Finally! I have wanted so long to post an entry on bread. Seriously. And here it is. 🙂
When I was younger, my mom had a bake shop. Now, it’s not one of those fancy ones with beautifully decorated cakes served with coffee in cosy booths. Rather, it was a small shop which rolled out fresh loaves of bread, sans any extra flair. All there was were the fragrant loaves of bread being turned out just before dawn, just in time for people to wake up and have them with a hot cup of coffee before they set off for work. I can still remember how every morning there would be a small group outside our shop of about 10 to 15 people, just waiting for the first loaves to come out of the oven. Somehow, there’s magic in how such small things bring people together.
I can also still remember how my mom would somehow manage to knead 5 gallons worth of bread dough every night. Of course we had a machine to help her do it, but for a woman just five feet tall, that is still no easy feat. It was inspiring to say the least. And I suppose that’s why bread has a special place in my little baker’s heart, years after our little shop had closed.
Since I started baking, I’ve wanted to bake my own bread. And it’s not that I haven’t tried that I’ve only managed to make this post now. But rather it’s because I’ve failed miserably until now. Word of advice: never underestimate bread-making. Believe it or not, there is a lot of science involved in it. And that’s what I’ll discuss before we even get to the recipe, so please bear with me for a while longer.
There are three key ingredients to bread, and for each one there are different things to always keep in mind. As you’ll find out reading the bulleted items below, these ingredients are logically found in almost all recipes. But what many people might not know is that simply adding them together doesn’t make the cut.
It’s first on the list because it literally gives the bread life. The two most common types are the active dry yeast and fresh yeast. Regardless of which type your recipe calls for, the key is to love your yeast. Or at least to feed it well and give it time to grow. And there is nothing more satisfying than knowing your yeast is alive when you see a yeast mixture foaming up. If it does that within ten minutes, then you know your bread will rise beautifully.
The yeast is actually a colony of microscopic organisms. Once you mix it with water and a little sugar, it becomes active, eating up the sugar and producing carbon dioxide, which gives the bread its rise. The yeast also produces acids along with the gases, which then give breads their characteristic flavour. The process of activating your yeast and allowing it to grow is called “proofing”. Even if you’re in a hurry, don’t skip this step.
Flour choice is usually given with the recipe you’re using. But experienced bakers may choose to vary their flour choices depending on their taste or dietary requirements. And that can be tricky. For beginner level bakers, it’s best to be familiar first with protein content.
All-purpose wheat flour and bread flour both contain proteins, though in different amounts. The protein content matters because the proteins allow the bread dough to rise. In the presence of water, the proteins are allowed to link to one another creating a web which makes the dough elastic, allowing it to hold gases. Kneading improves the protein web. Bread flour which contains more proteins than all-purpose flour will naturally rise better. However, the proteins which allow the bread to rise also make it chewier. All-purpose flour on the other hand will produce softer breads, but will not rise as much and will probably not give the open crumb you might be looking for in your bread.
There are many different types of fat used as shortening in bread: oils, lard, butter, vegetable shortening, etc. Though not present in all recipes, there are reasons these are added. One of course is to make the bread richer. But the other reason is because it can block the protein webs from forming. If the shortening molecules “coat” the protein molecules, they won’t link as well as they normally would. This makes for softer breads. Depending on how well you want your bread to rise, the fat may be added at the start or some time after you start kneading the dough.
Armed with this new knowledge, you should be able to get a little more confidence as you begin your bread-making journey. In later recipes, I will discuss a few more things to remember when making bread.
This next recipe is from Allrecipes.com. The original recipe is called Amish White Bread. I simply added the word ‘buns’ because that’s what I made out of it, as opposed to the original recipe which gives loaves. I also halved the recipe because I don’t normally need a lot of bread.
- 1 cup of warm water (110 °F / 45 °C)
- 1/3 cup white sugar
- 3/4 Tbsp active dry yeast
- 3/4 tsp salt
- 1/8 cup vegetable oil
- 3 cups bread flour
In a large bowl, combine the sugar and warm water, then stir in the yeast. Allow the yeast to proof for 15 to 20 minutes. The mixture should be foaming at that point. That’s a sure sign that the yeast is active. After proofing, add the salt and oil to the yeast mixture. Stir to dissolve the salt.
If using a stand mixer, attach the dough hook. Otherwise use a fork. Mix the flour into the yeast one cup at a time. Mix until all the flour is incorporated and the yeast mixture is absorbed. Knead the dough until smooth. When using the dough hook to knead, set the mixer to a low speed. Place in a well-oiled bowl and turn dough to coat. Cover with a damp cloth away from any draft. Allow the dough to rise until double in volume.
Punch the dough down and knead for a few minutes. Divide the dough into 9 equal parts, rolling each into a smooth ball. Place the balls of dough on a lightly-oiled pan or a Silpat lined pan with 1 inch gaps between each one. Leave them to rise for 30 minutes.
Bake the bread in an oven pre-heated to 175°C (350°F) for 25 minutes at the topmost rack. Turn off the oven, but leave the bread in the oven for an additional 15 minutes to complete the baking process.
If you want, you can put sesame seeds on top of the buns before baking them–these make wonderful burger buns. And just a last tip: store your bread in an air tight container at room temperature if you will be using them immediately. You can also freeze them if you want to prolong their life. But these WILL go stale in a couple of days because there are no preservatives. To bring them back to life, simply pop these in the oven just long enough to heat them through.
Happy baking! 🙂