It’s fun to make crazy breads with added ingredients, but the breads I make most often are all-purpose. Don’t get me wrong – we are just as excited to smell these breads baking as the more colorful sort. Both recipes are adapted from my mother’s Whole Foods for the Whole Family cookbook from La Leche League that she’s had since the early ’80s when she was raising my brother and me. I just checked, and the cookbook is still available, and seemingly quite popular. You can get it on Amazon.
I usually double any bread recipe and freeze the extra loaves in plastic bags I get from King Arthur’s Flour. The bags are much cheaper than plastic baggies from the store, and the loaves actually fit. (Otherwise, you have to cut them in half.)
A note about rising dough: Many recipes tell you to wait until the dough has doubled in volume. That is true, but sometimes it is difficult to tell because of the shape of your container. (People do sell clear plastic graduated dough pails for just that purpose.) I usually check after a fair amount of time, usually 50 minutes to an hour. If the dough appears to have enough volume, I test by lifting the towel and giving it a poke with my finger. If the dough bounces back, it’s not done rising. If the hole stays or the dough starts to slowly deflate, it’s done. If you are not ready for it yet, go ahead and punch it down and let it rise again. It will give your bread a finer texture. And if you are doubling the recipe, you might need to half the dough and let it rise in two bowls. Unless, of course, you are me and you spent $30 on an insanely huge stainless steel mixing bowl for just such purposes. But more about that another time.
Anyway, here are my versions of my two favorite stand-bys: Oatmeal Bread and Challah. (If you need more in depth bread-making directions, check out the “Scratch Bread” post from December 28th, 2009.) I don’t have pictures of these breads right now, but next time I bake them I will add some.
2 c. near-boiling water; 1 1/3 c. rolled oats; 1/3 c. brown sugar; ½ c. butter; 2 T. yeast, 5-7 c. flour (all or mostly whole wheat) [Makes 2 loaves]
Mix the oats, sugar, and 1 cup of flour in a bowl, and add the butter, cut into 2 tablespoon chunks. Pour the hot water over the mixture and let it cool until lukewarm. Add the yeast and let it sit for five minutes or so. Add remaining flour until it is too hard to stir; turn out onto floured surface. Knead and add flour as needed. Allow to rise for an hour, punch down and shape into 2 loaves. Place loaves into greased loaf pans. Allow to rise for about 35 more minutes. Heat the oven to 350 degrees and bake loaves for 45 minutes. Turn out of pans onto wire racks and allow to cool.
2 T. yeast; 2 c. lukewarm water; 2 T. honey; 1/3 c. brown sugar; 3 eggs; 2 t. salt; 2 T. melted butter; 7-8 c. flour (at least half whole wheat); 1 egg for egg wash [Makes 3 loaves]
Mix yeast and warm water and let it sit for five minutes. (I like to use a whisk.) Add honey, sugar, eggs, salt, butter, and 1 cup of flour and whisk again. Continue adding flour and mix with a spoon (wooden spoons are great for bread-making) until it is too hard to stir; turn out onto floured surface. Knead, but add as little flour as possible to keep the dough soft (but be reasonable; don’t get paranoid on me). Allow to rise (takes longer because of the eggs – maybe an hour and a half), and punch down.
Divide in three. Divide each third into three. Roll each piece into a rope, about fourteen inches long or so. Take three ropes and lay them side by side. Pinch the tops together, creating a fan-like shape. Then, braid the three ropes and pinch the other ends together. Tuck the ends under the loaf and place into a greased loaf pan. You should have three loaves. (Traditionally, 2 large loaves are just baked on baking sheets, but these loaves really spread out, so they are harder to use in sandwiches and things. This is why I put mine in loaf pans.)
Allow the loaves to rise for about 25 minutes then preheat the oven to 350 while brushing on the egg wash. Mix one egg with about a tablespoon of water in a small bowl. Use a pastry brush to spread the mixture over the loaves. Bake at 350 for about 45 minutes. After about 20 minutes, take a look at them. If you don’t want them any browner, cover them with one big sheet of aluminum foil. (After the bread has baked, you can save and re-use the foil; it will be clean.)