Want to delve into baking your first homemade loaf of bread? I assure you, you can do this no problem. The satisfaction of pulling that warm bread out of the oven is unmatched. Making homemade bread is inexpensive and you’ll be rewarded with so much freaking kitchen confidence that you’ll be giving loaves away in no time!
Afraid of yeast? Don’t be. Most people shy away from making bread at home because the yeast factor is intimidating. Listen, there are other things to be afraid of in the kitchen and yeast is not one of them. Don’t be such a worrywart! The truth is, even if you mess up your first loaf of homemade bread you’ve still won. Why? One word: croutons. Amazing homemade croutons. Enough said.
It’s hard to wrap our head around yeast but here’s the gist of it. Yeast is not as sensitive as it was years ago. This ain’t your mama’s yeast we’re talkin’ about. In all likelihood, if you follow a few simple guidelines, you’re not gonna kill it.
There are two common types of yeast available for the home baker: Active Dry Yeast and Instant Rise Yeast. They can be used interchangeably, except that the Active Dry needs to proof before using. Proof?! That’s just a fancy term for dissolving the yeast in warm water before adding it to the rest of the ingredients, to see if it’s alive. Instant Rise Yeast is just added dry to the rest of the ingredients, no proofing required. Yeast can be a finicky little devil but just keep in mind it really only requires a couple things: a warm cozy place to wake up from its long nap and food. Quite frankly it’s similar to a teenager. A cozy place, a wee bit of coddling and it grows up into something amazing.
Once you’ve mixed up all the ingredients, it’s time to knead the dough. There’s nothing like the satisfaction of kneading dough. It’s zen-like really. Whether you do it by hand or by mixer hook, the process of kneading dough is what strengthens those gluten strands and gives structure to your bread. Kneading also helps the dough rise and maintain its shape when baked. So roll those sleeves up, relax, and watch that lumpy dough transform to a soft, smooth ball right before your eyes.
After you’ve kneaded, the dough is given time to rest. This rising time is crucial to allow the gluten strands to rest and to make shaping your dough easier when you need to. This is basically “eating time” for yeast: it’s going to feed on all of the sugars in your dough, release carbon dioxide and make the dough swell.
You’ll notice a real change in the dough after the first rise. It’s usually doubled in size because the carbon dioxide in the dough has worked its magic. It’s alive! That’s right! If the dough has risen, your yeast is alive and well. The dough should be incredibly soft and pliable. Give yourself a pat on the back, you’ve made it this far. Now, it’s time to shape the dough. You can roll it into a long tube and place it in a loaf pan or roll it into golf ball-sized pieces for the most amazing rolls. Let it sit for a second rise to allow those flavours to develop and to achieve a nice, full, fluffy loaf.
Still scared? You’re so near the end it’s ridiculous. Get out the jam jars and set the table. Aside from some baking time, you’re pretty much done. Now that you have a pretty basic idea of what’s happening, let’s try out a really simple recipe for basic white bread. I believe in you! You’ve got this!
- • 5-6 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- • 1 ½ tbsp Instant Rise Yeast
- • ¼ cup honey
- • ¼ cup shortening
- • 1¾ cup warm milk – about 110 °
- • 1 large egg, slightly beaten, room temperature
- • 1 tbsp salt – kosher is best
- Cube the shortening and put it in a large mixing bowl. Add 4 cups of the flour, honey and yeast and blend together. I like to use a wooden spoon here to mix and break up the lumps of shortening as I’m blending. The dough will be messy and chunky from the shortening and honey. Just combine as best you can, it will smooth out more as you add the wet ingredients.
- Add the milk, egg, salt and another cup of flour. Mix to combine.
- Dump the dough mixture onto countertop (it will be a lumpy sticky mess) and continue to blend by hand. Knead the dough adding a dusting of flour as needed to prevent it from sticking to you and the counter.
- Knead dough for 8 – 10 minutes or until you have a nice smooth ball. It should not be sticky any longer.
- Place the dough in large bowl sprayed with cooking spray or coated with olive oil (roll the dough around a few times to coat it with oil too) and cover with a clean towel. Place the bowl in a warm, draft-free area to rise. It should double in size in about one and a half hours.
- Punch down (squish and push the dough back down into the bowl) and divide the dough in half. Shape each half into loaves by rolling into a long tube (tuck in and pinch the ends) and placing in greased 8” loaf pans or make one loaf and roll 16 golf ball-sized pieces for dinner rolls and place into a greased 8 x 8 pan. Cover with the clean towel and allow to rise in a warm, draft-free area for another hour, until double in size.
- Remove towels, make a quick slash on the top of the loaves only (lengthwise) with a serrated knife and bake in preheated 400°F oven, center rack, for 30 minutes. Tap the top crust and it should sound hollow. Remove from pans almost immediately and allow to cool before cutting. If making rolls, bake for 25 to 27 minutes.
About Our Contributor
As the mother of three teenagers, Renee Mackey-Burson of Sweet Revelations, often feels the need to knead! Nothing clears the mind and calms the heart like icing a cake or rolling a big ball of dough into submission. Despite the full time job, the chauffeuring between schools and hockey arenas, this former bake shop owner still manages to scratch bake bread and other sweets for her family almost daily! Why she does it? Plain and simple: it’s cheaper than therapy.
Follow Renee on Social Media