Baking Homemade Bread - Not As Hard As it Sounds

In a world of instant mixes, frozen dinners, and fast food, the simple pleasure of baking bread has almost been forgotten. From early childhood, I have pleasant and cherished memories of my mother and grandmothers baking yeast breads and batter breads-hearty breads for meals, sweat breads for desserts. Baking bread, much like sewing, crochet, and knitting, is fast becoming a lost art, but the truth is that baking batter breads doesn't take much longer than a bread mix.

Hmm, fresh yeast bread! The aroma fills the entire house, causing all within to follow the fragrance to the kitchen in hopes of getting a slice of hot, buttered, yeast bread. For as long as I can remember, the smell of bread baking has been a comforting sign of home.

There are so many things that come to my mind when I think about bread: my grandmother's old stories of times when bread and cheese, or worse, bread and water, were all that was available to eat; the five loaves Jesus blessed and fed to 5,000 men (the women and children were not counted); the unleavened bread of remembrance for the body the Christ sacrificed that the world might have peace with God; the buttered bread toasting in the oven on a cold winter morning; the first time I punched down the yeast dough, then baked the loaf and served it to my new husband. . . So many things come to mind that I can spend an entire, serene morning just thinking while enjoying the scent of rising and baking bread. Even batter breads (breads leavened with baking powder or a combination of baking soda and buttermilk rather than yeast), such as the cornbread my mom served with hot brown (pinto) beans, lend a sense of home and belonging.

Grocery stores have long sold boxes of cake mixes on their shelves (I confess that I occasionally use one of them.). For some time, now, they have also sold different types of bread mixes, biscuit mixes, cornbread mixes, and frozen yeast breads and rolls. While these are usually ok, they just don't have give your home the ambience of handmade, fresh breads. Nor do the pre-made, brown-in-the-oven varieties.

Think you don't have time to bake bread? While it is true that yeast breads take some time, after all, they need to rise, many bread recipes don't take much, if any, longer than using a mix. For instance, to use a cornbread mix, you open the package and pour it into a bowl, add egg, oil, and milk. To make cornbread from scratch, you measure cornbread, flour, salt, and baking powder into the bowl, and then add egg, oil, and milk. While it might, maybe, take two extra minutes to measure four items, the taste difference is incredible! Another example would be homemade biscuits. To make biscuits from scratch, measure flour, salt, and baking powder into the bowl, add oil and milk. Depending on the biscuit mix you buy, you can open the package and pour it into the bowl, or open the container and measure the appropriate amount into the bowl, then add oil and milk. Not much difference, is there?

It doesn't even take too much longer than "whampum" biscuits (store-bought refrigerator biscuits in a roll can). Even with those, you have to open them and put them in the pan. Frozen biscuits might be faster, but again, the difference in taste is definitely noticeable.

I have memorized three bread recipes: the yeast bread I use for both pizza crust and table bread, the cornbread my mother taught me to make, and the biscuits my husband loves. The following three quick bread recipes, with full instructions, will help you recapture the aromatic art of baking bread.

Yeast Bread

Can be used to make 2 loaves or to divide and use as the crust for two pizzas.
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons dry baker's yeast
4 tbsp. oil
2 tsp. sugar
2 tsp. salt
5 cups flour

In a 2 cup measuring cup, add the yeast to the warm water and mix well. Add the sugar, salt and oil. Stir liquid and let sit for 5 minutes. Preheat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease two pans (loaf pans or pizza pans, depending on which you are making) with 1 tablespoon of oil for each.

Pour yeast liquid into a mixing bowl. Add half the flour and stir gently with a fork until moistened, then add the rest of the flour. Stir with fork until dough forms ball around fork (about 25 stirs). Flour hands and knead dough until smooth and elastic. Divide dough into two balls.

For bread loaves, roll each ball into an 18" X 9" rectangle. Starting at the small end, roll dough into a log shape. Pinch edges together, and tuck ends under. Place into oiled pan, cover and let rise for 30 minutes. Bake for 20 minutes or until golden.

For pizza crust, press each ball into a 12" to 14" oiled pizza pan. Make sure that the dough is distributed evenly. Top each with ½ cup pizza sauce and your favorite toppings. Bake for 20 minutes until toppings are done and bottom is lightly browned. After 10 minutes, I trade places with the two pans, moving the one on top to bottom, and the one on bottom to the top. This prevents one being overdone and the other underdone. Allow to sit for 5 minutes before slicing.

Biscuits

2 cups flour
1 tsp. salt
3 tsp. baking powder
¼ cup oil
¾ cup milk

Preheat oven to 420 degrees F. Measure the dry ingredients into a medium mixing bowl. In a glass, liquid measuring cup, measure ¼ cup of oil. Into the same cup, over the oil, pour in milk to the 1 cup mark (mixture will bubble). Pour all at once into the dry ingredients. Using a fork, stir until dough follows fork, then stir 10 more times. Flour your hands, and knead dough ten times. Roll or pat dough onto a cutting board or clean counter. Cut into squares or use a floured glass to cut round biscuits. If you are in a hurry, you do not have to roll the dough. Pat it out and tear off biscuit size pieces and put them into the pan. If you want the biscuits to be crispy, butter or oil the pan. Otherwise, just place then in the pan. If you prefer the sides to be crusty, place the biscuits 2" apart on the pan. Bake for 15 to 20 minutes, until light golden brown.

Mom's Cornbread

2 cups cornmeal (yellow is best, for the color)
1 cup flour
2 tbsp. aluminum free baking powder
1 tsp. salt
¼ cup oil
2 eggs, slightly beaten
Enough milk to make medium dough-should not be as thin as cake dough, but not as thick as cookie dough.

Pre-heat oven to 425 degrees F. Grease a 12" baking pan. The best pan to use in baking cornbread is an iron skillet. Pre-heat oiled pan. This allows the cornbread crust to crisp nicely.

Mix dry ingredients in mixing bowl. Add eggs and oil and stir to make a crumbly mixture. Add enough milk (start with 1 cup, and add a little more at a time until you have enough), to make a medium dough-dough will pour, but not very fast. Do not over-mix. Pour dough into iron skillet. Bake for 20 minutes. Delicious with bean soup of any kind, corn and ham chowders, or just crumbled into a large glass of milk for breakfast!

Whichever bread you prefer, the aroma of baking bread will bring your family running to the table. Spend a few extra minutes to create some special memories for your children, or even better, let them help measure the ingredients and roll out the dough! Bread making, once a common, daily activity, is not almost a forgotten art. Learn to bake bread, make some memories, and help a tradition that spans thousands of years to survive!

Copyright 2008, Linda Pogue

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About The Author,
Linda Pogue is the webmaster of http://www.momsredkitchen.com where she regularly posts information about kitchen products, reviews cookbooks, and shares family recipes.