Here we go with Week Three of my Have You Ever Considered… DIY series, talking about some of the things that people often tell me they haven’t imagined doing before, or have been too intimidated to try out.
For this week, I want to focus on one of the great foods in life: BREAD. Whether it be a gorgeous brioche or sturdy round loaf of wheaty goodness or olive oil-infused ciabatta or a bagel with lox or even the simplest of white breads, it is definitely the stuff of life. After spending a few years gluten-free, I returned to the land of serious gluten in preparation for a return trip to one of the few places where my (then) dairy-free and gluten-free existence was just not going to serve me well: Paris. Y’all, I needed real, perfect croissants in a huge-ass way and there is no true substitute for good flour and good butter in making them.
Bread is something I’ve made most of my life. My mother and grandmother and great-grandmother all made homemade bread. It just doesn’t compare to store-bought, and in this day and age it’s harder and harder to find a good boulangerie. Here is Astoria there’s one super popular place that makes a lovely sourdough, but they can’t cut it with their other styles compared to what comes out of my own kitchen, and on the flaky croissant scale? I’ve only had a couple of truly obscenely delicious ones here in the States (perhaps why when we go to Portland we always bring back at least a half-dozen from Petite Provence). Anyhow, I am of the philosophy that a bread machine is sacrilegious to the art of bread making (at least in my kitchen), as it takes away the connection to this beautiful food, not to mention it’s not necessary! So with that, I encourage everyone to give it a try the old-fashioned way if you don’t already – kneading bread with your hands! Hallelujah.
My bread baking adventures over the years, some pretty, some clearly not so pretty, most of them seriously delish (and worth all the trial and error!). And yes those are croissants on the bottom right. Only made them once, and they were so good that we ate all 8 of them in 48 hours so…yep, gotta double the recipe or live with the consequences 🙂
My Homemade Bread Tips…
Consider using organic flour. The synthetic pesticides alone used to grow wheat are pretty horrific, and there are many other advantages to going organic. Extra tip: buy this in the bulk aisle – WAY cheaper than the bags (and Bob’s Red Mill changed over to plastic-based packaging for their 5 lb bags, wtf!!!) and you can fill your canister with just what you need 🙂
We all know deep down that you don’t need a machine to make bread, and one of the big things I learned (only a few years ago, in fact!) is that with yeast breads, kneading can be done in different ways! For those (me!) who hate the shoulder-grinding, arm-toughening nature of following “knead for 10 minutes straight” instructions, did you know that you can do it in spurts? Now it takes a helluva lot longer, but if you’re doing a bunch of kitchen tasks some Saturday afternoon, this can be a way to multi-task while saving your arms. I learned this in my favorite bread cookbook for most of your basic white and whole-wheat bread recipes, and it’s pretty rad: you simply give the hunk of dough 10 folds inwards, and then cover it with a bowl or plate (keeps the moisture in) and let it sit for 10 minutes. Then you repeat it like 5 times before doing the full hour of letting it rise.
Then comes the rising. Now I grew up in a house where my mom’s room had a sunny window, so she’d just wrap up the bread bowl in a towel and put it under the covers in the sun and let it rise. Well, these days I don’t have that but I do have something even better – a proofing feature on my oven! If you have a newer stove with a warming drawer or a bunch of features that include the word ‘proof’ that you never understood, check out your manual! “Proofing” is simply the codeword for a nice lukewarm environment (around 80 degrees F) for your bread to rise – i.e., the sunny bedroom under the covers – without getting TOO warm (which is not good for the yeast at this stage), and it’s a killer feature that a lot of new stoves have.
Steam also helps as well, with a quick cup of water delicately poured into a preheated pan in the bottom rack. Who knew? But it puts the perfect touch on a badass loaf (or three)…
But before you spend all that time? If you like the bread, double or even triple the recipe, and freeze the rest! With all that kneading and rising time, it’s way more efficient to just break out the entire 5 lb bag of flour and go crazy, because I don’t know about you, but when we have fresh bread in the house (especially ciabatta or bagels), it’s like crack and we find a way to inhale the entire loaf/batch within a few days. So having more is always better or you’ll find ways to avoid making bread after that!
Don’t forget quick breads! Making yeast breads is a worthy endeavor but not for the last minute “wouldn’t some homemade bread be gorgeous with the dinner I’m currently making?” And while I’m a big fan of cornbread and savory scones, sometimes we want a LOAF, right? The extra bonus to this for my gluten-free friends (been there, done that, appreciate the struggle to make seriously good GF breads that don’t taste like dried up weird), the Bob’s all-purpose flour subs pretty darn well in quick breads (the yellow & red packaging, not the blue “1:1” baking flour as I’ve found that’s utter crap). So with that, I’m going to share my favorite quick bread recipe of all time:
Rosemary Olive Oil Bread
2 1/2 c flour
2/3 c brown sugar
2 t baking powder
2 t rosemary*, minced (fresh is ideal)
1/4 t salt
2 t lemon peel (I use dried)
2 eggs, lightly beaten
3/4 c white wine (just buy one of those mini-bottles if you don’t drink this regularly)
1/2 c olive oil
Preheat oven to 350F. In large bowl, combine flour through lemon peel. In another bowl, mix the wet ingredients. Combine and then transfer batter into a greased bread pan. Bake 50-60 minutes until a knife comes out clean, then rest on a rack to cool slightly before serving.
*I’ve used thyme in the past as well and it’s really tasty, just a different vibe to it.
As a bonus, here are links to some of my other favorite bread recipes…
PS – what about sourdough, you ask? I love it. Have I ever successfully made it? Yes. Have I then killed the starter numerous times? Yes. So do I have any good advice on it? Nope.