Monday, October 10, 2011

Easy, Delicious Bread

A few months ago I went to the baby shower of one of my cousins (actually the daughter of my dad's cousin).  There were snacks and salads and a cutting board with delicious homemade breads.  I had to ask my aunt (actually the mother of the new mom, who is in no way my aunt), "Who made the bread?"  She told me it was her daughter-in-law.  Of course I texted her and asked for the recipe.  She gave me the base recipe and then a couple of variations to go on.  There are a couple of "funky" ingredients (I consider it a "funky" ingredient if I a: don't have it in my pantry or b: have to go to a specialty store to get it), but once you have them in your pantry they'll become staples (and they last forever).  This bread is hard to screw up, easy to manipulate into different flavor combinations, and is ready to eat in about an hour - baking time included.

Recipe from Tiffany Ritchie-Petty, who got it from a "Pantry Secrets" class she took

5 cups bread flour (*See note, below)
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 tbsp instant yeast (the kind that needs no proofing prior to use.  I use SAF brand)
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 quarter-sized blobs liquid lecithin - do not measure, just eyeball it (**See note, below)
2 cups hot tap water

Mix dry ingredients in the bowl of your stand mixer, with the dough hook attachment.  Add lecithin.  Slowly add water while mixer is on low.  Knead with the dough hook on medium speed for 3-5 minutes.  Spray your hands and the counter top with nonstick spray and split into 2 loaves (if you're making a flavored variation of this bread, now would be the time for addins.  See variations, below).  Knead for an additional 1-2 minutes.  Form into loaves in a greased 9x5x3 inch pan or simply form into a ball and set on a greased cookie sheet.  Cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise for 20-25 minutes.  About 10 minutes into the rising time, preheat your oven.  Bake at 350 degrees for 23-25 min (my oven is closer to 25 minutes...I've had doughy bread by taking it out too soon). 

*I never keep bread flour on hand  because it's expensive and takes up too much space.  In order to make my own bread flour, I simply add one tablespoon of vital wheat gluten to each cup of all-purpose flour in my bread recipes.  Store unused wheat gluten in an airtight container in the freezer and it lasts forever.  I can usually find it at the regular grocery store.

**Liquid lecithin is a preservative that helps keep your bread soft for days (if you look at the bread in your cupboard right now, chances are one of the ingredients is liquid lecithin).  Four months ago I bought a 16 oz bottle for $6.99 and I still have a significant amount left.  I make a variation of this bread at least once a week, so this is an ingredient that costs very little per use.

Some variations I've used that work well with this bread are:
-cinnamon swirl - combine 1/4 cup brown sugar with 1 tsp cinnamon.  When the dough is on the counter either knead the sugar mixture directly into the dough, or form the dough into a square and spread it on cinnamon roll-style then roll the dough into a loaf.  Lightly coat the dough with a couple teaspoons of honey and a light dusting of cinnamon-sugar before rising.
-cinnamon apple - peel and shred one medium apple (it should yield about 1/2 cup).  Place apple shreds in some paper towel and squeeze out most of the liquid.  Repeat the same steps as the cinnamon swirl bread, adding the shredded apple. Also add about 1/2 tsp salt to your cinnamon sugar just to add a little depth with the apples.
-spinach/feta- chop and saute 2 cups of spinach over medium heat until spinach is nicely wilted.  Place spinach in some paper towel and squeeze out most of the liquid.  Add to the dough, along with 1/3 cup feta cheese crumbles and knead until incorporated (small chunks of cheese and spinach add a good texture to the bread). 
-parmesan/herb - combine 1/3 cup parmesan cheese (I've used both freshly shredded and the cheap stuff in a green can and both are delicious), 1 tsp dried basil, 1 tsp dried oregano, 1/2 tsp garlic salt, 1/2 tsp ground dried garlic, and freshly ground black pepper (to your liking).

Any of these variations are delicious with a little bit of softened butter rubbed on top of the dough and just a light sprinkling of whatever seasonings you're adding to the inside.  Play around with it.  You will not be disappointed.

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