Sunday, March 23, 2008

Not loafing around

I haven't had much time to post recently, since my other hobby, scrapbooking, has gotten in the way. I'm working on a big family scrapbook for my grandfather's 90th birthday party, which is in two weeks. This doesn't mean I haven't been cooking, but otherwise, I've been up to my elbows in paper, stickers, and photos. Now, however, I've got some time because I ran out of archival-quality glue stick and all the craft stores are closed for Easter.

(Couldn't they have at least stayed open for a couple hours? Having had lots of time to explore scrapbooking materials, I've noticed that the majority of craft stores market to Christian soccer moms with big families who go on vacations to the beach, camping, or Disneyland every summer. Not that I have a problem with these kinds of people! It just makes it hard for the rest of us scrapbookers who don't fall into that category and want materials that touch on other topics — and who need a glue stick on Easter. But I digress...)

Inspired by variety of people — Alice Waters, Barbara Kingsolver, my cousin Deb — I've taken up making bread. Using the recipe for sandwich bread in How to Cook Everything and armed with a food processor, today makes my third loaf of bread in a month. Before this, I hadn't made my own loaf of bread for over three years — and it had been done completely by hand. Well, no wonder bread seemed hard to make, what with all the stirring and the kneading of the sticky dough. A food processor makes it the easiest thing in the world to make incredibly delicious, yeasty bread.

The first loaf I made didn't seem to be rising, and I thought I had somehow ruined it. This time, I put the dough to rise in my oven (which is gas and stays slightly warm all the time), and it has risen so much better than previously. For the second loaf I made, I forgot to grease the loaf pan, and the bread stuck pretty tight, which required a lot of tearing away of the nice, brown crust. I definitely remembered all steps this third time around.

After coming out of the oven, the Anthropologist and I can easily eat half a loaf right away, with butter or as a PB&J. Over the next few days, we eat slices with eggs or as French toast for breakfast, and the Anthropologist makes sandwiches with anything that might happen to be leftover. I've been making white bread, since that is the type of flour I've had on hand, and this is hands-down the best and the only white bread I will ever eat. (Typically, I buy whole wheat bread from the store.) The Anthropologist asked me why this bread is better than what we can purchase, and honestly, I'm not sure. Is it the lack of preservatives or bread softeners? How incredibly fresh it is? Or maybe that it's made with love?

Whatever it is, I'm eager to make other kinds of bread. I bought whole wheat flour today and will make whole wheat bread next weekend. And perhaps I will start looking into more labor-intensive breads, like challah or sourdough. Meanwhile, I challenge you to make your own bread — because once you do, you may never want to go back to store-bought bread ever again.

Sandwich bread
(courtesy of Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything)

3-1/2 c all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
2 tsp salt
1-1/2 tsp instant yeast
1 tbsp sugar or honey
2 tbsp butter, room temperature
1-1/3 cool, whole milk
oil or butter for greasing

Into a food processor, put the flour, salt, and yeast, and process for 5 seconds. Keep the machine running, and add through the feed tube the sweetener, butter, and milk. Pulse for 30 seconds, until the dough forms a ball. If it seems too sticky, add flour one tablespoon at a time, pulsing for a couple seconds after each addition. If it seems too dry, add milk one tablespoon at a time, pulsing afterward.

On a lightly floured surface, knead for one minute. Shape into a ball, and place into a large greased bowl. Cover with a damp towel, and let rise for at least 2 hours or until doubled in size. Once risen, punch down, then recover and let sit for 15 minutes.

Knead on a lightly floured surface for another minute, then fold slightly into a rectangle. Place into a greased loaf pan, flattening it firmly into the pan. Cover, and let rise 1 hour or until doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 350°F. Brush the loaf lightly with water, and place in the oven. Bake for 45 minutes. Remove from pan and let cool on a wire rack before slicing.

1 comment:

Michael Doss said...

Mmm. Bread.

I was using my bread maker for a while to actually cook my homemade stuff, but I never liked how it turned out. However, its "dough" setting is fantastic for mixing/kneeding and putting the dough through several rise cycles. I use it mainly for pizza dough and my basic brioche (which makes delicious loaves).

I'm eager to try your sandwich bread recipe - I haven't found a really good one that's soft but sturdy enough.