Monday, January 23, 2012

Versatile Homemade Bread Recipe

I probably have a hundred different bread recipes floating around the house, but this is my fall-back.  My tried and true, most versatile, easily multiplied or divided recipe.  I have used it for regular loaf bread, cinnamon bread, dinner rolls, cinnamon rolls, pizza pinwheels, pizza crust, cheesy breadsticks, croutons, and even donuts.  It's not that I don't have recipes for the other things, and even recipes that will give a slightly better cinnamon roll, pizza crust, or donut, but this one is quick, since I have it memorized, and it's so easy to double, you can whip up a large batch(enough for 2-3 loaves), use half for dinner rolls and make up half into cinnamon rolls to pop in the fridge and then bake in the morning.
Years ago, hubby's Grandmother scribbled this onto a 3x5 index card for me.  She and his Grandfather ended up living with both sets of in laws in order to make ends meet.  Although her mother and her mother-in-law made bread practically the same way, one used milk, and the other used water.  She started using a combination of both, maybe as a way to compromise. :)  For whatever reason, it woked out great.  I loved her bread, and have never had any complaints on mine.
First I'll give you her recipe, then I'll  share tips.

Homemade Bread
yeast - instant - 1Tbls, or active dry - 1 packet
1/4c. warm water - if using active dry yeast
1c. boiling water
1c. milk
1/4c.melted butter or oil (or a combination of both)
2 Tbls sugar
2 tsp. salt
4 -6c. all purpose flour

If using active dry yeast, put yeast and 1/4c. lukewarm water in a small bowl and let sit until bubbly.  If you are using instant yeast (rapid rise), you skip this step and just add your yeast in with the flour.

Pour your boiling water into a large bowl, or the bowl on your stand mixer(fitted with a dough hook). Add your milk, melted butter/oil, salt, and sugar, and mix 'til the sugar and salt are dissolved.  By the time you've add in the cold milk and other ingredients, and stirred until they are dissolved, your liquid should be just about the right temperature for your yeast.  But you should still check.  Instant yeast can stand a slightly higher temp., but as long as it's not much warmer than your wrist it will be fine for either.  Stir in your yeast here if using active dry.  Add in 4c. flour and your yeast (if using instant).  Mix until everything is incorporated and dough comes together.  Keep mixing, adding flour a little at a time until your dough is smooth and elastic, or if using a stand mixer, until the dough cleans itself off the inside of the bowl.  Form dough into a ball and place in a large, greased bowl; cover with a non-fuzzy towel and let rise until roughly doubled in bulk.  Punch down.  Shape.  Allow to rise a second time.  Preheat oven to 350 during the second rise and bake for approx. 30 min.  Loaves are done when they are golden brown, you can easily turn them out of the pan and they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Makes 2 standard loaves.
To increase or decrease this recipe, for each loaf you'll need:
1c. liquid (1/2c. each, milk and water)
1Tbls sugar/honey
1tsp. salt
2Tbls. melted butter/oil
2-3c. flour
yeast - 1 1/2 tsp. instant, or 1/2 pack of active dry (plus 2Tbls warm water to dissolve it)

Lots of things will affect how much flour you will actually need.  The humidity, the moisture content of the flour, or how accurately you measured.  You just start with the lowest amount and keep adding.  As long as the dough isn't super soft and sticky (too little flour), or very firm/hard and not very pliable (too much flour), you should have a pretty good loaf.  Practice makes perfect.
Also, kneading is the key to a good loaf because that's what activates the gluten, so knead it well - 10-15 min by hand, or 5-10 min in your mixer. Personally, I love that part and will frequently pull a batch out of the mixer to knead by hand.  It's a great stress reliever.

