I love to cook. I love to bake, and baking bread is my favorite. I have been doing it for about 25 years. About 2 years ago, I started making all of our bread exclusively. My initial reason was cost, and that was a good enough inspiration for me to integrate something I have always loved into my daily and weekly rhythm. I am pretty basic with my repertoire. I have an 2 easy sandwich loaves (one is a classic sourdough and one is a yeasted bread), 2 Italian crusty loaves (one that rises overnight and one that is same-day), sourdough rolls (made with a “country/mountain” sourdough that uses a starter comprised of instant potato flakes, sugar and water – don’t laugh until you’ve tried it!), my father-in-law’s pizza dough and the BEST English muffins EVER (these are classic sourdough). All of these recipes can be found here.
I think bread can be intimidating and thought to be time-consuming. It really is neither if you just practice. There is probably 15 minutes total hands-on time in all my recipes – and every recipe yields at least 2 loaves. I don’t knead by hand, which is why my stand-mixer is the one appliance besides the toaster and the coffee maker to be given counter space. I do, however, recommend hand-kneading for children who seem to have a lot of squirrely energy – as the above photo suggests. Both my boys love to bake and have no fear when it comes to anything in the kitchen. They are usually more adventurous than I, and have tried pitas, chapatis, breadsticks and all sorts of yeasty goodness.
I love King Arthur flour. This is the only item in my entire pantry that I am brand-specific about. I don’t think this is crucial or that you can’t bake good bread with other flours, it is just my preference. In the past 3 months or so, I have started grinding my own wheat. I bought the grain-grinding attachment for my Kitchen Aid mixer, and have been very pleased with the results. I use a classic water and flour sourdough starter for the majority of my baking these days, but I do use yeast as well – especially when I forget to set my bread the night before. I think yeast is the scariest thing when you are just beginning. I used a candy thermometer forever to make sure my water wasn’t too hot. My advice here would be to just run your tap water as hot as it can get. Especially if you have kids, it won’t be too hot to kill the yeast. I always let mine “proof” in the measuring cup with a nice spoonful of honey. If it gets frothy by the time you’ve measured out your dry ingredients, you are good to go. If you don’t have any action in the cup, I would start over. Oh and buy yeast in bulk – it is so expensive in those little envelopes! A couple of other things. I like to use stoneware to bake my breads. I have several pieces from the Pampered Chef. They last forever, and once they are seasoned, they turn out flawless, crusty loaves every time. Also, if you have a convection oven, use it – your breads with be browner and crunchier.
I could go on and on about baking bread, and have cut this post in half from its initial draft. Before you read the recipes, I will just warn you that I am a rather intuitive baker. If you are a person who measures precisely and needs exact directions, I will probably drive you insane. However, I did provide links to the recipes that inspired my versions, if you need more exact information.