Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Bread Making 101

English Muffin Bread
Makes 2 loaves
5 1/2 cups white flour
2 Tbls. active dry yeast
1 Tbls. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 tsp. baking soda
2 cups milk
1/2 cup water
1/8 cup (or whatever) yellow cornmeal

This works best if you have an electric dough mixer.  If's good exercise for those arms!  Spray your bread pans with cooking oil and sprinkle the cornmeal in the bottom of the pan.  Combine 3 cups of the flour, sugar, salt, and soda in your mixer bowl.  Proof the yeast by adding it to the water (in another container) with a pinch of sugar.  The best temperature for yeast to grow is 100 degrees F to 115 degrees F.  This is exactly where my tap water is, which makes it easy.  You might want to test your water with a thermometer first and figure out by touch just what that feels like.  After adding the 2 Tbls. yeast to the water with a pinch of sugar...set it aside to "grow".  The reason we proof yeast is to make sure it is still living and will actually raise your bread.  It is not fun to make bread only to watch it do nothing.  After about 5-10 minutes your yeast should be looking alive with little bubbles and it will actually grow in the cup.  Add this yeast to the mixture in your bowl and start mixing.  Add the milk.  You can do this 2 ways.   1) warm it up slightly but make sure you don't get it hotter than 100-115 degrees F. or you will kill the yeast.  2) just put the milk in cold.  I have done it both ways with success.  The warmed milk is better because it helps the yeast along.  Stir in enough flour to make a stiff dough.  I have taught lots of people to make bread, and the most common mistake is putting in too much flour.  This dough will be sticky when it's "just right".  In Texas with our fairly humid climate, it takes on average 5 1/2 total cups of flour.  In the summer, it would probably take the full 6 cups.  Experiment, but stop yourself before you add too much.  In an electric mixer the dough will start to pull from the sides of the bowl and be smooth and elastic.  By hand, it will began to feel more workable and elastic.  This next step is the best part of making the bread.  There is only one rising time.  Take the dough after flouring your hands.  Divide it in 2 parts.  Use a pastry cloth to roll out a pretty loaf with each 1/2 of the dough.  This is best done by hand.  Just think playdough!  Raise the bread loaves.  At my house, the best way to raise dough is in my oven.  I set it at its lowest setting 170 degrees F.  I put the bread on the middle rack and turn the oven off. With the door closed, the dough will stay warm and in a perfect environment for rising.  When the dough has just begun to peek over the sides of your pan, turn the oven on 400 degrees F.  Bake the loaves right where they raised for 20-25 minutes.  Once they begin to golden up, take out of the oven and put on cooling racks.  This bread is good right out of the oven, or sliced and toasted.  

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