Saturday, November 1, 2014

Grandma's Homemade Bread

So this post has an ulterior motive.  Of course, I am happy to provide the world with a wonderful bread recipe.  But I also hope to inspire people to return to the art of bread-baking.  I'm talking to you, college kids, moms who've never tried bread-making, single dudes, anyone.

Why?  Well, for example, here in Ukraine, the main staple of any meal is bread.  It's just not considered a meal without bread.  But for the last 100 years, bread has been exclusively provided to the populace through soviet bread factories.  No one gets their bread from anywhere else.  And no one makes their own.  They have lost the tradition of making their own bread, even though they depend on bread for every meal. 

Example?  In the war zone right now,  food is scarce.  I have friends who help distribute bread so people don't starve.  And the people who can't buy bread or get to the distribution trucks?  Many of them are buying bread machines.  Say what?  They absolutely can't go without bread -  so in order to physically survive..... they buy a bread machine???   (Of course, these are the areas with electricity still operational).  But I still can't fathom it.  The collective knowledge of how to make bread has been completely lost.

So this is my small part to help change that.   This is a recipe I use all the time handed down from my grandmother to my mother to me.  I don't even use a recipe anymore, because I know it by heart.  This recipe makes three large loaves, so if I make a batch on the weekend, it'll last our family all week.

If you are a veteran bread-baker, you'll enjoy this tried-and-true delicious recipe.  If you are new to baking bread, give it a shot.  Your house will smell awesome, your bread will be way WAY better than what you buy at the store, your kids will have fond memories of savoring your warm bread with butter and sugar on top, your friends will think you a kitchen wizard and, bonus, in time of war you will not have to elbow your way through the crowds to buy yourself a bread machine.

So here we go... don't be scared, I'll walk you through it.... fresh, warm, soft, delicious bread is only a few steps away.....

The Step-By-Step

Make the batter, let it rise

First, add the sugar, salt and butter to the milk in a microwave-safe bowl.   

Microwave for one minute at a time until the butter begins to melt around the edges.  You're aiming for optimal temperature for the yeast.  (Think bath temperature). So the milk should feel warm to the touch, but not hot.  It seems like when the butter starts to melt, but isn't completely melted, the milk is usually the right temp.   

It usually takes my microwave three minutes if the milk is cold from the fridge.  Two if it's room temp to begin with.  But every microwave is different, so the time isn't as important as the temp of the milk.

Add a packet of yeast to a small bowl of warm water.  Sprinkle it on top and let it sit ("soften") for a few minutes.

After a couple of minutes, give the yeast a bit of a stir and it should dissolve nicely.

Add the yeast water to the melty-butter-milk mixture.

Now stir in about 8 cups of flour until you have a stiff batter.  When it starts getting hard to stir, stop adding flour.  It'll be sticky.  Make sure the flour is thoroughly mixed in, no dry spots.

Cover with a tea towel and let it rise until almost doubled, (about an hour).

Shape the Dough, Let it Rise

The batter should have risen noticeably by now.  Stir it down and start adding some flour.

I normally add about 3 cups of flour at this point, give or take, but the important thing is getting it stiff enough that you can knead it.

Dump out the dough on a heavily floured surface and give it a good dusting of flour on top.

Now knead.  

For bread-making newbies, here's  a quick tutorial:
Step 1:  fold the dough in half, bringing the top down over the bottom towards you.
Step 2: using the heels of both hands, push the dough down and kinda smush it forwards. (In the photo I am only using one hand, but that's only because I needed a hand to work the camera.)
Step 3: turn the dough a quarter turn (I like counter-clockwise, but that's just me)
Repeat steps 1-3, adding a sprinkling of flour to the dough or the countertop when either one gets sticky.  Keep going for 8-10 minutes.

Your dough will be nice and smooth-ish and not sticky when you're done kneading. 

Divide the dough into three parts, as equally as you can.

Shape each lump into a loaf-like shape.

Don't forget to grease your pans!

Place the dough into the greased pans, cover with a tea towel, and let rise again, about 20-30 minutes until the loaves are looking puffed up.

*Tip:  Turn your oven on now to preheat at 350F (175C) and place your bread pans on the stovetop to rise.  The heat from the oven will make the stovetop a little warm and will be a lovely spot to encourage your loaves to rise nicely.

Bake, Cool, Yum.

If you like, you can cut a shallow slit down the middle of the tops of the loaves.  This helps create the classically shaped bread slice with the dent in the top.  I also found in my oven that cutting the slit prevents the loaf from "leaning" to one side as it rises.  But not entirely necessary.  Whatevs.

Place your pans in the oven to bake for about 45-60 minutes, depending on the shape of your pans and how your oven behaves.  Rotate them around about halfway through cooking.  I recommend bottom or middle racks.

About 10 minutes before the bread is done baking, I like to pull it out of the oven and quickly brush the tops with an egg wash (1 egg whisked with a couple teaspoons of water).  This gives the crust that nice golden glossy look.  Again, not strictly necessary, just a nice touch.  Put the bread back in to finish baking.

Pull it out of the oven and let the pans cool on a wire rack for about 10-15 minutes.  Then run a knife around the edge and turn the loaves out of the pans to cool completely.

Ok, well, maybe not completely.  Because it's a tragedy and a shame not to sample a few slices while the bread is still warm, where the butter just melts and the steam wafts up and .... just mmmm.

Now enjoy your bread.  Take toast to the next level.  Make amazing grilled cheese sandwiches. Make your soup look good.  Indulge in some high-carb snacking.  And re-gift that bread machine.  You don't need it. You're a bread-making rock star.

The Recipe


4 cups milk (about 1 liter)
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
2 Tablespoons butter
1/2 cup warm water
1 package active dry yeast
12 + cups flour
Egg Wash: 1 egg + 2 teaspoons water, whisked (optional)

1) Pour milk into a microwave-safe mixing bowl.  Add butter, salt, and sugar.  Microwave for one minute at a time until you notice the butter beginning to melt around the edges.  Set aside.
2) Pour yeast into the warm water.  Let sit for a few minutes, then stir to dissolve.  Add to milk mixture.
3) Add flour to milk, stirring as you go, to make a stiff batter (about 8 cups of flour).
4) Cover the bowl with a tea towel and let rise until almost doubled, about one hour.
5) Stir down the batter and add more flour (about 3 cups), until the dough becomes too stiff to stir.
6) Dump out the dough onto a heavily floured surface.  Knead 8-10 minutes, adding flour as necessary.  Dough should be smooth and elastic.
7) Divide  dough into 3 lumps.  Make each lump into a loaf shape and place in greased bread pans.  
8) Preheat oven 350F (175C).
9) Cover pans with tea towel and let rise 20-30 minutes.
10) Place pans in the oven and bake 45-60 minutes.
11) If desired, 10 minutes before baking is finished, brush the tops of the loaves with egg wash.  Return bread to ovens and finish baking.
11) Remove from oven and let pans cool on wire rack about 10 minutes, then run a knife around the edge and turn out the loaves onto the wire racks.  Let cool completely.  Store in airtight container.