Anyone who has wondered how to make bread should prepare themselves for quite the rabbit hole. It seems like one of the most common hobbies for people during the quarantine period of the COVID-19 pandemic was people tweeting about the ways they make bread, often a sourdough. It is often said that it is better to do or learn something late than to never do it at all. By the time you finish reading this article, you will not only know how to make bread but will find yourself eager to make bread.
You will need the following ingredients and equipment.
- Flour, bread, 4.5 or 5 cups, depending on approach
- Sugar, white, 1 tbsp
- Yeast, instant or dry active, 2.25 tsp
- Salt, table, 2.5 tsp
- Water, lukewarm, 1.67 cups
- Vegetable oil or cooking spray, to coat
- Cornmeal, to coat
- Mixing bowl
- Plastic wrap
- Stir everything but the cornmeal and lubricant into your bowl, starting with 4.5 cups of flour. Use either a strong spoon or the beater paddle of your stand mixer to combine everything into a rough doughy mass; if you are kneading by hand, use 5 cups of flour instead.
- If by hand: Fold the far end of your dough over itself, in your direction, then press away with the base of your palms. Give a quarter turn. Repeat this sequence for roughly 6 minutes. When done, your dough will be smooth and elastic.
- With a stand mixer: Use the dough hook and knead on medium for roughly 7 minutes, long enough for the dough to become smooth and elastic with a little bounce. If you have trouble getting it to ball up, sprinkle a little extra flour into the bowl.
- Transfer the dough to a bowl you have lubricated with either vegetable oil or cooking spray, even the one you used earlier will suffice. Cover with plastic wrap and allow the rise at room temperature until it reaches double its original size; this should take 1-2 hours. If your kitchen is below 65°F, move the bowl to your oven for this time.
- Deflate the dough and halve it with a straightedge. Roughly shape each half into a 6″x8″ egg shape.
- Handle one half at a time, grabbing the shorter end and folding it like a letter. Use the bottom of your palm to press the open edge “closed.” Pat and roll the dough into a 10″ long log. Repeat with the other dough-half.
- Transfer the loaves to a baking sheet, seam-side down. Sprinkle the sheet with cornmeal to prevent sticking and add crunch to the bottoms.
- Leave the loaves to rise, gently shrouded with lubricated plastic wrap for 45 minutes. You are aiming for a pleasing puffy appearance. Test your loaves by poking the side of one with a finger, your bread is ready for the oven if the indent lingers.
- Preheat your oven to 450°F.
- Note: If you want some extra crustiness, add steam. As the oven preheats, leave an empty frying pan along the bottom rack and you will later fill it with 1 cup of boiling water during the baking process.
- Once your bread rises, use a sieve to give them a dusting of flour. Use a knife to make 3-4 half-inch diagonal cuts across the tops. These gashes will allow for more even rising. Transfer the loaves to the oven, pour the boiling water into your resting frying pan and then close the door as soon as you can. Remember to use mitts to protect your hands from the steam.
- Bake 20-25 minutes, just long enough for the crust to turn golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when you tap them. The interior temperature should be at least 190°F.
- Turn the oven off, crack open the door and leave the bread to rest within for five more minutes, to ensure a crisp crust. Extract the bread and allow it to cool on a rack. Note that it is not a good idea to cut into hot bread as this will mangle the texture.
- Wrap and store your bread at room temperature, where it will keep a few days. Freeze it if you wish to store for longer.
Once you know what you are doing and feel comfortable doing it, you can look into making your own artisan breads. It does not take much effort to find one example of an artisan bread recipe, followed by multiple others, all of them specially crafted with unique yeasts or esoteric directions to achieve something iconic