Homemade Bread – There’s Nothin’ Better!
It’s true, isn’t it? Nothing smells better than fresh baked bread wafting from the oven, and that first taste of soft warm bread and hard crust is like heaven. After watching Alton Brown make some bread on Good Eats the other night, I have been craving a warm, crusty loaf of homemade bread. And so today was bread baking day. The recipe that I used for this bread makes two loaves, which was just perfect. I made one regular, plain white loaf. The other I transformed into a knock-off of my grandma’s famous Bacon Cheese Bread. Usually around different holidays she will make bread with crumbled bacon and Romano or Parmesan cheese in it. It’s one of my favorite things that she makes and so I decided to make my own.
In that Good Eats episode Alton gave a great tip for getting dough to rise – put the dough in the oven (not turned on) and on the rack beneath it place a pan that has just been filled with piping hot water. With the oven door closed the steam from the water will create the humidity needed for a good dough rise. It worked wonderfully – my dough rose perfectly!
I also did a good bit of research on the best way to store homemade bread, and what I found out was that it’s pretty near impossible to keep fresh homemade bread from going stale or moldy in a few days because it does not contain any preservatives. The vast majority of the advice I found suggested slicing the bread and then, holding the loaf together as one, wrap the bread in a cling wrap, and then again in foil and store in the freezer. You can easily then take out as much as you want and let it thaw. This has been found to be better than keeping out on the counter (goes moldy quickly) or in the refrigerator (it gets dried out).
(Adapted from Better Homes & Gardens, New Cook Book, Limited breast cancer edition; Courtesy of Amber’s Delectable Delights)
Prep: 30 minutes
Rise: 1 1/4 hours (divided)
Bake: 40 minutes
Makes: 2 loaves
5 3/4 to 6 1/4 cups all-purpose flour (I used less than the minimum amount – definitely go by feel)
1 package active dry yeast
2 1/4 cups milk or buttermilk (I used whole milk)
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon butter, margarine or shortening
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
To make the Bacon/Cheese version:
8 slices bacon, cooked crisp and drained
1/2 cup grated Romano (or Parmesan) cheese, divided
1 Tablespoon melted butter
1) In a large mixing bowl combine 2-1/2 cups of the flour and the yeast; set aside. In a medium saucepan heat and stir milk, sugar, butter and salt just until warm (120 to 130 degrees F) and butter almost melts. Add milk mixture to flour mixture. Beat with an electric mixer on low to medium speed for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl constantly. Beat on high speed for 3 minutes. Using a wooden spoon, stir in as much of the remaining flour as you can.
2) Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead in enough of the remaining to make a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (6 to 8 minutes total). Shape dough into a ball. Place in lightly greased bowl, turning once to grease surface of dough. Cover; let rise in a warm place until double in size (45 to 60 minutes).
3) Punch dough down. Turn dough onto a lightly floured surface; divide in half. Cover; let rest 10 minutes. Meanwhile lightly grease two 8x4x2 loaf pans.
4) Shape dough halves into loaves by patting or rolling. To shape by patting, gently pat and pinch, tucking edges underneath. To shape by rolling, on a lightly floured surface roll each dough half into a 12×8 inch rectangle. Roll up each rectangle, starting from a short side. Seal seams with your fingertips.
For Bacon/Cheese Bread: After rolling out the dough, brush it with the melted butter. Sprinkle 1/4 cup Romano cheese over the dough, top with crumbled bacon, and then top with the remaining 1/4 cup Romano cheese. Roll dough up as you did with the regular loaf and proceed with the recipe. Before putting it in the oven I brushed it with a little more melted butter and sprinkled some grated Parmesan on top. I think that this version would also taste very good with fresh ground black pepper in it as well.
5) Place shaped dough halves in prepared pans. Cover and let rise in a warm place until nearly double in size (30 to 40 minutes).
6) Bake in a 375 degree oven about 40 minutes or until bread sounds hollow when lightly tapped (if necessary, cover loosely with foil the last 10 minutes of baking to prevent over browning). Immediately remove bread from pans. Cool on wire racks.