Do you have a food that takes you back to your childhood with just a single whiff? Truth be told, I have many “whiffs” that transport me back in time, but probably the aroma of freshly baked bread is one of the most nostalgic for me.
As a kid, my Mom highly encouraged my brother and me to join her in the kitchen. This meant that her kitchen was always slightly teetering on the edge of disaster, but was also one of the most magical places in the world. When I was little, being allowed to “punch down the bread dough” was pretty much the epitome of fun to be had in the kitchen.
Likewise, my Grandma is also a master bread baker. Well into her eighties, she is still baking her own bread on a weekly basis. One of my most treasured kitchen tools is her extra large bread baking bowl that she passed on to me.
Along with her bread bowl, my Grandma has passed along many bread making tips:
- Save your old foil butter wrappers and use them to cover your rising dough. (This is a lady who sees a dual purpose in pretty much everything. Even what you may think is garbage. One of the benefits of growing up during the depression, surviving a war and carving out a life as a young immigrant.) Especially on the last rise, the butter from the wrappers soaks into the soon-to-be crust, giving it extra buttery goodness. Alternatively, just use a damp tea towel to cover your dough if you don’t save your butter wrappers.
- If you can, let your bread rise a third time. Basically, once you’ve punched it down and kneaded it the first time, plop the bread dough back into the bowl and let it rise again for about an hour. After the allotted time, punch the dough, knead it and then separate it into the loaf pans to rise a third time. I’ll be honest, I don’t always do this, especially if I’m strapped for time. My Grandma claims that it makes the bread fluffier.
- To make your bread a little bit “healthier” swap half of the amount of white all-purpose flour for half whole wheat bread flour. The addition of whole wheat flour will make the bread a bit more dense, so perhaps the third rise time would be beneficial in this scenario.
- And lastly, my favourite piece of advice from Grandma: you will make 100 horrible loaves of bread before you make a good one. For those of you who know my Grandma, this will likely make you laugh. She is a feisty little Dutch lady who is a force to be reckoned with….and her form of “encouragement” has always been a little…skewed. However, while I’d argue that it’s definitely a lot less than one hundred horrible loaves before you get a good one, there is a tiny seed of truth there. Bread-baking is a bit of an art. It can take a while to get the knack of it, so if your first batch doesn’t quite turn out as anticipated, that’s ok. Try again. At the very least even if your bread is horrible, your house will still smell amazing. And that alone is incentive enough to give it another go.
Homemade White Bread
- mixing bowl
- loaf pans
- 4½ tsp active dry yeast , or 2 (.25) ounce packages of dry yeast
- 3 tbsp white sugar , or honey
- 2½ cups warm water , (110 degrees F, checked with a food thermometer)
- 3 tbsp butter, softened , use local butter if possible
- ½ tbsp salt
- 6½ cups all-purpose unbleached white flour , local again if possible
- Pour the warm water in your mixing bowl. Make sure that the temperature is not higher than 110 degree F, or else you run the risk of "killing" the yeast. I always check that the temperature is at 110 with my food thermometer. Once the water is at the appropriate temperature, pour in the active dry yeast along with the sugar (or honey).
- Stir the yeast, sugar and warm water together with a wooden spoon. Allow it to sit for 10 minutes. After the 10 minute mark you should see the yeast foaming.
- Turn your mixer on to the slow speed and add the butter, salt and 2 cups of flour. Allow to blend together nicely.
- Then add in the remaining amount of flour (4 ½ cups), half a cup at a time allowing the flour to get mixed in between additions.
- Once the flour is all incorporated and the dough is a somewhat cohesive "ball," lightly flour your countertop and knead your bread until it is smooth and elastic. (This usually takes about 8-10 minutes. However, if you have a bread hook on your mixer like I do, use that. It saves your wrists (I'm lazy) and lets the mixer do the work for you.)
- Grease a large mixing bowl and plop your bread dough in, flipping it over a couple of times so that it is evenly greased. Cover with a damp tea towel and allow to rise (proof) in a warm spot for approximately 60-90 minutes, until it is doubled in size.
- Punch down the dough. Then turn it onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for approximately 5 minutes. You will likely hear lots of air bubbles popping, which is good! The air bubbles will cause "holes" in your loaf and you don't want "holey" bread.
- Separate the dough into two equal balls. Roll the balls with a rolling pin into a rectangle. Then roll the dough from the short end up. (Kind of like you're rolling up cinnamon bun dough.)
- Grease the loaf pans and pop the rolled up bread dough in. Cover them once again and let rise for another hour, or until doubled in size. Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 375 degrees F.
- Once the loaves are doubled in size, put them in the preheated oven for 30-35 minutes. They will be ready when the bottom of the loaf sounds slightly hollow when tapped.