Baking bread is a very satisfying process. When you get it right. And I don’t always get it right. On the bright side, I have learned a few helpful things along the way and I would like to pass those things along to you.
The first lesson learned I like to call “The Baby Principle”. You may wonder what babies and bread have in common and I have a very good answer to that. Yeast usually needs to be proofed before adding it to the rest of the ingredients. That just means you mix it with a little warm water to “wake” it up. I also like to add a pinch of sugar or a drizzle of honey so the yeast has something to eat as well. This makes it very happy and your water-yeast mixture will get all bubbly and expand and smell like bread. The trick to this is getting your water the right temperature. Too cool won’t wake up the yeast and too hot (140 degrees) will kill it. You need a happy medium. Most bakers will tell you this means about 110-115 degrees. To me, it means a baby bath. I check the temperature of my water by running it over my wrist. If it’s the right temperature for a baby’s bath, it’s good for the yeast too. Hence, The Baby Principle.
For you non-parents out there…invest in a thermometer until you feel confident using your sense of touch.
Some other things I’ve learned:
* Always use yeast that is fresh. If it’s not fresh, the yeast won’t work and your bread won’t rise.
* Dough usually needs a lot of kneading so you enlist the help of the whole family.
* When the dough is ready it should be smooth and feel like your earlobe…or a baby’s bottom (another part of The Baby Principle).
* When it is time for the dough to rise, find a nice warm place. I usually turn my oven to the lowest setting while I make the dough. When it comes to temperature, I turn it off. That makes the oven nice and toasty for the dough. Another good spot is on top of the refrigerator. If you do use your oven, be sure not to turn it on while the dough is in there or all your hard work will be ruined.
* To check to see if the bread is done you can tap it. If it sounds hallow it is done. I find that taking the temperature of the loaf at the bottom is better. It should be at 190 degrees.
* As hard as it seems, do not cut the bread until it has cooled. Cutting into too soon will change the texture and make it a bit doughy
* Just be patient! Bread making isn’t that hard once you get a little practice but it is a lesson in patience. Embrace it!
The recipe I made yesterday is called 4-H Oatmeal Bread. It’s a good recipe for beginners because it’s not only delicious but also pretty easy to make. You start out by making oatmeal and then adding all your other ingredients to it. It has lots of honey in it so it is slightly sweet and when it’s warm you can even get a hint of butter. The recipe calls for the dough to only rise once, but I wasn’t happy with that so I let the dough rise again in the pans until it took the shape of the pan and has risen to just over the top. I also used a little whole wheat flour (and no one even knew!) for more nutrition.
This bread is delicious, soft, and makes good toast. I haven’t tried it on a sandwich yet, but I suspect it would work beautifully for that as well. In short, this bread is well worth the time I put into it. Besides, my girls wanted to help and it’s always nice getting to hang out with them!
Give this recipe a try and keep my tips in mind. I think you’ll be happy too.
4-H Oatmeal Bread
2 cups boiling water
1 cup quick-cooking oatmeal
2 packages dry active yeast (or 4 1/2 teaspoons)
1/3 cup warm water
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons butter, melted
4-5 cups flour
1 egg beaten with 2 tablespoons water
In a large mixer bowl, pour boiling water over oatmeal. Let rest for 30 minutes. In a small bowl, mix together water and yeast. Let stand for 10 minutes. Add the salt, honey, and melted butter to the oatmeal. Mix in the yeast mixture. Gradually add in enough flour to make a kneadable dough. Knead for 10 minutes, adding more flour if necessary. The dough should be elastic, smooth, and soft. Place the dough in an oiled bowl. Turn dough to coat. Cover dough with a damp cloth and put in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about an hour. Preheat over to 325 degrees. After dough has risen, punch down and divide into two equal parts. Shape into loaves and place into two 8 X 4 loaf pans that have been sprinkled with oats. Brush loaves with the egg wash and sprinkle with more oats. Bake for about 50 minutes. Place on a wire rack to cool.