I’m super-excited to share with you that in this post, for the very first time, I’m trying out my shiny new affiliate links! If any of the products I link to are purchased, I get a little compensation. Even if it’s just extra change for coffee, I’ll still be psyched! =)
Stop buying bread at the grocery store! It’s loaded with soy and preservatives and other gross stuff. There’s no need to spend your money on that. Making your own homemade sandwich bread will save you money in the long run and is way easier than you think it is. If you know the basic proportions of ingredients, you can put together any kind of bread you want to without a recipe and have fresh, wholesome, homemade bread cooling on the counter in just a few hours.
Homemade Bread is the Best Bread!
I’ve been making our family’s sandwich bread for years now. I throw together two or three loaves on the weekend and that’s our sandwich and toast supply for the next week or so. I use it when recipes call for bread crumbs and to make Toads in a Hole for Oliver on school mornings. Fresh, homemade bread makes THE most incredible grilled cheese sandwiches and sometimes that’s what we have for dinner, along with a piping hot bowl of homemade tomato soup. That’s Bronwen’s favorite.
I use my KitchenAid to knead my bread because I am not a fan of hand-kneading. I LOVE my KitchenAid! That thing is worked HARD and barely gets a break between baking projects. Seventeen-year-old Bronwen took up baking several years ago and is now quite the expert! She uses my KitchenAid almost more than I do. Yes, a KitchenAid is an investment, but it pays for itself over and over again. It’s definitely money well-spent.
The Basic Ingredients for a Fantastic Loaf
The basic ingredients for a loaf of bread are flour, yeast, salt, oil, sugar, and water. The variations on this theme are endless, and can include adding wheat, rye, or oat flour. Throw in some rolled oats and then decorate the top with some. You can even add an egg if you want and/or swap out some of the water for milk. You can use butter instead of or in addition to oil. The sweetener doesn’t have to be white sugar. You can use honey, real maple syrup, molasses, coconut sugar, or brown sugar. As long as you know the basic proportions, you can design your own unique bread recipes!
For one loaf of bread, you’ll need:
- 3 cups of flour
- 2 1/4 tsp yeast (1 packet)
- 1 Tblsp sugar
- 1 1/2 tsp salt
- 1/4 cup fat
- 1 cup liquid
How to Design Your Own Bread
Now here comes the fun part: designing your recipe! As long as you keep to those basic proportions, the sky’s the limit. To make two loaves, just double your recipe. For three loaves, triple the recipe.
Flour (my favorite: King Arthur All-Purpose Flour)
- If you want to use other types of flour, just make sure they all add up to 3 cups.
- If you want to use oats (which also count towards your 3 cups) or oat flour, remember that there is no gluten in oats so if you make a 100% oats/oat flour loaf, it’ll fall apart. When I use oats or oat flour, I generally don’t let it equal more than 1/4 – 1/3 of the dough and I often add an egg to help make the bread chewier and less crumbly.
- The best way to add oats to your recipe is to dump in the amount you want to use in your recipe, then pour in some boiling water and let it sit until the water is lukewarm. Then add the rest of your ingredients as usual. Keep track of how much water you used because that will count towards your 1 cup.
- Rye also contains much less gluten. It also has a strong flavor so a little goes a long way. I don’t recommend using rye as more than half of your flour. This is YOUR loaf, though, so experiment away! The more rye you use, the longer it will need to rise (“proof”).
- For a 100% whole wheat loaf, I usually add 1-2 Tblsp gluten to help it be less dense and I let it rise longer. I almost always use some white flour in my whole wheat loaves, though. Remember that adding gluten counts towards your 3 cups!
- I also sometimes add toasted wheat germ–about 2 tablespoons for each loaf I’m making. Because it really won’t absorb the liquid, I don’t count it towards the 3 cups of flour. I just add it as an extra.
Yeast (my favorite: Saf Instant Yeast)
- If you are doubling or even tripling your bread dough batch, it’s okay to increase your yeast proportionally. Commercial bakeries decrease the proportion of yeast in larger batches, but home bakers can’t really make enough dough to have to start worrying about that. That being said, I’m a lazy yeast measurer. For a single loaf I probably almost always use just a straight 2 teaspoons, and my double loaves might contain a heaping tablespoon. Close enough. My bread always comes out great, so I guess that amount of yeast is fine.
- Skip dissolving your yeast in water. It’s an unnecessary waste of time. I’ve made loaves both with dissolved yeast and yeast just dumped in dry and I can find absolutely no difference in the finished product.
- Unless your yeast has been sitting idle in your pantry for years, you probably don’t need to “proof” it, which is the process of adding it to water with some sugar to see if it’s still viable. I keep my yeast in the freezer and use it up fairly quickly so I don’t ever proof it. If you want to proof it, add 2 1/2 tsp to lukewarm water then dump in a tsp of sugar. Give it a stir and let it sit for about 10 minutes. If it’s looking puffy, it’s good to go. Add it to your bread and take into account the 1/4 cup liquid and the teaspoon of sugar.
Sugar (my favorite: Wholesome Organic Cane Sugar)
- Instead of white sugar, you can use a one-for-one substitution of honey, molasses, brown sugar, coconut/palm sugar, or real maple syrup.
