Thursday, May 2, 2013

Suburban Homesteading : A perfect loaf of bread

Thought I'd share a little bit about myself.  I am known to be a bit of a contradiction; a conservative hippie!  I honestly believe "you are what you eat" and for me that encompasses what you put in and on your body.  I also like to do things myself to help cut down on costs and waste and because I like the sense of accomplishment.  Since I have this sort of pioneer spirit I think of myself as a suburban homesteader and I thought I'd share some of my favorite recipes and ideas.

Today I want to share with you the absolutely best recipe for loaf bread.  I spent months combing cookbooks and websites for a good, consistent and easy recipe and finally landed on this one.  I have been making the recipe for over a year now so I know it's a keeper.  The recipe make 2-1 1/2 lb loaves (I highly reccommend the Williams Sonoma Goldtoouch loaf pan) or 3-1 lb loaves.  For us, this means I whip up a batch every 10 days or so.  We eat one fresh and the other one is frozen until we need it.

My Favorite Bread
Bakers Notes: If you are using whole wheat flour (which I would suggest sneaking in some “whole-wheat-white” flour at the very least) your dough will require a little less flour since the wheat holds moisture better.  I also find that the amount of flour I add in the 2nd addition varies greatly depending upon the humidity in the air but this recipe seems to be forgiving so even if he dough seems particularly wet or you feel like you’ve used way too much flour the loaves will probably still turn out fine! This process isn't really difficult but it does take a lot of "hands off" time.  Start to finish is about 2 1/2 hours. Good luck and enjoy! 
Sponge Ingredients
3 cups warm water(100-110 degrees)
1 Tablespoons yeast
1/4 cup honey or sugar
4 cups flour (I use either white or whole wheat for this addition)
1/4 cup ground flax seeds or ground wheat bran/germ (optional)

Combine the above ingredients in a large mixing bowl.  Stir to thoroughly mix all ingredients.  Cover and set aside for 20 to 30 minutes.  This mixture, called a sponge, will rise and become bubbly.
Add to sponge
1/4 cup cooking oil (I like olive oil or grapeseed oil for this but any would do)
1 Tablespoon salt (this is not a typo, it really is 1 TBS)
3-4 Cups additional flour (either wheat or white again)

Stir the oil and salt into the sponge.  Begin adding flour, 1 cup at a time, until dough forms a ball and pulls cleanly away from the side of the mixing bowl.  This amount can vary from baking to baking, but is usually 3 to 4 cups(tip: the less flour you can add the better so a little bit of “stickiness” is ok).
Turn dough out onto a clean, lightly greased table and knead until very smooth and elastic; about 10 minutes. (I use my KithcenAid mixer for this and it works great, usually takes 5-7 mins).  If necessary a bit more flour to prevent sticking.  Add as little additional flour as possible. 
Lightly grease top of dough and cover with a clean towel (I usually leave my dough uncovered in the microwave so sticking is not a worry).  Let rise in a warm place for about 45 minutes; until double.  Punch down risen dough and knead lightly.
Form loaves & Rise again
Divide dough into 2-3 equal portions.  Place loaves in greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pans.  Make 3 light slits in the tip of each loaf with a knife.  If you like, spray loaves with cooking spray to prevent sticking & cover with plastic wrap( I normally leave my loaves un-covered in the microwave so there is no worry of sticking). Allow to rise until bread dough is doubled, 30 mins.
Bake bread in a preheated 375-degree oven for approximately 35 minutes.  Bread is nicely browned when done.  Remove finished bread from oven and immediately turn out onto wire racks to cool completely.

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