Basic Bread Recipe

Bread dough is one of the most versatile things you can make in your kitchen AND one of the hardest to write a recipe for because it’s such a visual and tactile process.  It’s also intimidating if you’ve never done it.  The good news is that even if your first try is a complete flop (and that’s not a given), the ingredients, primarily flour, water, yeast and salt, are all inexpensive.

I’d like to try to take the mystery out of bread making, mostly because the results are so worth the effort.  But really, when a recipe reads  ‘cover and let rise 1 hour or until dough has doubled’ or ‘knead until smooth and elastic.’  What does that mean!?  These are all phrases that I’ve used in my recipes, but there are times when I just wish I could show people.  Well, most of the time I wish that.

Stromboli served on the Schooner J&E Riggin

These are the directions for a basic bread recipe that ran in the Portland Press Herald column this week.  I used it in a stromboli recipe and it’s  very forgiving.

Combine the yeast, salt, and flour in a mixing bowl.  With the dough hook attachment of the mixer, mix on low speed.  Add 3/4 cup of water and olive oil.  When the dough begins to form a ball, add more water a tablespoon at a time until the little bits of flour on the bottom of the bowl start to work into the dough.  Knead on medium low speed for 5 to 7 minutes or until the surface of the dough begins to be very smooth and the dough is elastic.

Oil the top of the dough, cover with either a plate or plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm, draft free place to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.

‘Combine the yeast, salt and flour in a mixing bowl.’

  • You combine the dry ingredients first so that you don’t end up with clumps of yeast or salt when the water is added.  

‘With the dough hook attachment of the mixer, mix on low speed.  Add 3/4 cup of water and olive oil.  When the dough begins to form a ball, add more water one tablespoon at a time until the little bits of flour on the bottom of the bowl start to work into the dough.’

  • Adding the water a little bit at a time towards the end is important.  Moisture content in flour will vary as will the protein.  Both affect how much water you should add.  It’s better to adjust the amount of water rather than the amount of flour.  More flour changes the ratio to yeast and salt, whereas more water changes nothing.  The dough should just barely come away from the sides of the bowl.
  • Here you could also knead the bread by hand.  It’s not that hard, but the technique is, again, easier to show than to write.  Once the dough has formed a ball in the bowl, transfer it to a floured countertop.  Pull the far side of the dough towards you and push it into the ball.  Give the dough a 1/4 turn and repeat.  If it sticks to your hands or the countertop, dust with flour.  Sing a song.  Keep going.  Sing another song.  Keep going.  It becomes rhythmic and aerobic as you work the dough into a smooth ball.  It should stop sticking to the counter top and your hands and the surface looses it’s mottled look and develops an unblemished surface.

‘Oil the top of the dough, cover with either a plate or plastic wrap and set aside in a warm, draft free place to rise until doubled, about 1 hour.’  Now this refers to how long the dough should rise of course, but there’s so much that ends up being left out of the recipe for the sake of brevity and so as to not put off 90% of readers who, if I added every single instruction, would quickly click to another recipe.  Anything longer than a page and it’s too daunting.  What the recipe could also include is:

  • Rising times may vary because of ambient temperature.
  • The reason you oil the dough is so that the surface doesn’t dry out and impede rising.
  • Draft free is important because significant air movement will lower the surrounding temperature and cause the dough to take longer to rise.
  • If it’s winter, you consistently wear three layers in your house and you are still cold (like in my 100 plus year old house), then you could turn the oven to 170 degrees and let the dough rise on the stove top.
  • When the dough has doubled in size, it will have a smooth, dome shape and the dough, when you poke it with a finger, shouldn’t bounce back.

This was only half of the instructions, I’ll post the rest of the instructions/comments tomorrow.  Hope this was helpful.  Write if it wasn’t.

Annie

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2 thoughts on “Basic Bread Recipe

  1. This questions came by email and I thought it worth reposting here…

    I always enjoy your column; my husband’s favorite French Onion soup is the one you printed a while back. Now I would like to give your stromboli a try, perhaps for Valentine’s Day. I was wondering what you thought about using whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, and if I did, whether there are any adaptations I should make. I already plan to try a new brownie recipe from the most recent Cook’s Illustrated magazine, so I figured the stromboli would be fun too. Why not break the caloric bank in the name of love??? (I guess that is why I might feel better using whole wheat flour!!!)

    Thanks and I look forward to reading more of your recipe suggestions!

    Mary Galarraga

  2. Hi Mary,
    I’m so glad you enjoy the column. That French Onion Soup is my husband’s absolute favorite recipe too. I love your phrase about ‘breaking the calorie bank’!

    As for using whole wheat, I have two thoughts. One, don’t replace more than half of the white flour with the wheat, any more and you’ll have to adjust the gluten content or it won’t rise as well. The other thought is to use whole wheat bread flour, which has more gluten in it, and rises better. Even so, for the first time, I wouldn’t replace all of the white flour with the wheat.

    On another note, I read that brownie recipe a couple of days ago and thought to try it as well. I really love the one I already use, but it’s more fudgy than anything else, which has only seemed a very good thing. I posted it on my blog recently if you are interested. http://www.athomeatsea.com.

    Happy caloric eating to you and your husband!

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