Now these are some of the things I do:
I substitute honey for the sugar.
I almost always substitute at least half of the regular, all-purpose flour with some sort of whole wheat; regular wheat, white wheat, or Kamut.  You can use more whole wheat, but this recipe always performs much better if you use at least 1c. all-purpose flour.  Gradually substituting one cup of whole wheat for one cup of all-purpose is a good way to sneak up and switch your family to more nutritious bread.
If using instant yeast, and making a standard loaf, or dinner rolls,  it's not necessary to allow the bread to double at the first rising.  You can just knead for several minutes and then let the bread rest for 10-15 min before shaping and then allowing to rise fully before baking.  I usually do two rises though, the additional rise does make a finer texture.

Now, the fun variations I've used this recipe for:
Dinner Rolls - just shape into rolls, allow to rise and bake at 425 for 20min. Brush tops with melted butter.
Herbed rolls - add 2 tsp. italian herb blend in with the salt and sugar, use olive oil. Rise and bake as above and brush finished rolls with butter.
Cinnamon bread - roll out loaf, spread with butter, sprinkle with cinnamon and sprinkle lightly with sugar or brown sugar, roll into loaf, rise and bake as for regular loaf.
Pizza pinwheels - roll out, spread with pizza sauce, add mozzarella cheese and pepperoni, roll up, cut into rolls and bake at 425 for 15-20 min.  These don't need a second rise.
Cinnamon rolls - roll out, spread with butter, sprinkle on cinnamon, add a layer of brown sugar and roll up. Cut into rolls and bake at 425 for 15-20 min. As with the pinwheels, these don't need a second rise.  Also, you can make them up the night before, put them in the fridge, and then pull out and bake the next morning.  These are decadent with a cream cheese glaze: Mix together 2-3 oz soft cream cheese and 1/2c. soft butter, then add approx. 1 1/2c. powdered sugar, dash of salt,1 tsp vanilla and a dollop of sour cream. This isn't runny like a regular glaze, but more like a very thin icing.
Cheesy bread - roll out, cut into strips, place on pan - fairly close, but remember, they'll rise; sprinkle with garlic salt, add cheese (your choice - we like an Italian blend), sprinkle with parsley or italian herb blend. It's easiest to sprinkle everything on after they have risen  - that way there's little to no room between the sticks for stuff to fall through and burn. Bake at 400 for 15-20 min.
Bread sticks - roll out, cut, and place on pan as above, but brush on melted butter or a mix of melted butter and olive oil, sprinkle with garlic salt, herb blend, and parmasean cheese.  Bake at 400 for 15-20 min.
Donuts - Cut into circles, or strips (that you can then fold in half and twist like cinnamon twists in bakeries), and allow to rise.  When they are about finished rising, bring a large pot of oil slowly up to 350 degrees.  Fry 'til golden brown and then carefully flip over.  It should take 3-4 min to cook each side.  Cook one first, let cool a bit and tear it apart to make sure it's done before cooking the rest.  Drain on paper towels.  Only cook 2-4 at a time, depending on the size of your pot. Sprinkle with sugar and cinnamon(our favorite), or you could make a simple glaze out of milk, powdered sugar and a few drops of vanilla.
Pizza - no second rise - roll out, top with sauce, mozzarella and your choice of toppings and bake at 425 for 15-25 min depending on the thickness of your crust.  This does make a pretty bready (that has to be a word) crust, so I'd suggest rolling it fairly thin.  If you are making this dough for pizza, you don't have to knead it as much.  In fact, the more gluten is activated, the harder it will be to roll thin.

There you go.  A tried and true, depression era recipe that has been served at countless meals through my hubby's family and into my own.
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  1. Thanks, I made the Italian variation and it came out great!

  2. Hello Becky
    I have just made the recipe as is (no modifications) using the quick release yeast. The bread is absolutely delicious. The smell of it baking had the late Saturday morning sleepers in my house gravitating out of their rooms toward the aroma. Breakfast of your husbands families recipe and my mothers homemade strawberry jam will be a family favourite for years to come. Thanks for sharing. Katherine

  3. You are very welcome. I'm glad you and your late risers enjoyed it and I'm sure your mother's jam made it all that much more delicious.