Thursday, December 29, 2011

My Bread Recipe

Several friends and family have asked me for my bread recipe, so here it is.  It is adapted from several recipes I have collected over the years.  It's quite simple and difficult to mess up, I promise you.

I am giving you the measurements for two loaves (each around 1.2 pound) and measurements for a single loaf in parentheses.  For economy's sake (and because I most always share the second loaf with someone else, I usually make 2 loaves at a time).  All of the measurements can be approximate, and you'll learn to adjust them to your taste as you continue to make the bread.

3 cups room-temp water (around 70 deg F) (1 1/2 cup)
1 1/2 tbsp yeast  (3/4 tbsp) (I use Red Star Active Dry Yeast because I buy it in bulk at Costco.  Fleischmann's is fine, too)
1 1/2 tbsp salt (3/4 tbsp)
6 1/2 cups flour (3 1/4)
Extra flour as needed such as for kneading and handling

Put water in a large bowl or pot, add yeast and salt, stir to mix.  Add flour and, using a large long-handled spoon, stir until completely moistened (adjust with either water or more flour to get right consistency of a thick doughy mix -- not wet but no dry clumps, either).

NOTE:  If you want to add something to your bread, now is the time to stir it in.  I've added kalamata olive bits to one, garlic and an herb to another, and caraway seeds (one of my favorites ever!) to another.  Let me know if you come up with something really interesting and good, okay?

Cover and let rise for an hour or two (check to see when it has approximately doubled or a little more in volume).  Note:  Here I usually cheat a bit and turn on my oven for literally seconds (around 20), just to raise the temperature a bit higher than my room temp and leave the covered pot in the oven to allow it to rise just a bit faster.  Do NOT make the oven more than a bit warmer than room temp or you'll kill the yeast!

If you're in a hurry, skip down to the "kneading" section below.  If you want a more complex tasting bread, which I do!!, do this next:  After your dough has risen to about double, with your big spoon, smash and stir it down again.  That is, destroy all that nicely risen dough you just created.

Let it rise again.  You'll notice that this time it rises much more quickly, so be careful and check it after around an hour or you'll have what looks like a science experiment gone awry.  (But you can use it anyway; you'll just have to scoop it up off the sides of the pot.)

Kneading:  If you've never kneaded, I'll give a brief description.  And this kneading is very minimal, by the way, and not at all intimidating.  To start to knead, put a bit of flour on your work surface, dump the dough onto it (use a spatula to scrape it out, as it sticks to the sides of the pot pretty firmly.)  You'll notice that the dough at this point has a weird open "lacy" or "stringy" quality to it - that's normal.

Okay, here we go:  Lightly dust your hands with flour (keep a cup beside you to dust your fingers or to sprinkle on your work surface), and grab the dough on the side farthest away from you, and fold it over onto itself, toward you.  Gently press into the pile, pushing away from you, with the heels of your hands.  Turn the dough a quarter turn, and repeat the folding, pushing away, and turning, about five to eight times.  The dough should feel nice and elastic (almost alive-feeling).

Next, if you're making two loaves, cut the lump of dough in half and lightly flour the cut sides.  Then pick up each batch of dough and shape it into either a long loaf shape or a round one, depending on what kind of pan you'll be using (I'll discuss that below).   As you shape each piece, gently handle it, and turn the outside edges downward and inward -- so that all the ugly creases and lumps are on the bottom.  Lightly dust the top of each with a bit of flour, and cover with a  kitchen towel.

Next preheat your oven to 450 deg F and -- very important -- place your pan(s) into the oven to allow them to get hot.  If you want artsy-looking loaves, use something like a thick cookie sheet to cook them on.  If you want more utilitarianly shaped bread, use large bread pans.

When the oven is to 450 deg, carefully remove a pan, one at a time.  (at this point, I give mine a quick spritz with some Pam, but it's not absolutely necessary.)  Set the pan near the dough, lift one dough and dump it into the pan, with the bottom side up, and put the pan immediately back into the oven.  Do the same with the second loaf.

Set a timer for around 15 to 20 minutes.  Then when the timer goes off, turn the temp down to around 435 and cook another 10 to 15 minutes -- check for doneness by a nice brown color.  Remove from the oven, flip loaves out onto a cooling rack (or onto a counter if you don't have one), let them go upside down or sideways.  Rap the bottom of each with your hand and listen for a kind of hollow sound - this indicates thorough doneness.  That's it!  Let it cool until you can cut it (if you can wait that long!!), slather it with butter, and enjoy the first piece -- which is always the best!

Obviously, I wrote this recipe for someone who does not have a lot of  bread-making experience, so sorry if there's too much detail in it for you.  But for those of you who need it, hope this helps.  If you have any questions -- or want to share your bread-making experiences, please write.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Long Story - We're all back in the USA now

This is a bit of a sad post, and I won't say much because it's very upsetting to my family and to me.  We are all back in the USA to live now.  Something went very, very wrong in Denmark regarding other family members there, and we found it necessary to leave.  It was our only choice. 

I won't be saying anything more about Denmark after this post.  It was a beautiful place, we all loved it very much, the people on the island where we lived were wonderful and we miss them.  We were all very, very sad to leave, but we're happy to be back in the USA now, too.

In the future, I'll get back to the original - and more apt - object of this blog, and that is to talk about art and painting and animals, and the beautifully agonizing attempts to capture what I see before me onto a canvas. 

I've not been painting much lately, so I have a lot of catching up to do.  My next project is going to be a chocolate-colored minpin painting for a very special person we met at the airport in Seattle, who went way, way above the duties of his job to help out my daughter and her family as they arrived in the USA with many of their and our pets and as much as they could carry with them.  I'll post the painting just as soon as it's finished.