There are few smells from my childhood that I remember more than brewing coffee, simmering tomato sauce, or sauteing garlic. One of them is the smell of fresh bread coming out of the oven. I used to think it was amazing that my mother made fresh bread. I used to think it was just one of those things that you have to buy because you just can’t make it yourself. Well, a simple loaf should never be hard to make. The hardest part might be keeping it around for more than 20 minutes. The recipe below is just a collection of recipes I have tried over the years and picking from them the techniques that I liked best. The best part about making bread besides eating it is that it is very easy to experiment with by incorporating different ingredients into the dough. You can add substitute whole wheat flour for part or all of the bread flour to get a more rustic, wheat flavored bread. Or you can add herbs like rosemary or thyme in the final five minutes of mixing the dough to give it some earthy flavors.
1 cup of 100 degree water
1 1/4 teaspoon sugar (I prefer organic brown sugar)
1 pack of active dry yeast (1/4 oz.)
3 cups of high-gluten (bread) flour
2 tablespoons extra-vrigin olive oil
1 1/4 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon milk
Pour water into bowl of electric stand mixer. Stir in sugar and then add yeast. Let stand for 5 minutes this will let the yeast ‘bloom’, the yeasty water should have bubbles on the surface when it is ready. Add oil, salt, and 2 cups of flour to the water. Attach bread hook to electric mixer and mix on low speed for 1 minute. Once all elements are combined add remaining 1 cup of flour to dough 1 tablespoon at a time allowing the flour to be incorporated before adding the next (about 30 seconds in between tablespoons). You will know when enough flour has been added when the dough is smooth and soft. If it is wet and sticky add more flour. The dough should spring back when you push it with a finger and you should be able to stretch it out in a thin transparent square without it breaking. If the dough is too dry, looks rough, and is pulling apart you will have to start over – it is very important to not over flour the dough for you can not add more water back into the dough.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees.
Increase the speed on your mixer to medium and let it knead for 5 – 8 minutes – the dough should be smooth, firm and elastic. Place dough in large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place it in a warm spot (85 degrees) and let it sit for 30 minutes, the dough should have doubled in size. Punch the dough down and let sit covered for 10 more minutes. Turn dough out onto lighted floured surface. Roll dough up from the long sides pinching the seam together and form a elongated loaf about 12 inches long.
Whisk egg and milk together in a bowl. Brush a light coating over the top of the dough. (Note – The egg wash step is optional as it is mostly to give the loaf a nice brown color. Skip the milk and use just the egg if you want a darker looking loaf, remove the yolk and use just the egg white for a lighter colored crust. This where you can also add sesame seeds if you feel so inclined.) With a sharp pairing knife, cut 3, 1/4 inch slits into the top of the loaf on a diagonal.
Place on an oiled baking sheet and pop in the oven for 16-20 minutes, until golden browned. For a crispier crust, spray bread lightly with water at the 7 minute baking mark.
Enjoy with pasta, salads, or my Pumpkin Chili recipe: The bread is wonderful straight from the oven with butter, it usually does not last past this point. Recipe can be doubled by doubling flour, water, yeast, sugar, and salt. Use same amount of the rest.
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