When I was a child, one of my absolute favourite activities was baking bread with my father. It was a frequent lazy Saturday afternoon activity, and my father was (and is) extremely talented in the world of breadmaking. He would mix together ingredients, often with a flair–adding in molasses by pouring it slowly from the bottle three feet above the table, experimenting with various sweeteners, base liquids, and flours. I loved to stand around and watch as his experienced hands (he had worked as a baker at a camp during college) mixed the dough into something that would turn out invariably delicious. I am not entirely sure my “help” was always appreciated growing up, but I certainly enjoyed it. Particularly when my father would give me my own small ball of dough to turn into my very own loaf. Arguably the best part of baking bread is the smell that fills the kitchen–really, the whole house–as the bread bakes in the oven, particularly right when it comes out and was always touched up with a bit of butter for looks and flavour . And naturally, eating the bread, still hot from the oven, is delightful.
When I first moved to Berlin last year, I made it my goal to turn into an expert bread-baker myself. And of course, I consulted my own personal expert to begin. My father provided me with a very simple and approximate recipe, easy to adapt, and perfect for experimenting. For the aspiring bakers of my limited audience, I present:
How to Make Bread without a Real Recipe, courtesy of my father.
|Liquid||1 cup||Beer, Milk, Water, Buttermilk|
|Sweetener||1 glug||Molasses, Honey, Sugar, Brown Sugar|
|Butter (melted)||¼ stick||Oil|
|Flour||3-1/3 cups*||Oatmeal, Whole Wheat Flour, Rye Flour, Bulgar (Cracked)Wheat, Cornmeal|
|Extra||Ground Anise (but not much), Cocoa Powder, Applesauce, Ground Nuts, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds, etc.|
|Dry Yeast||1+ TBSP|
* Flour amount is approximate. Vary to get the right consistency. Be sure at least half the flour is white flour, which rises the most easily. Rye flour is more challenging.
- Mix liquid, egg, sweetener and butter and warm to a temperature that is warm, but never scalding. (If you stick your finger in, it is comfortably warm.)
- Sprinkle yeast on top, and let it sit for 20 minutes. It should foam up, at least a little bit.
NOTE: Remember that yeast is living, and you will kill it if you mistreat it, especially by putting it in overheated liquid. Also, direct salt can kill it, so that’s why the salt gets added later with the flour.
- Add all the other dry stuff, with white flour being the last thing to add. Stir as you go, and keep adding flour until it’s relatively thick, almost solid, but still a bit gooey. Put it in a bowl and cover with a damp cloth. Let it sit in a warm place for 30-45 minutes. It should double in size, roughly.
- Dump dough out of the bowl onto a floured work surface, and knead with floured hands until it’s compact again, being careful to get rid of any bubbles. Work it into a ball, and leave it on the counter, perhaps with a damp cloth on top. (This can be tricky if the cloth sticks to the dough.) Let it sit for most of an hour, or when it has doubled in size, whichever comes first.
- Slap, smack and beat the dough to remove any bubbles. Form into one or two loaves. (Best approach – flatten into a big oval, fold each side over, roll from end.)
- Put on a well-greased cookie sheet or in well-greased bread pans. Let sit until it has doubled again. Keep the top moist.
- Cook at 350 degrees F for something like 25 minutes until the top is nicely browned.
- Carefully pour out of pans and let it cool on a wire rack. While hot, brush butter or egg white on top for a pleasing appearance.
Today, my result was wonderfully delightful. I used the end of a cheap bottle of beer (the cheapest I could find–it doesn’t make very much difference) with a bit of milk (beer is almost always my base of choice), a mix of whole wheat and white flour, as well as some poppy seeds and cocoa powder for extra flavour. I highly recommend the cocoa powder–it doesn’t end up tasting chocolatey at all, since it is unsweetened.
Here we have the work in progress:
And the final product:
And now, my kitchen, and indeed, my whole apartment smell wonderful. Fresh bread is a wonderful thing. I highly encourage you to try for yourselves.