Saturday, February 18, 2012

Making Bread

Today is Brett's birthday so tonight we will have his birthday dinner.  The menu never varies from year to year.  BBQ ribs, gratin potatoes, and bread.  High calorie for sure but he only has a birthday once a year.  I asked him what kind of bread he wanted and he asked for dinner rolls.  I use my "go-to" fail safe bread recipe for dinner rolls (and loaves of white bread and cinnamon bread).

The recipe makes two loaves of bread or a truckload of rolls.  Lots of rolls is a good thing for the holidays but not when there are just three of us for dinner: Brett, his friend Richard, and me.  So, I used half the recipe for rolls and the other half for cinnamon bread.

1/4 cup warm water
1 pkg dry yeast
1 3/4 cups milk, warm
2 Tablespoons butter, room temperature
2 Tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 or more cups all-purpose flour

I always make bread in the same bowl.  I had a large brown earthenware bowl that my grandmother used to make bread and I used that for years, until it broke.  I replaced it with the bowl I use now on a trip we took to Santa Fe.  I bought it to be my bread bowl so I use if for sentimental reasons more than anything.

I use King Arthur unbleached flour.  I think it makes the best bread.

If you use a package of dry yeast, you start by dissolving it in your water.  I use instant yeast, which I buy in bulk and keep in the freezer.  I make a lot of bread so it makes more sense for me.  Plus, this type of yeast doesn't require the proofing step in water.
So, put your packet in the water and stir it in.  Let it sit for five minutes or so.

Put all your ingredients in the bowl and mix it up.  I use a dough whisk, but a wooden spoon works just as well.  I am the gadget queen so I have lots of bread gadgets.  ...not necessary, but fun.

Pour your dough out on your work surface.  It will look loose and shaggy.  Don't worry.  It's good.  I do HIGHLY recommend getting a dough scraper if you don't have one.  It makes kneading so much easier.  I work with the scraper in my right hand and my left works the dough.  I find I don't need to add nearly as much flour to create a manageable dough.  And less flour means a nicer texture in your bread.

Next, watch this video of Julia Child making bread.  Don't worry about her recipe -- she's making french bread which is tricky.  I want you to watch how she kneads the bread.  This was a huge a-ha moment for me.  The more violent you are, the quicker the bread comes together.  And it's fun too.  The video is long but the kneading part is at the start.

I knead my dough for a minute or two, a la Julia, and then let it rest a few minutes.  Resting the dough makes your job easier.  It starts building its gluten on its own and comes together a bit.  Your butter will still be clumpy in the dough.  Don't worry, it will smooth out and become incorporated as you go.

Resume kneading until you have a smooth dough that pushes back.  Sometimes you will get blisters on the skin of the dough, but not always.  I test by pushing with my finger.  When the dough springs back into place, its done.

Put it in an oiled bowl for its first rise.  I use this container because it is clear and I can see how much it has risen without lifting off a towel.  But there is nothing wrong with putting it in a big bowl and covering it with a tea towel.

Put it in a warm place to rise.  I often use the shelf above my stove.  Especially if I am cooking other stuff.
You want the dough to double in size.  It takes an hour -- or two if it is cold in the house.

Divide your risen dough in half.  The dough scraper does a good job with that.  If you are making loaves, just form them into plump logs.  Put them in a greased bread pan and let them rise until they are about an inch over the top of the pan -- about an hour.
Then bake at 350F for 40 minutes or so.

If you are making rolls and cinnamon bread, like me,  set one half aside.

Cut the dough into about a dozen pieces.

Roll the pieces into balls and put them in a greased cake pan.  Cover with plastic wrap, and let them rise.  I always spray my plastic wrap with Pam so the dough doesn't stick.

Roll the other half of your dough into a rectangle about a quarter of an inch thick.

Sprinkle with a mixture of confectioners sugar, cinnamon, vanilla and a little salt.

Spray with water (optional but it helps the filling stick)

Roll it up into a log, starting with the short end down by you. You can put it in a pan to rise at this point or you can do like me and take a few extra steps.  I think it makes a nicer loaf without holes.

Then cut the log down the middle long ways.

Stretch the cut logs into longer pieces.

Braid the two pieces together, with the cut side up. Shove any loose raisins back into the cracks.

Put the loaf in your greased loaf pan and let it rise until it reaches the top of the pan, about an hour.

The rolls finished their second rise and went into the oven.

Baked for 18 minutes at 350F.  When they came out of the oven, I brushed them with melted butter.

And then I brushed the cinnamon bread with a beaten egg and put it in the oven for about 40 minutes.

Dinner was delicious.   We ate too much, drank too much, laughed too much.

Potatoes gratin.



The birthday boy and the chef.

Creme in the oven for dessert (creme with strawberries)... and I'm beat!


  1. Looks delicious! Julia was sure an enthusiastic kneader.

  2. I looove making bread! I am planning on making some focaccia bread tomorrow with garlic pitted olives, sun dried tomatoes, mozzarella cheese, and artichoke hearts, it's almost like a mini pizza when it's all done! Yum! I learned to knead dough in my high school pottery class.

  3. I started watching the Julia Child video and enjoyed it so much I ended up watching the whole half hour! I'm very inspired to make french bread now. Once we eat the other three loaves I made this weekend, that is ;). Yours look great - yum!

  4. First of all, Happy Birthday to Brett! I too would love some BBQued ribs for my birthday...he has good taste and I'm sure it tasted great! Thanks for posting the bread recipe. It looks doable and I am going to give it a shot. I'll be watching my mailbox...

    You two are so good to each other!

  5. Happy Birthday! Looks like this is going to be a great meal. Homemade bread...mmmmmm.

  6. Annette,
    I am truly blown away by your chef skills. I started watching the Julia Child video with my husband and we couldn't stop watching. After thirty minutes, I am completely in awe. Mixing, measuring, kneading, resting, more resting, forming, folding, patting, rolling, more resting, rolling over and slashing! Then spraying and waiting and watching, more spraying, more waiting, moving the bread in the oven, tapping, more waiting, and then the bread is finally finished! Do French bakers work all night and sleep during the day?

    I love how Julia Child explains the chemistry of baking bread complete with words like molecules, gluten, "gasping" yeast, and coagulated starch.

    Happy Birthday to Brett! You are a very ambitious hostess. What a feast!

  7. happy (belated) birthday, brett! you really do have a chef at your disposal!!! :)

  8. Thanks for this very informative post. Can't wait to try beating up my bread next time I make it. I MUST have one of those little scrapers. I have one just like it for soap cutting, but I now need another. You are a great cook. How DO you find the time?

  9. Nice!! I've been making bread since I was old enough to stand on a stool and knead, but we never did it quite like the wonderful Julia Childs! I've never done anything fancy like make a twist either. I'm going to try your recipe very soon. Your instructions and pictures were excellent!

  10. Happy Birthday to Brett. Your Dinner - Rolls and Buns look absolutely yummy . I'm not a very avid hmmmm what shall I call person so I enjoy food through other peoples skills.

  11. PS: You can never laugh too much...especially together:)

  12. Oh my goodness, your bread looks fantastic! Yum, yum, and yum.


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