- I don’t recommend using fake maple pancake syrups because, well–I’m stepping up on my soap box real quick, here–they’re garbage. They’re nothing but a chemical cocktail, often containing not a trace of actual maple. Yuck.
- You can increase the amount of sweetener you use by a tablespoon or so if you want to without having to adjust anything else. I wouldn’t leave it out, though. The yeast feeds on it and it also helps give the crust it’s deep golden color.
Salt (my favorite: Diamond Crystal Kosher Salt)
- I would recommend not omitting the salt because it actually helps control the yeast from growing out of control. You can try adding less, but I think you’ll find that your bread will taste incredibly bland and “yeasty” without it.
- If you really want to leave it out, you can try using a salt substitute, such as the type that contains potassium chloride, and then just keep an eye on the dough because it will rise faster.
- If salt and yeast come into direct contact and sit that way for a while, especially if they get wet, the salt will “kill” the yeast. That being said, don’t worry about them touching when you’re adding them to the bowl. They won’t be that way long enough to make any difference in the yeast’s viability.
Fat (my favorite: La Tourangelle 100% Organic Expeller-Pressed Sunflower Oil)
- You can use a one-for-one substitution of other fats, such as butter, sunflower oil, olive oil, canola oil, ghee, etc.
- You can also combine fats. Just be sure they add up to 1/4 cup.
- If you want to decrease the amount of fat you use, increase your water by about the same amount. I wouldn’t recommend leaving it out completely. Bread needs some fat to help it be tender. If you leave out the fat completely, your bread will be tough.
- The liquid is probably the trickiest part of making bread in Vermont. In summer, high humidity adds moisture to flour. In winter, flour dehydrates as the ambient humidity drops. What I usually do is pour in all but 1/8 cup of my liquid then let the KitchenAid work on the bread for a bit. If it really just looks too dry, I add the remaining 1/8 cup. If it still looks too dry, add more liquid 1 tablespoon at a time.
- If you added oats to your recipe and didn’t hydrate them first (see the 3rd bullet point under Flour, above), you might think your dough looks too wet after it has kneaded for a minute or two. Remember that those oats are going to absorb water. You may even find that, depending on your ambient humidity, you need to add a little more water to bread that has oats in it.
- You can substitute any liquid, such as milk or almond milk (sorry, I won’t recommend soy milk–another soap box for another time).
- Eggs count as liquid. One large egg is about 1/4 cup.
Putting it All Together
- For non-specialty or artisan breads, I find that simply dumping all the ingredients together in the bowl of my KitchenAid and then turning it on to start combining and kneading works perfectly well. Unless I’m soaking oats, which I would do first. Let the dough knead for a few minutes on a medium speed and check the hydration. The dough should soft and supple and not stick to the sides of the bowl while it’s kneading.
- If you’ve added dry rolled oats, the dough might be tacky or even look a little wet. That’s fine–give the oats time to absorb that excess water. If the dough is sticking to the bowl and seems overly tacky, add a little more flour one tablespoon at a time. If the dough is shaggy, not coming together, or is bogging your mixer down, it could be too dry. Add liquid 1 tablespoon at a time until the dough looks right. Knowing how your dough should look comes with experience.
- Remove the dough to a very lightly floured counter and knead it a few times. Then form it into a smooth ball.
- Spray a large bowl with cooking spray, transfer your dough to it, spray the top of the dough, then cover with plastic wrap and set it on the counter to proof. It will generally take about 1 – 1 1/2 hours for the dough to double. The more whole wheat or rye flour you use, the longer it will need.
- When the dough has doubled, pull it out onto a very lightly floured counter. Shape the dough (if you’ve made more than one loaf, cut the dough into equal amounts and shape each piece as follows): Gently flatten the dough a bit and pull it into a square shape that is as wide as your loaf pan.Starting at the far end, roll tightly into a log, pinching the seam and the ends shut. Spray the bottom of your loaf pan (I use 9×5 stoneware ones) and then transfer the dough into it, seam side down. Gently press it to flatten a little bit and push dough into the corners. Cover with plastic wrap and let it proof until it is a little bit above the lip of the pan. This will take about 40 minutes or so. Meanwhile, preheat your oven with a rack in the middle to 350 degrees.
- When the dough has proofed enough, take the plastic off and put the pan into the oven. Bake until the top is a deep golden brown, about 40-45 minutes. You can stick a skewer in it to see if any dough is stuck to the skewer, but I find that if the top is deep golden brown, the middle is cooked.
- Remove to a cooling rack and dump the loaf out to cool. Difficult as it will be, try to let it cool completely before you slice it.
(Note: Homemade bread goes moldy faster than store bought bread because there are no preservatives in it. But beware: bread should never be refrigerated as this can cause it to go stale more quickly. Instead, freeze what you won’t use within a week. I like to pre-slice the bread I’m going to freeze. That way, I can take out the number of slices I think I’ll use over the course of several days (I keep them in a plastic zipper bag) and then take out more when those are gone.)
Remember: experiment, experiment, experiment. And write down what you do so you can make adjustments if necessary next time. It doesn’t matter if a loaf comes out of the oven looking all wrong. It’ll still taste incredible! Just keep making bread and before you know it, you’ll be an expert (and, like me, you won’t even have to measure–you’ll be able to eyeball the amounts of your ingredients). Have fun and enjoy!