Mmm Bread!

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Rising Sweet Dough

First, I’m not a baker and can’t make a cake to save my life. However, I do love fresh homemade bread. I could buy fresh bread from a bakery or wait for someone else to make it, but I was curious to see if I could do it. Second, let me say I could not follow a written recipe starting out. I’m the type that needs a visual for some things. So, I had a person who makes beautiful breads of all types sit down with me. She took me through the process of making bread, and she made it look easy.

Well, it may be for some novice bakers, but it was a headache for me. After trying to mix bread dough in a big bowl by hand, it was a disaster. It came out like a door stop each time. Then, I was introduced to my first KitchenAid mixer. My best friend gave it to me as a gift. After a few lessons on how to operate it, I was on my own with this beast. The machine made making bread a lot easier, and my wrists were happy. Kneading is hard when carpal tunnel is your worst enemy. With the mixer, still, I was not satisfied with the quality of the bread.

My friend could only do so much for me. I had to master this task or just give up and buy bread or use a breadmaker. A breadmaker is excellent, but I felt defeated. All I had to do was add the ingredients and set the timer… convenient if in a pinch for time or not interested in doing it the old-fashioned way. Determined to master this craft, I made bread at every chance I got using my family as taste-testers. These people are brutally honest, and my feelings weren’t hurt if they didn’t like it. The feedback is what kept me going.

So years later, I consider myself a good breadmaker. Will I win awards? Probably not and really don’t care about that since I don’t cook for a living. Seeing my family enjoy the time, energy and love I put into every loaf are rewarding to me.

The bread I love to make is sweet, basic white, honey white and French. Although these breads are not complicated to make and can take a good kneading, they will turn ugly in an instant. Always test your products before using. What do I mean by that? Take for instance yeast. If you have packets of yeast in the cabinet and not sure when it was purchased, or the date on the yeast is just a month or two past the expiration date, there is good chance the yeast is dead.

To test if the yeast is alive, pour a packet in a quarter cup of warm water (110 degrees), add a pinch of sugar. If the yeast attacks the sugar and starts to bloom in minutes; it’s alive! If it just sits there and does nothing, toss it. Using dead yeast will yield dense flat bread.

I used to buy the strips packets of yeast only to have that one lone packet sit in the cabinet. I stopped wasting the money on those and now buy yeast in the jar. I keep it in the freezer for longer shelf life. Flour is another item you want to buy fresh when making bread. If the flour has been opened and hanging around for months use it to make something else.

When we are looking at recipes to try, we tend to look for easy and simple. Bread can be the same. There are some recipes considered dump and go. Bread machines use this technique, only the liquid can’t mix with the dry ingredients. I recommend not using a bread machine if the desire is to make sweet bread. Don’t go by me, this is only my opinion. There are egg and milk powders that can replace the real deal. It’s all about getting the measurements right and the layering correct.

However, making bread is a stress reliever for me and another reason I prefer using a mixer instead of a bread machine. It is hands-on, and I can see and feel what is happening with my dough. Also, I can get my grandkids involved when they are visiting. I became a grandma for the first time at an age where it wasn’t normal to be called “grandma,” but I took it in stride and used my energy to teach and direct. I have two grandkids that love to be in the kitchen with me. I have started a tradition called “kitchen dancing.” I have to play music while I’m cooking or baking. So I would dance with the girls, and we’d have a lot of fun. Cooking wasn’t considered work but bonding time for us. Now that I’m older, I leave the dancing to them and their mother. She is also a great home chef. Below are pictures of Abby when she first started making bread with me at age 4 and still doing it with me at age 14.

She had her own cutting board, apron, bonnet to cover her hair and a chef’s knife (not a toy knife). Today, she can cut, chop and slice using a sharp knife like a professional.

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Get the kids involved and make it fun. I know some people have a hard time having others underfoot while cooking. Just give it a try and watch how quickly the devices go off and conversations and laugher pick up. They won’t even mind cleaning. The next set of videos show our silliness. I’m not in them of course; someone had to videotape it. 😉

I included this video because I love how big sister is showing little sister the ropes. Abby can make bread from scratch without me telling her how to do it. I’m proud of both my girls.

