Bread and Butter
Both of these were on my list. My “Cook This Successfully At Least Once But Hopefully Twice” list.
Other things on this list include:
– Butter chicken
– Beef korma
– Shakriya (first time was good, second time was horrid)
– Roast beef
– Tuille cookies
What’s on your list?
Baking bread is so easy. Really. Trust me. You don’t even need a bread machine – if you’ve got a stand mixer or pair of strong arms, you can have homemade sandwich bread in an afternoon.
The best part about this is not even the flavor and texture of the bread – just a little sweet, toasted to a light crunch. The best part is not even the smoothness of the butter as it spreads across hot bread, melting into the nooks and crannies.
The best part….is the smell.
The smell is so rich, that your whole house smells like a fancy French bakery.
The smell is so fulfilling, that I stood in the kitchen to do dishes *just* so I could be closer to the aroma.
The smell is so luscious, that on Natasha’s birthday, instead of bringing her a loaf already made, I brought the dough to her apartment and baked it in her apartment. The smell was part of the gift.
And it’s easy. You can do it, I promise.
Pictures are in Lightbox – click the first on the left to start the slideshow.
I’ll tell you about the butter first. The butter was easier than I thought it would be. I took full fat cream and put it in my stand mixer on medium. When it started to thicken, I turned it up to high. The cream goes from soft peaks to hard peaks, breaks, and then starts splitting into butter and buttermilk. You can hear the change in texture when it’s getting close to being ready – bits of butter begin to thwap against the side of the mixer. When you see large chunks of yellow butter floating in a white milky liquid, pour the stuff through a fine mesh sieve. Run your hands under cold water until they’re chilled enough to not melt the butter, then press the butter gently against the sieve or between your hands to extract more buttermilk. At this stage, it’s relatively soft and spreadable. You can put it back in and extract more buttermilk if you want. From one pint of cream, I got almost 1 cup of buttermilk and probably almost 3/4 of a stick of butter.
Okay, the bread. This is from my Good Housekeeping cookbook that Rabea gave me.
White Bread (or wheat, if you want)
1/2 cup warm water
2 pkgs active dry yeast
1/4 cup + 1 teaspoon white sugar
2 1/4 cups warm milk
4 tablespoons softened butter
1 tablespoon salt
about 7 – 7 1/2 cups all purpose flour (or bread flour).
[this recipe is for two loaves, and it’s super easy to half it]
A note about “warm” – warm is considered about 105F to 115F. This temperature is really important – too hot, and you’ll kill the yeast; too cold, and it won’t activate. Do yourself a favor – do not try to do this by touch. Everyone feels heat differently, and the container you warm in could be warmer than the actual liquid.
A note about flour – I’ve only ever made this with white all-purpose flour, or a mixture of wheat and white. I would not make this all wheat, because it gets a little too tough – maybe a 60% white, 40% wheat would be the maximum I’d use. If I’m using both, I mix the flours together in a bowl first so the dough is getting a mixture of flours all through the process.
Pictures courtesy of my husband, since my hands were in the dough.
1. In a bowl, put in the yeast and 1 teaspoon sugar. The sugar is the food for the yeast. Mix it together a little, the put in the 1/2 cup warm water. Mix it just a little and then let it stand for five minutes till it gets foamy. Do not be afraid of the yeast, as I once was.
2. Add the butter, the 1/4 cup sugar, 2 1/4 cup milk, salt, and 4 cups of flour. I usually start with the butter and sugar and salt, then kind of add the milk and flour in alternating bits.
3. When this is all incorporated, slowly add 3 more cups of flour. If you’re running a mixer, you may want to switch to a dough hook at this point. Just keep adding in 1/2 cup increments till it starts to pull away from the side of the bowl. You want to stop when it looks soft and cohesive.
4. Flour the surface of a very clean counter. There’s an art to this, which I learned from Food Network – you throw the flour onto the board horizontally, like you are skipping stones on a lake. Pull out the dough from the mixer/bowl and put it onto the floured surface. The dough will still be a little sticky.
5. Now comes the kneading – the best part.
This is not an exact science. You’re trying to get the dough from a blob that sticks to your fingers when you press into it, to a smooth ball that will keep an indentation for a little while. Just work the last 1/2 cup into the dough as you kneed. (or more, if necessary – if it’s humid or you’re using a different kind of flour).
Your dough will probably already have a shape when you pull it out of the bowl/mixer so it’s not going to be as crumbly as it is this, but the principles behind these instructions are good. Push the heel of your palm in, fold it over, turn it around, do it again. Here’s a video one.
There are a lot of purposes to kneading – it develops the gluten in the flour. It pushes the little bubbles out (yeast farts), so you get a tight loaf at the end. Also, it’s relaxing – get your frustration with school/family/life out on this dough – the more you punch it, pull it, squish it, the better the final product will be.
6. Okay, first kneading over – the dough is now no longer sticky and forms into a cute little round. It’s soft and smooth and beautiful. Put it into a bowl that you’ve greased with olive oil. Cover it with plastic wrap that you’ve coated with oil.
7. Time for the first rise – Put this dough in a warm place – “warm” for rising dough means 80F – 85F. In NC, this means my garage in the summer. I take my thermometer into the garage and let it taste the air to check if it’s 80 degrees. In the winter or fall, I put a heating pad on the counter on medium and put the bowl of dough on top (did this with pizza dough last night, worked just fine). Leave it there for one hour, until it’s almost twice its original size.
Be warned. Yeast smells kind of funny. Especially after you let the dough rise – you’re basically fermenting the bread. Guess what else results in fermentation of a yeasty substance? Beer. Muslims generally can’t stand the smell of beer, so this process can be a little unpleasantly odored – but I promise that it’s worth it in the end!
8. Pull out the dough and punch it down – it feels like a down pillow. Pull it onto your flowered surface. Kneed it a little to get the excess bubbles out, and then cut it in half using a knife or – even better – a pizza cutter.
9. Grease two metal loaf pans with olive oil or butter – 9×5 pans.
10. Okay, now roll the half of your dough into a rectangle shape about 12 x 7 (too fancy for me – just a little wider than your dough pan, b/c the ends will fold in). Start from the short side and roll it up, pinching the edges down as you go. At the end, you can put a little bit of water on the dough and kind of push it to seal closed, like a jelly roll. Do this with both halves of dough, and then plop them seam side down into your greased pans. Take them back to the warm place and let them rise for one our until they’re almost doubled in size.
Note – If you want to make cinnamon-raisin bread – add 2 cups of raisins (or cranberries or whatever) to the dough as you’re mixing it. Then, at this stage, mix butter and brown sugar and cinnamon together into a paste and spread it on the rectangle before baking. GH gives the proportions as 2 tbs soft butter to 1/3 cup brown sugar plus 1 tbs ground cinnamon for both loaves – but I use this much (or 3/4 of it) for one loaf.
11. Ready to bake! Brush the tops with olive oil, if you want, and sprinkle with oats or nigella seeds or anything that strikes your fancy. Bake at 400F until browned on top – you should also be able to pull the loaf out completely (esp. if non-stick pan) and tap it on the bottom. If it sounds hollow, it’s ready.