I’ve been planning on making bread for…well, years. I made it decades ago, but for various reasons, I never got back into the habit of making it. The last time I tried was after I picked up the book “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” and hoped to jump on the no knead bandwagon. But the boule I made wasn’t very good and the book and my bread making went back on the shelf.
Two things happened to me recently to give it another go. First, I found a new copy of “The All New Purity Cook Book”. This book is the one I grew up with, and it is heavily oriented towards bread making. An old cook book, but a great one. Second, I wandered into a store and found a Black and Decker refurbished bread maker for a $29. I decided it was time to try making some bread again. You can see my results above. (And yes, the shapes are off, but hey, I am learning, just like you will be!)
Veteran bread makers won’t learn much from my notes below, but new bread makers might. Things I learned:
- Of the three approaches, the bread machine is the easiest. Not surprising. What I also learned is that the no knead and the traditional way are also not so hard. But the bread machine is still simplest. If you are feeling a bit courageous, skip buying the machine and try the other methods.
- I had fresh flour and fresh yeast: both are cheap, and if you aren’t sure how fresh yours are, I suggest you get some new stuff. Stale yeast and flour that is old and off will make it hard if not impossible to make good bread.
- I used to fret over water temperature and air temperature when I used to make bread, but this time I relaxed and just made sure the water was not hot and not cool, and didn’t worry if the temperature was 110F or some exact measure. It still worked. Likewise, for a warm place, I just stuck the bread in the microwave to rise. It was fine. I didn’t have to worry: the house wasn’t drafty or cool, but the microwave works well if it is drafty or cool in your place (or you have excessive AC, maybe?) Of course, don’t turn on the microwave while the dough is in there.
- My bread maker made a lot of noise at first and moved around a fair bit on the counter. Be careful not to have it too near the edge, and if all bread makers are as noisy as my refurb, don’t put it on before you go to bed.
- There’s not much to making bread maker bread, but follow the instructions. I made an exception for seasonings they wanted to add to the bread. I skipped those. But when it comes to water, oil, sugar and salt, flour and yeast, stick to the recipe.
- It didn’t call for it, but I brushed some butter on the bread after I took it out of the oven. It looks better in my opinion.
- As far a the five minute artisan bread, I messed it up the first time I tried it today. I tried it again, though. First, I halved the ingredients in the book for the master recipe. This was fine. Second, the trick to blending the flour into the water is to measure out the flour and slowly add it before you add more. The first time I more or less dumped it in and the dough was very difficult to work with. Also, the water ratio they use seems to be a bit slight. There’s always more flour then I can blend. I ran luke warm water, wet my hands, then mixed the loose flour in. It took me a few goes at this before I managed to incorporate all the loose flower into the dough. Without that extra water from my hands, I couldn’t get all the flour blended.
- The other benefit of halving the ingredients is that you have less bread in your fridge. It takes very little to mix up a new batch and my fridge is small and I don’t have room for all the dough they make with their recipe. If you are the same situation, chop the recipe quantities in half.
- The authors of the no knead bread recipe stress kosher salt: I used plain old table salt and it worked fine.
- Other than the things I mentioned, the no knead approach works great and the bagette I made was delicious: slightly chewy on the outside and nice a tender on the inside. I like the bread maker, but if you wanted easy bread, I highly recommend that book.
- Finally, I did the traditional approach and made the challah bread. There’s a few more steps, but it’s still really easy, right up to the part where you braid it. The braiding is not easy but the recipe itself is easy: you just need time.
- Rather than type in the recipe I used, I recommend this recipe because of the highly detailed description of how to braid the bread. My recipe had all the same ingredients and steps. Two exception: 1) in my recipe, after the dough has risen for 1.5 hours, I punched it down to deflate it and then formed six equal sized dough balls. And then I covered them and let them rest for 10 minutes. Then I started to braid. When the braid was formed, I brushed it with vegetable oil. 2) It also has more sugar than the recipe I made: mine only used 4 teaspoons of sugar for the whole recipe: this one uses more and the result should be a sweeter bread.
- This recipe will result in a whiter challah bread than others I have had. I suspect those recipes have more egg yolk added to the bread. It’s still delicious white.
Good luck making the bread. I am sure you will make nicer looking bread for sure.