Once you get the hang of making bread, looking at it will give you an idea of what is going on with the dough and where adjustments need to be made. If there is not enough flour or too much flour, it will not turn out right.

First up is basic sweet dough: There are plenty of recipes online and in every recipe book that comes with mixers. This dough is used to make cinnamon rolls, dinner rolls, jelly rolls and so on. Sweet bread also make good french toast, grilled cheese sandwiches, breakfast toast and garlic toast. Of course, they are sweet because it has more sugar than most bread dough. I have altered the recipe to fit my needs. I use less sugar and add a touch more butter because I love the buttery taste more than the sweet. Rule of thumb is to make the first batch of bread using the original recipe. After you get comfortable add or take away what you want.

Here are photos of my sweet and French breads. I am horrible at shaping so don’t shoot me. When it has risen, it should be smooth and spring back when dimpled with your finger. The baked sweet bread is oddly shaped since I didn’t bake it in pans, but the top is smooth and the inside is light and sweet. Then of course, the French bread, which is crispy on the outside but tender on the inside.

Below is instruction on how to make honey white bread. This is a basic white bread dough that uses less sugar and a touch of honey. I love it because it tastes better than plain white bread and is easy to make. My sous chef for this was bread making session is Cassidy. She is in training to be a gymnast and watches what she eats. She loves vegetables, fruits, and protein bars. She also loves fresh bread. She doesn’t get to help me often with her busy workout schedule and competitions, so I cherish our time in the kitchen together. Plus her hard work has won her thirteen medals, many of those placing her first and second. I’m so proud of her.

Honey white bread literally takes minutes to throw together. This is not a dump recipe. Milk and butter have to simmer together and cool before adding to the dry mixture. It is a good rule of thumb to let any hot liquid the recipe may call for to cool. Liquids that are too hot will kill the yeast. The main ingredients are 4 to 6 cups of flour. 1 teaspoon sugar. 1 1/2 cups of warm milk. 2 1/2 tablespoons of honey. 1 stick of butter. 1 tablespoon of salt. 2 egg yolks. Egg whites to brush tops before baking. 2 tablespoons of yeast poofed in 1/2 cup of warm water (110 degrees).

Here is what I did differently from the original recipe. I added a whole stick of salted butter and simmered it in the milk. Since I can’t drink milk, I use lactose-free milk. Also, I rarely use unsalted butter even though the recipe calls for it. The little salt added is not enough for my taste. Once again, it is up to the baker to decide on altering the recipe. Oh, the lactose-free milk does not change the texture of anything you’re baking or cooking.

Simple so far, right? You should get two loaves out of your dough. Use a scale or eye it. I eye it which is probably why my shapes are so odd.

The mixer I am using is not a KitchenAid but an Ankarsrum. It doesn’t have a dough hook but a round thingy and a spatula that attaches to the side to keep the dough moving.  Okay, once you get everything in the mixer, add three cups of flour to start. The key to a light and airy bread, is not to add too much flour. You can’t remove it, and you can’t add liquid to even it out. As the dough is working add in the rest of the flour if needed. You will need at least four cups of flour no matter what. Weather also plays a part in how flour works the dough. When in doubt, touch the dough. If it is sticky or not forming to the dough hook, add more flour a 1/4 of a cup at a time. When the dough pulls away from the side of the bowl cleanly, you have enough flour.

Sit the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise for an hour or until doubled in size.

Placed dough on a floured board or clean surface and give a light knead to ensure there is no stickiness. Cut in half and put in loaf pans and let rise again for 30 minutes. I covered the pan with plastic wrap and a tea towel. Cassidy shaped the loaves since she was my sous chef.

After the second rising is completed, place in a 350-degree oven for 20-25 minutes. Electric and gas ovens differ so use Chinese cooking sticks or a butter knife to check if done. Might have to add a extra five minutes for electric ovens. The final product should look similar to this.

If you want, shape the dough into rolls or buns. Experimenting with your dough is fun too. Add herbs to give the bread a hearty taste. Go wild with it. It’s your bread to do how you want.

If you have any questions, leave me a comment. Happy Baking!

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