There is just nothing better than the smell and taste of homemade bread, but if you are at all like me you have resisted this endeavor because of the time and energy that it takes. Over the last year I committed myself to finding a better way. I studied the subtle nuances of bread science, watched dozens of informational videos, and tested dozens of loaves of bread. What I have come up with is a basic recipe that can serve as a springboard to unlimited creativity in bread making. Best part – each recipe can be completed from start to finish in under 2 hours! In the time it takes for your household to get rolling on a Saturday morning, you can have fresh baked bread coming out of the oven with just a little bit of effort.
So what’s the key to this quick and easy bread making euphoria? Two simple things. A good quality stand kitchen mixer, and fast acting yeast. Yup – that’s it to a new world of fresh baked, homemade bread.
For bread basics, here is your first grocery list:
- Fast Acting Yeast
- Bread Flour
I know it’s shocking how short and basic this list is, but trust me – it’s this easy to start out.
The Dry Ingredients
The key to great bread is great flour, this is something that you can also play with a bit. For the single loaf recipe later in this article you’ll notice that a loaf of bread calls for 2-3 cups of flour. All-purpose flour and cake flour will not work well for making bread. Why? It all comes down to the amount of protein (or gluten). Protein is the key to that stretchy dough that is a signature of bread dough. Bread flour has the highest amount of protein at 14-16%, whereas all-purpose flour has 10-12%. It’s a small difference in numbers, but has a huge impact in the finished product. Curious about more specifics? Check out this great article on the topic from The Kitchn.
Once you have perfected your basic white bread, you can venture into other forms of bread and play around with the kinds of flour you use. In our home I have delved into rye bread, whole wheat bread, oats, and even nut flours (like almond flour). The key here is the ratio. To maintain a fair amount of protein in your flour mixture you want to use at least 1 cup of traditional bread flour. The remaining flour you can change up as you like. My favorite mixture is 1 cup bread flour with 1/2 cup rye flour and 1/2 cup whole wheat Flour. As I get a feel for how the dough is coming together I may add more rye or whole wheat flour to ensure the dough comes together nicely.
The other ingredient for the dry portion of the basic bread recipe is salt. You have to be careful with the salt as it will kill the yeast – so always mix the salt in with the first cup of flour to minimize contact. Salt is important to ensuring proper bread flavor and it really accentuates all the other flavors you might weave into your own bread recipe.
Measure your dry ingredients right into the mixing bowl and stir lightly to combine the salt and flour (don’t forget to reserve the third cup of flour and only add if your dough needs it – it really depends on humidity in the air and moisture content in the flour – you don’t want to risk dry bread).
The Wet Ingredients
Basic bread starts with 1 cup of warm water (about 130 degrees F). How do you know if the water is warm enough? I simply run our water nice and warm (think what would feel wonderful coming in from shoveling the driveway in the dead of winter) – what you are going for is that nice hot bath temperature, perfect for activating yeast. Add a 1/4 oz. package of fast acting yeast and 1 tbsp on sugar to the water and stir together.
Let the mixture sit for 3-5 minutes so that the yeast can activate and start to foam. It should start looking like the image below.
Bring It All Together
Once the yeast has activated in the water, pour into the mixer and start mixing on low and eventually increase to medium high speed as the dough comes together. As the mixer kneads the dough it will become more elastic and should stop sticking to the side of the bowl.
If the dough seems too wet and continues to stick to the side, add the remaining flour just a tbsp at a time. You can always add a little more flour. If your dough does appear to be too dry, you can rescue the dough by adding warm water a little at a time.
Once your dough has finished kneading, remove from the mixing bowl and hand shape into a dough log and place in a greased bread pan. Cover with a damp towel or greased plastic wrap (so the dough doesn’t stick as it rises) to prevent the dough from drying out while it rises.
After 45-60 minutes the dough will have risen and doubled in size. To give your bread a nice golden crust you can brush the top with butter or an egg-wash. Finally take a sharp knife and slit about 1/4 inch into the dough to allow the steam to escape during baking. In the image below I gave one slit down the middle of the loaf.
Now preheat your oven to 400-425 degrees F. Once preheated, place your bread into the oven and bake for 25-30 minutes. At 25 minutes you can test the doneness of the bread by tapping the top of the loaf with a bread knife. If it sounds a little hollow, it’s done! If not, you can certainly go another 5 minutes for good measure.
And that is it! Congratulations! You have successfully made bread at home. Now let’s cover some creative twists.
Boost Your Bread Baking
After I felt I had mastered this quick and easy approach to bread making I knew I could get creative and start playing around with new flavors.
For savory breads it’s all about the dry mix. I’ve added cheese, seasonings, garlic, and olive oil (about 1 tbsp) into the mix at varying amounts. It really just depends on how strongly flavored or how absolutely cheesy you want your bread.
For sweet breads it’s more about the wet mix. You can add more sweetness to your bread by increasing the sugar content to 1/4 cup. Try brown sugar, honey, or molasses for a nice sweet twist. I’ve even used dark beer for a bread mixture in lieu of water for an added twist. For a heartier approach, you can consider adding dried fruit, flax and chia seeds, and nuts.
Once you have opened up this amazing world of homemade bread, you may never go back to store bought breads again. Check back to Pumpernickel & Rye for artisan twists and great bread recipes.
Let’s recap the basic recipe.
2-3 cups Bread Flour
1 tsp Salt
1 cup Warm Water
1/4 oz Packet of Fast Acting Yeast
1 tbsp Sugar
Measure the water in a glass measure and stir in fast acting yeast and sugar. In a mixing bowl, add 2 cups of bread flour and salt and stir together. Once the yeast has begun to foam, add to the flour mixture and mix starting on low speed and increasing to medium high as the dough comes together. Add remaining flour as needed. Knead at medium-high speed for 6-10 minutes. Form into a roll and place in a greased bread pan. Allow to rise for 45-60 minutes covered with either a damp cloth or greased plastic wrap to avoid sticking to the dough. Once dough has doubled in size, preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Brush the top with either an egg wash or melted butter and create slits with a sharp knife in the top of the loaf. Bake for 25-30 minutes until the bread sounds hollow when the top is tapped. Remove from the oven and allow to cool.
Enjoy your homemade bread!