Heaven is closer than you think, in fact, only a mere couple of hours away. It's also a lot easier than one might think, only requiring a few simple staple ingredients, a little know how, and no special equipment except your two loving hands. Well, ok, I'll be honest. I do use my handy dandy Kitchen Aid mixer for the heavy duty kneading part, but even still, I mix and do the last part of the kneading by hand. However, I don't own a bread machine, to me, it does something (weird) to the texture of bread and there's no control over the texture of the crust. It's just not the same. So don't go asking me about adapting any of my recipes for bread machines...I haven't a clue. But here, I'll give you the basic recipe for yeast bread, basic steps and basic what-to-knows about bread making. If you're new to bread baking, this is an excellent start. Get this under your belt and the possibilities are endless. It may take you a couple of times to get the "feel" for it, but believe me, it's well worth the effort!
2 ¼ C Very warm water (110-115 degrees F)
2 pkgs ( 4 ½ tsp) Active dry yeast
3 Tbsp Sugar (may omit sugar)
2 Tbsp Melted shortening, cooled
1 Tbsp Salt
5- 5 1/2 C Bread Flour
Shortening for greased bowl
First things first, I'm using active dry yeast granules (NOT fast rising). Also, always check the expiration date on the package or jar. Expired (dead) yeast = bricks. Next thing to remember is always prepare, mix and allow the yeast bread to rise in a warm (moist) environment. So, I fill the mixer bowl all the way up with very warm tap water and let it sit in the sink to warm up while I gather the ingredients. I measure out the shortening and melt it in the microwave (takes less than 30 sec), set that aside to cool slightly. I generously grease a glass bowl and set that aside. Then, I dump the water out of the mixer bowl and replace it with the (measured) 2 1/4 Cups of very warm tap water. It needs to be degrees105-110 Fahrenheit. Too hot and it will kill the yeast, too cold and the yeast won't activate and the dough won't rise. So yeah, if you have to, use an instant read thermometer for the first couple of times, until you get a feel for the right temp.
The dough will "twist" and may even climb up the dough hook, just continue on speed 2 for a couple of minutes. Meanwhile, I usually set a full glass measuring cup filled with water in the microwave. Heat it up for at least 10 minutes on high. Do not open the door of the microwave. (This is where the dough will rise so you want the steam and warmth to build up).
If you are mixing and kneading by hand, push the dough with the heal of your hands, moving forward and outward, fold it over and push again. Sprinkle on more flour and continue the process until the dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticky.
Once they have risen and are doubled in size, score the tops with a very sharp knife, serrated knife, or razor blade. This scoring of the top will help the loaves to maintain their shape when the bread rises even further in the hot oven. Use a gentle light tough when scoring and brushing, you don't want them to fall. (Alternatively, you can go ahead and score them before they start to rise) Next, brush lightly with melted butter or, for a deeper color, brush with one egg white that has been beaten with 1 Tbsp of water. This will also make for a crispier crust.
If you are doing traditional style loaves, use the same method as above only make the rectangles smaller and shorter (and thicker) to accommodate the size of the pans. You want them just slightly smaller in fact, so that they have room in the pan for the second rise. Pinch the seams the same, place into the loaf pans, and cover with a towel to rise.
Place the loaves on the middle-to-lower shelf of the oven. (the loaf tops should be right at the middle of the oven) Do not open the oven door until the loaves are almost done. You want the oven to maintain the hot temperature in order for the bread to rise and brown properly. Bake until a medium or dark golden brown and when you tap the loaf, it sounds hollow. If you're not sure and want a more accurate method for determining if they're done, you can use an instant read thermometer. Just stick it into an end or bottom of the loaf and it should read 190-200F.
For traditional loaves (in pans), this could take up to 40-45 min. For long french loaves, like I did here, maybe 20-25 minutes. Smaller dinner rolls, will of course, take even less time, maybe 10-15 minutes. Just keep in mind that every oven is different and so times will vary. Also avoid opening the door of the oven until maybe the last 5 minutes or so. Every time you open that door, you loose about 10-15 degrees of heat....and bread needs a HOT oven in order to be truly successful.
So there ya go, soft, light, fluffy, tender crusted, angelic white bread. Mmm mmm mmm. I know it seems like a lot of steps, but really, it isn't that difficult once you get the hang of it. I will be adding more variations for this recipe along with other recipes for all types of other breads soon, so please check back!