The Magic of Making Bread

Making bread at home is one of the most satisfying activities in the kitchen. People tend to be afraid of doing this but it is so forgiving and flexible. The difference between homemade bread and storebought bread is huge, at least most of the time. There are some excellent bakeries where truly great bread can be purchased, but they are far from ubiquitous and almost never in local supermarkets. Bread is one of those things that is the result of combining simple ingredients with love, care, and a little skill. The result is magical. I remember the first time I had “real” bread. At that point I understood why bread was sacred in many cultures. This isn’t just a Christian concept, incidentally. There was a time in Ankara when my mother in law was clearing the table and a piece of bread fell on the floor. She immediately picked it up, kissed it, said a prayer, brushed it off and put it back with the other remaining bread.

Anyway, there are lots and lots of great bread recipes. Ingredients matter. Use good flour, fresh and good quality. Same with the yeast. You’ll take about two cups of water, lukewarm, and add to it 1 T. of yeast and a tsp. of sugar. Put this in the bowl in which you will make the dough. Let it sit a bit to make sure the yeast starts to grow which you will know because it is bubbling. Then stir in 1 1/2 to 2 tsp. salt (it needs some, I just try to not use too much). Add in 5-6 cups of flour. Knead well. This can be done by hand or with the bread hook attachment to your mixer. The amount you add depends on the flour, the humidity, etc. You want a dough that is smooth, cohesive, and not sticky. If you need more flour, add it, or more water, add it. You will know it when the ratio is right. At this point, I gather up the dough, set it aside, clean the bowl, grease it and put the dough back in. I turn the dough so that all sides are greased, cover it and let it rise in a warm place for an hour and a half or so. The dough will nearly double in size, and when you poke it with your finger, it will spring back somewhat. Punch it down, then shape into loaves, set on a greased baking pan, cover, and let rise again. The second rising is shorter, probably about 45 minutes. Bake the loaves about 30 minutes in a hot (425 F.) oven. Check on the loaves towards the end, as they sometimes bake faster than you expect and you can take them out early. To be sure if they are done, take an instant read thermometer and check the temperature inside the loaf. If it reaches 190 F. they are done!

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