Friday, June 22, 2012

The Best Bread

I absolutely love good whole wheat bread, specifically homemade whole wheat bread from Musings of a Housewife. It has coconut oil and honey and is absolutely amazing.

But this bread - my most favorite bread - isn't whole wheat. It's made using leftover whey from making cheese or yogurt. Although I'll bet you could use water or milk instead of whey if you don't have any. It's soft and absolutely perfect for toast and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Making bread from scratch may sound intimidating, but it's really very straightforward - and unless you live above a bakery, it probably takes less active baking time than it would to get in the car and go buy some from the store. Plus you know what's in it.

After moving from a hand-me-down bread maker in college, to a brand new one when I got married, to a kitchen aid mixer, I realized I could make bread with a spoon and bowl just as easily (if not more so). So even if you've never ever ever made bread before, give this a shot. You don't need any special tools.

This awesome recipe comes from Terri's Table. Mine is basically the same, but I tried to simplify the process because I'm very impatient when it comes to waiting for bread to bake. I use the cookbook Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day, which gives some helpful suggestions about how to streamline bread baking. I applied those here, but make sure to check out Terri's Table and look at her version of this bread, too!

Makes 1 loaf of bread, but can be easily doubled.

Printable version here

1/2 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon coarse, kosher style salt
2 tablespoons sugar
1 1/2 cups whey (or milk or water)
3 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (might use more or less flour, depending on your climate)

Make sure you use unbleached flour. The bleached kind basically has all of the nutrients stripped out; yeah, it's usually enriched with nutrients after, but I figure the original ones are better.

Pour the warm whey into a bowl. It should be warm, but not really hot. If it's cold, the yeast won't activate, and if it's really hot, the yeast will be, well, killed. Add the yeast, sugar, and then the salt. You can probably add it in any order, but I prefer to add the yeast and sugar first and let it sit for just a second because the sugar makes the yeast grow while the salt keeps the growth in check.

This is what your yeast-sugar-salt-whey mixture will look like after a few minutes. After 5 minutes or so, give it a little stir to break the yeast up.

During this time, your mixture will turn into a foamy almost bubbly mixture. While your yeast is proofing, measure out your flour. When I'm being a good, precise cook, I dump my flour into a bowl and scoop it into my measuring cups, that way the flour doesn't get too packed in. But in this recipe, I scoop-and-sweep. Just dip your measuring cup into the flour bag.

Dump 3 cups of flour into the starter and stir it with a wooden spoon.

I'm not sure why it has to be a wooden spoon, but pretty much every bread recipe I've ever used specifically calls for a wooden spoon. I don't know if the metal reacts or if the wooden spoon just seems more authentic. Anyway, stir the flour all in to the yeast.

When you get to the point where you can't stir anymore, use your hands. Add more flour (and more if you need it). The flour will be moist but not ridiculously sticky, so keep adding flour until you get to that consistency. Depending on your climate and elevation, you might only use another 1/4 c., or you might use an entire cup more. Don't over think it - just keep adding flour until the dough is manageable.

Knead the flour for a couple of minutes. "Kneading" to me basically means to gently punch and fold the dough in on itself many times. It's kind of like therapeutic bread massage therapy. This would be a great task for a little helper in your kitchen, too.

Admire your kneaded bread and then put a towel over it. Let it rise in a warm place for about an hour. "Warm" means basically anywhere in the summer, and on top of an in-use oven in the winter.

While your bread is rising, feel free to do any household tasks that need tackling....

After an hour, pull off the towel and admire the magic of yeast:

On a clean and floured surface, dump out your dough and roll it out.

It should be roughly in the shape of a rectangle. If yours doesn't look like a rectangle, feel free to ball it up and start over (if the dough feels tough, let it rest for a minute before re-shaping). The shaping will improve after you do this a couple of times.

 See? Rectangle-ish.

Stand in front of the short side of the rectangle and roll it up. (If you roll the long end up, it won't fit in the loaf pan.

With wet fingers, pinch the seam closed.

And put it in a greased (or sprayed) pan. Cover it and let it rise for another hour and then bake for 30 minutes at 350.

Remove and let it cool. (I almost never have the patience for this, but it does slice much more easily when it's cooler).

Give a slice to the littlest person nearby.

Use it to make peach, ricotta, and jam toast or awesome grilled cheese. 

Bon Appétit!