It’s interesting, but one of the best cooking games I’ve played recently has been one that I could have played one hundred years ago just as easily as I did last week. I made bread. If you’ve never made bread from scratch, you’re definitely missing out on a great time – and I’m not talking about using a bread machine where you dump it and go. The bread you make by hand is the most interesting and frankly delicious snack out there.
Making Bread for Millennia
People have made bread by hand since the beginning of agriculture. They’ve made it with various forms of grain and flour, but the premise is the same, mix up flour, water, and any other ingredients that are handy until you have nice dough. Then cook the dough and you have bread. Over time, the bread improved from the flat bread of our ancestors to the full, poufy loaves we enjoy today and you can make your own more easily than you might imagine – it just take a few basic ingredients.
Bread from Scratch
If you’re going to make bread, start with the basic ingredients – flour, butter, milk, eggs, salt, sugar and yeast. The yeast should be as fresh as possible so that it will rise properly. Combine the ingredients according to the recipe you have on hand. You’re looking for a very basic yeast bread recipe – there’s one in just about every basic cookbook and certainly plenty online. Follow the instructions for mixing the ingredients and then get ready to make a mess.
Spread out some wax paper on the countertop and throw the dough out there with a bunch of flour. Wash your hands very well beforehand and then you’ll be ready to start kneading the dough. Fold the dough over a few times and cover it with the flour. Add a bit more flour and keep kneading until the bread dough is stiff enough to not stick to your hands. You might need to wash your hands a few times during this process to get the sticky dough off while you wait for it to firm up with your kneading.
Finally, once you have a nice bit of dough, wash out the bowl you were using and plop the bread back in there with some butter around the edges. Put the bread somewhere warm – a window sill, the oven (not turned on, of course) or over the dryer in the laundry room. The goal is for the bread to rise quickly. You’ll need to leave the bread to rise for about an hour before you punch it down and separate it into two loaves per the instruction in your recipe. Put the individual loaves in the pans for baking and leave them to rise again. They will get nice and poufy during that hour and be ready to bake.
Enjoying Your Bread
Go ahead and cook up the bread once its ready and you’ll be able to enjoy it just a few minutes later as the smell of the cooking bread travels throughout your house. Your kitchen will smell like a bakery and as soon as the bread is finished you can eat it in thick, rich slices with butter, jam or anything you like. Yum!