I love bread. And I love baking quick breads. But the whole yeast thing has always scared me, for some reason. Probably because it’s alive (weird!), you need to activate it in precisely-warmed water, it requires just-right kneading, etc. Yikes.
I mentioned my irrational fear at lunch with some colleagues lately, and one of them — being a regular and experienced bread baker — offered a lesson. (Thank you, Leslie!)
Good news: Overall it wasn’t nearly as frightening as I had anticipated! Time-consuming, yes. But kind of fun, and the end result was so worth it.
I won’t share the recipe we used (there are plenty out there) and all the copious notes I took. But here are Leslie’s helpful bread-making tips:
Big batch baking — Since it’s so time-consuming, consider doing what Leslie does: bake three loaves at a time, on a weekend when you have time. Use a food scale to evenly divide the dough. She says the finished, wrapped loaves are okay on the counter for 5-6 days (fewer during warm-weather months), or even longer in the fridge. They also freeze well.
Flour combo — This is, of course, dependent on personal preference. But I’ll follow Leslie’s lead in future and use a combination of about 1/5 white whole wheat and 4/5 bread flour. Our loaves were beautifully colored (not pale and blah like white bread) and perfectly textured. Not as dense as hearty, heavy whole wheat or bread with nuts and such, but not light and airy either. Perfect for toasting and sandwich-making.
Use bread salt — Did you even know there was such a thing? I sure didn’t. It was sparkly and studded with brownish crystals. Leslie buys her from King Arthur Flour, and says the extra minerals help the dough rise better.
No special tools required — You don’t need a fancy mixer or work surface, or special rolling pins or loaf pans. We used a big bowl, a wooden spoon, our hands and her kitchen countertop.
First-rise shortcut — See the end of this post for a time-saving technique.
Practice — Having tried it myself, I realize that it’s virtually impossible to adequately describe in writing proper mixing and kneading techniques. Get someone to demonstrate. And make sure you get your hands in there, too — don’t just watch.
Eat it hot! — The best part of my lesson was enjoying a hot-out-of-the-oven slice slathered with butter. Tastier even than hot Krispy Kremes, and a heck of a lot healthier.
And finally, I leave you with this handy shortcut. Leslie had been hearing about various microwave techniques to hasten dough rising but remained skeptical until she tried it herself. She now uses the microwave for first risings, and can’t tell a difference between this and the old-fashioned way. Here goes:
Grease a large bowl and put the dough ball into it. Place the bowl and a separate small container filled with a cup of water in the microwave, and microwave at 10% power for 3 minutes. Let rest for 3 minutes in the microwave, then heat again at 10% power for 3 minutes. The dough should double in size during this process.
More photos below …