A Basic Loaf for Beginners
(or Those who are Pressed for Time!)
This is a basic loaf that is extremely fast and versatile, you make it in the food processor or stand mixer! Use it to make pizza crust, rolls, calzones, stuffed breads, baguettes, or just a simple loaf to slice up with dinner. If you have never made bread before, start here. There are suggestions that follow on how to create many different loaves. If you do not have a stand mixer or food processor, just mix it all with a wooden spoon until it is too difficult, then turn it out on a floured surface and knead for about eight to 10 minutes. It takes a bit of time this way, but is still pretty quick.
2 packets active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
1 tbsp. sugar
5 – 5 1/2 cups unbleached flour
1 tsp. salt
Food processor: Place flour, yeast, and sugar in food processor and pulse a few times to combine. With machine running, pulse, and slowly drizzle the water into the flour through the feeding tube. Toward the end, slow down your drizzle and let the processor run for a few seconds or so between additions. When most is combined, add the salt, then continue. You might not need the full 2 cups of water. What you are looking for is the dough to start to form a large clump, and then turn into a ball.
Standing mixer: Place yeast, sugar, and water in the mixer fitted with the dough hook and let sit for 10 minutes. Add the flour and salt a little at a time. When everything is together, keep the mixer on low and knead with the dough hook for 4 or 5 minutes, until the dough forms a ball and climbs up the dough hook. Or, you can knead 10 minutes by hand.
For both: Turn out onto a floured board and knead for a minute or so, just to get the feel of it. Dough will be smooth and resilient when kneaded.
Spray a deep bowl with non-stick spray and place dough inside. Turn over to coat both sides of dough ball with oil. Cover with a tea towel and let stand for about an hour or until double in bulk, in a warm place, free of drafts (yes, you can also cover it with plastic wrap).
Turn the dough out onto your lightly floured counter or board. Cut into two sections and shape into two loaves.
Spray two loaf pans with non-stick olive oil spray or butter, place the loaves in the pans, cover, and let rise for another hour or so, until double in bulk.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. When the oven is hot, give your bread a slash on top to allow for expansion in the baking process. If you don’t do this, the bread will probably expand and crack any which way it wants, and won’t be pretty!
Place the pans in the lower section of oven. Bake for around 25 to 30 minutes. If the bread starts to brown too quickly, cover with foil.
When bread is done, it should have a light feeling; it will sound hollow when you thwack it with your thumb. Turn out of pans and let cool.
If you want a hard crust, your job is done. If you prefer a soft crust, rub the crust with oil or butter, let cool slightly and then wrap tightly.
Pizza and Calzone Dough: Add 2 tbsp. fruity olive oil to the water in your initial mix. Follow all other instructions, but after forming the crust you will want to eliminate the second proof and cook right away for a thin crust, or for a thicker crust, roll out and let proof for about 15 minutes right in the pan.
Honey Whole Wheat Bread: Substitute 2 cups of whole-wheat flour for two cups of the white, and use 2 tbsp. honey instead of the sugar.
Maple Oat Bread: Substitute 2 cups of oat flour for two cups of the white, add 1 cup of old fashioned oats that you have broken up in the food processor. Substitute dark maple syrup (not pancake syrup) for the sugar, and add 1 tsp. natural maple flavoring. Sprinkle loaves with oats before baking. This is a family favorite.
Baguettes: I use an actual French bread pan which keeps the baguettes from spreading and becoming flat. If you do not have one of these, let the dough do its second proof on a floured kitchen towel that you have created little cradles for the dough by pleating up the towel to prevent the loaves from spreading. Either way, sprinkle your baking pan with cornmeal to add texture and visual interest.
Parmesan Cheese and Chive Loaf: Add a half-cup of freshly grated Parmesan cheese and 2 tbsp. freshly minced chives to the dough. Yum!
Cinnamon Raisin Bread: Turn the basic dough into a sweet dough by adding a quarter cup of sugar and two eggs. Roll out each loaf and sprinkle with a teaspoon of cinnamon and two of sugar. Add about a third cup of raisins, nuts too if you like, and dot with a couple of tablespoons of butter cut into small pieces. Roll up, and bake as usual.