For almost all of my life I have loved two kitchen chores – making bread and canning. No matter the weather, weekly I try to have at least 6 loaves in the oven for eating and giving. And in the summer, canning becomes an almost daily ritual as I try to make use of whatever fruit or vegetable is ripening. For many cooks, both of these are true chores – that is, things to be avoided as much as possible. I think that this is because their execution seems so daunting when, in fact, they are both so easy to do and so relaxing that I find them the perfect way to quiet my soul.
Bread is something that I make by feel – it’s so hard to give a recipe. Since I’ve been at it so long, I often make it with whatever I have on hand or sometimes, stuff I need to finish up with – like that half container of fat-free sour cream about ready to gather fuzzy stuff along the top or the ¼ cup of cornmeal left before I open a new bag. But I always begin with King Arthur flour – a combination of white and white whole wheat. I will give you my method and try to offer a “sort of” recipe. The thing to remember is to just get right in there and fall in love with the dough – it will reward you!
Here’s the method and the recipe: First fill a large bowl with a mix of white and white whole wheat flour – it’s probably somewhere around 14 cups (8 to 10 of white and the remainder whole wheat). Then, add 3 packages instant-rise yeast, whatever amount of sugar you like – I generally use about ½ cup or so, a tablespoon or so of coarse or sea salt, and some flax meal, cornmeal, oatmeal or whatever extra fiber you like (or not, this really doesn’t matter) – about 1 to 2 cups. Heat about 3 cups of 2% milk to about 125ºF – it can get a bit hotter as the yogurt will cool it down to the necessary 115ºF. Whisk in 2 cups nonfat yogurt to a smooth mix. Pour the warm milk-yogurt mixture into the flour mixture. Mix with a wooden spoon for as long as you can; then, scrape the dough out onto a clean surface and knead with your hands, adding flour as needed until the dough is blended, soft, pliable, but still a bit sticky. I have found that slightly wet dough yields a more tender bread. Scrape the dough into a buttered bowl large enough to allow it to double in size. Cover and set aside in a draft-free spot for at least an hour or until it has doubled in size. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Generously butter the interior of six 8-inch loaf pans or whatever pans you have – can be small loaves or even free-form round or oval loaves. Fill each pan about two-thirds full. Place in the preheated oven and bake for about 40 minutes or until beautifully risen and golden brown. Remove from the oven, tap from the pans, and place on wire racks to cool.
I can guarantee that even if your first batch isn’t perfect, it will still be edible. And, if you keep practicing, you will soon discover the most relaxing way to meditate, the cheapest way to fill the house with fragrance, and you will never have to buy a loaf of sandwich and toast making bread again.