Bread Baking for Beginners- Recipe and Tips

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One of the first things I wanted to learn to do when we moved to the farm was bake my own bread. We love bread around here. Well, I do at least. My husband calls me a “breadivore” because I love bread so much. So clearly, being able to produce my own bread is a pretty high priority for me. Like some of you may be though, I was kind of a scaredy cat of yeast. I’d never worked with yeast before and I thought it was really hard to do right. Turns out, it’s really not. I’ve tried many bread recipes now, and this one here is by far the best. It’s a simple, easy to make, delicious white bread that puffs up out of pans to give that classic sandwich bread shape the kids love. (PS. When I started making my own bread, the kids didn’t like it. I said, “you’ll get used to it”, and you know what? They did! We ran out of bread last week because I was sick, and we used our “emergency” Wonder bread loaves from the freezer, and my son said it tasted funny and that he likes my bread better- win!) So here’s the recipe, along with pictures and helpful (hopefully helpful!) tips about baking bread and working with yeast along the way. Enjoy!

**I would LOVE to give credit where credit is due for this recipe, but I got it from a friend who got it from a friend who got it from who knows where. Let’s just say, I did not invent bread, so this recipe is not an original of mine!**

Classic White Sandwich Bread

Ingredients:

  • 5 cups warm water
  • 1 tbsp active dry yeast (don’t get scared, it’s in the baking aisle of the grocery store and it’s well labelled. You can do this!)
  • 1 tbsp sugar
  • 6-6.5 cups flour
  • 2 tsp salt
  • ¼ butter, softened

This recipe is going to make you two loaves, and depending on how thickly you like to slice them, about 16 slices per loaf (I slice mine about as thick as a regular Wonder bread loaf).

Yeast Tip #1: For your yeast to grow, it needs warm water. Too hot, and you’ll kill it. Too cold, and it won’t activate. Getting your hot water flowing and then add the cold tap until it feels about room temperature, maybe a tad warmer. Don’t sweat this part, it’s not THAT finicky, just pay attention at the tap and make sure you’re in the neighbourhood of room temp.

Pour ½ cup of warm water into a bowl. I use the bowl of my stand mixer to save time and dishes. Add the yeast and the sugar. Stir it a bit and let it sit, about 5-10 minutes. I make my bread first thing in the morning, so this is a great time to go make your tea.

Yeast Tip #2: If the yeast doesn’t foam up, it’s no good. If you think you may have scalded it with too hot water, or your water was cold, try again. If it still doesn’t get foamy I’m afraid your yeast has died and you need to throw it out and buy new. Bummer.

Once your yeast is foamy, add the rest of the water and about half the flour. Stir until well blended.

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Yeast Tip #3: The reason you add half the flour and then stir, is to create a barrier between your yeast and the rest of your ingredients, mainly your salt. For some reason, yeast and salt don’t get along.

Now add the salt, butter, and rest of the flour. Stir either with the dough hook attachments for your stand mixer, or by hand. Knead this way until it’s smooth and elastic.

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Now you leave it in the bowl, cover it with a light towel (not air tight) and let it sit for 1.5-2 hours.

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Bread Baking Tip #1: Lots of recipes tell you to put the ball of dough into a clean, greased bowl at this point. For me, this would normally mean WASHING the bowl I have, and greasing it, and putting the ball back in. Frankly, that’s a lot more work than I like to do. I’ve never once had a problem with having the dough sit in the bowl it was mixed in, ungreased. The choice is yours my friend, but I’m on Team Easy & Lazy.

And then this happened…

Once your time is up, your ball should be pretty big (about double in size). Cool eh? It grows!!! Punch it down so it deflates a little and scoop it all out of the bowl onto a counter (or if you’re fancy, a board. I just use my counter). Now it’s time to knead.

While you’re kneading, here’s a cute picture of my puppy sitting on the empty flour sack for you to coo over…

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Bread Baking Tip #2: Kneading is awesome! I love to knead. I feel like a pioneer lady, working my bread. When I first started, my hands would get tired, but I guess I’m getting stronger, bread kneading muscles, or something like that… Anyway, use the heel of your hands and really work into the bread. Flip it, work it more, flip again. You can feel and sometimes hear the little air bubbles inside the dough popping. This is your goal, get out all the air bubbles you can. Large air bubbles will make big holes in your finished loaf of bread if you leave them in.

Cut your dough ball in half using a sharp knife, and knead each half a little more. Now you need to butter (or spray with cooking spray) two 4×8 loaf pans.

Bread Baking Tip #3: If you want to make bigger batches, check out the dollar store. I got dark tin non-stick Betty Crocker loaf pans for $3 each at Dollarama and now I make 8 loaves of bread at a time.

Shape your dough. Here’s the not-too-tricky part that will make your loaves come up really beautifully shaped. And I call it…

Bread Baking Tip #4: Take your half ball of dough and knead/pat it out into a rectangle that’s about the size, or a bit larger, than a standard piece of paper. Grab that field trip form you keep forgetting to fill out and hold it over it to compare it for size. Next, starting at the short end, fold it into thirds, like fitting a letter into an envelope. Then take the ends and fold them in, giving them a little pinch to hold. Place the loaf in the pan seam side DOWN. Doesn’t it look lovely already?

Cover the pans again with a tea towel and leave them for about an hour, sometimes a bit longer in winter. You want to see them puffing right up out of the pan to make that classic sandwich bread shape.

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Bread Baking Tip #5: Get your bowl in the sink with some water in it to soak, otherwise the dough turns really hard and is difficult to wash off. If you’re feeling particularly industrious, feel free to wash it up right then. If not, come join me on the couch for another cup of tea while it soaks. We’ll wash it later.

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When they’re ready, preheat the oven to 375F. Bake on the middle rack for 30-35 minutes. The loaves should be a beautiful honey-brown colour, and when you tap them they should make a hollow sound. Get them immediately onto racks to cool. (If you don’t get them on to racks, they go soggy in the pan very quickly.)

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You’re done! You made your very own homemade bread! I like to reward myself with a fresh, warm, thick slice with butter for my lunch when they’re done. For the rest of the loaves, I let them cool completely on the racks and later in the evening I wrap them all up in plastic wrap and put them in the freezer. Bread Day complete!

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