There are a precious few things in the world that I enjoy more than bread fresh out the oven, smothered in non-dairy butter (Earth Balance is my favorite) with a drizzle of agave nectar. I once dated a guy for months longer than I should have because his mom made me fresh bread each week. The idea of losing the hot bread was more powerful to my very young, adult mind than the promise of a happier life with someone else, or just me, or with a dog. But then I grew up – in many ways, it seems. I learned to bake bread and value my peace of mind (perhaps I learned these lessons at the same time) and parted ways with mommy-baking boyfriend. By that, of course, I mean a boyfriend whose mom bakes, not the other more sordid and disturbing interpretation. For all his faults, he never baked his mom – at least not while we were together. Oh, and I got a dog.
I will share with you one of my easiest, most no-fussest bread recipes. Ladies and gents, we do not need to trade happiness for bread. Believe me, we can make our own. BREAD. We can make our own bread! Enjoy my dating advice with a nice side of hot bread.
4tbspunsalted non-dairy butter or coconut oil in its solid statecut into smaller chunks
1 1/2tspkosher or sea salt
IF USING ACTIVE DRY YEAST: combine sugar and water in a large bowl. Sprinkle with yeast and allow yeast to dissolve. IF USING INSTANT DRY YEAST: Simply stir flour, sugar and yeast together in a large bowl.
Using the tips of your finger, rub the butter into the dry flour (flour mixture, if using instant dry yeast) until it starts to look like breadcrumbs. (Coating the butter in flour will give the bread a nice, flaky crust. The fat will also shorten the fibers of the flour, which helps to prevent the flour from forming into one big glob. You can also use a pastry cutter or the paddle attachment on your stand mixer to achieve the same thing.)
Add one cup of flour-butter mix to the water. Mix until combined. This will be very sticky. **See note
Add remaining flour-butter mixture and then add salt. Mix to combine. (If salt is added directly to yeast, it will kill it. You don't want to add salt until the yeast is first mixed with the liquid. Note also that salt stabilizes the fermentation rate allowing the bread rise evenly and achieve full flavor.)
Knead dough by hand for 10-15 minutes or 7 minutes using a mixer until dough is smooth.
Form into a ball, lightly grease dough and bowl with oil, cover with a clean cloth and allow to rise for 45 minutes. (I usually put this in the oven with the oven light on.)
Remove dough from bowl. On a lightly oiled surface, punch dough to remove excess carbon dioxide. Flatten dough by hand or with rolling pin into rectangular shape. Using your hands, tightly roll the dough to form a log shape. (You can also shape dough into a ball to form a boule. This method doesn't require a baking pan and works well when placed in pre-heated heavy bottom pan just before baking. You want to make sure to slice the top at least twice to ensure the dough retains its shape when baking, since it will not have a pan to hold its shape in.)
Transfer dough to oiled bread pan. Allow to rise a second time until it has doubled its size. (1-2 hours.)
Preheat oven to 375 degrees F/ 191 degrees C. Place an empty pan on the bottom rack in the oven while oven is preheating.
Place dough in the oven on middle rack, add 1 cup of water to the empty pan and close immediately. The water in the hot pan creates steam which allows the bread to rise even further and results in a lovely crust. Bake for 20-25 minutes until top is golden.
Remove bread from oven. Immediately rub the top with butter. After 5 minutes, remove from pan and allow to cool on a cooling rack for 15-20 minutes.
* You can substitute the bread flour with all purpose flour. Just make sure to use only 1 cup of water, instead.
** If dough gets too sticky, avoid the urge to add more flour as this may result in a harder loaf. Rub your hands and fingers with oil instead. This will cause the dough to not stick to your hands while you're working with it but will not change the actual consistency of the dough. Remember, a sticky dough is a happy dough.
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