  If I make 'whole wheat' bread I replace 1/3-1/2 of the unbleached flour with the whole wheat. 
The texture of milled grains can vary greatly--our local whole foods store has a wide variety.  My favorite is Wheat Montana's Prairie Gold.
I don't often make classic Rye Bread--rye flour creates a dense close-grained loaf--brown sugar or molasses are the best sweeteners for that--caraway or anise seeds give a distinctive taste.

If you've started with water at the correct temperature [no, I don't use a thermometer, I test the water with a clean  index finger] you should be seeing some activity in the bowl--the yeast should be softening, spreading and bubbling. The honey, etc, has given 'food' to the yeast.
At this point you will begin stirring in the unbleached flour which will create a dough that can be kneaded. 
I can't offer a measurement for this.  I add the flour, two scoops at a time and fold it in with a large wooden spoon.
As the dough becomes heavier I add one scoop at a time.
When the dough is stiff enough to be scraped into a soft mound, turn it out onto a well-floured surface and begin the kneading process.  You will need to add more flour and 'round up' the lump of dough until it is no longer sticky.
Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Oil a clean bowl--at least twice as large as the lump of dough. Place the mound of dough in the oiled bowl and turn it so the oiled side is up, cover with a clean tea towel. Set to rise in a moderately warm--not hot--place until doubled.  If you poke a finger into the lump of dough and the indent remains, the dough is ready to punch down, turn onto a floured surface and shape into loaves.

Line up well-oiled pans and divide the dough into four lumps as nearly equal as possible.
Knead and shape into a smooth oval, place in the prepared pans.
As we are now a household of two persons, I divide each lump in two, knead them into smooth rounds and place two in each pan.
Once baked and cooled I slice gently through the 'seam'--that way I can remove a half loaf at a time from the freezer and reduce spoilage. 

If I'm making bread to be shared at a family meal or take to a church potluck, I shape the dough into conventional single loaves.  In this photo the full loaves were slashed with a sharp knife after being placed in the pan. 
When the shaped loaves have nearly doubled in size, preheat your oven.  With both an electric and gas oven I set the heat at 350. This temperature allows the bread to 'cook through' without developing too hard a crust. 

Bread is well baked when a hollow sound results from tapping the top of the loaf.
Spread a towel on your work surface and preferably a baker's rack on top of the towel.
Turn the loaves out of the pans as soon as they are removed from the oven. 
Brush the tops of the loaves with soft butter or with vegetable oil. 

Cover with another tea towel and allow to [hopefully] cool a bit before someone is inspired to cut a thick slice to eat while still warm enough to melt butter.
When the bread is cool the loaves can be placed in plastic bags and stored in the freezer until needed.


  1. Oh my, thank you so much for sharing your recipe. I saw your post from last week and it encouraged me to bake some bread. I hope your weather has warmed Iona bit. Pat

    1. Pat; We are having a a reprieve from cold weather--a high of 50 F today!
      I'm glad you were inspired to make bread.

  2. Thank you for that lovely guide MM. I'm making bread every other day here because we like a good loaf for sandwiches or toast and the French bread isn't suitable. The flour here is lovely and light, so the bread is quited good, but I feel like I'm still learning :D

    1. Yarrow; Each type of flour or combination of grains used makes some subtle differences in the 'feel' of the bread dough. The process is familiar to me after so many years but its a task I like to settle into.
      Years ago with extended family on the farm my MIL or I made bread at least twice a week.

  3. I must try your recipes and do some hand-raised bread again (I cheat these days and use the Panasonic bread maker as it makes a good loaf). I still have my original heavyweight loaf tins from nearly 40 years ago, and wouldn't have the modern silicone ones in the house!!

    Thank you for sharing.

    1. Jennie; I've never had a bread machine though I know they are very useful to those who want good bread for the family but don't have the hours at home to produce it. My loaf pans are a mid weight and well seasoned. I have several lighter/smaller ones which can be problematic--no mater how well greased they don't want to release the loaf.

  4. There is certainly an art to baking bread! Thank you so much for the wonderful tutorial. I haven't baked yeast bread in so long, but there is nothing as wonderful as warm bread with butter straight from the oven. I like that you included all the variations, too. I'll bet your kitchen smelled just heavenly! x Karen

    1. Karen; The scent of baking is very comforting, and warm fresh bread with butter [my husband adds a liberal smear of honey] is at the top of the list.
      It may sound a bit 'New Age-y' but making bread gives me a sense of connection to the centuries of those women who have made bread for their families.

  5. Homemade bread is so good, I use a bread maker just because it's so easy. I make a honey/wheat bread and it's so good.

    1. Janet; Honey is my sweetener of choice for nearly all the bread I make. One advantage of the bread maker would be a fresh warm loaf nearly every day!