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It may be because most of the country is on lock down right now … and you can only stare at the same four walls for so long … but I prefer to think that the reason “bread recipes with a bread machine” is a hot topic right now is that people are just taking more interest in bread making. Either way, it’s wonderful to think of all the new bread makers out there. You’re going to love it — and you’re going to feel a nice and unexpected connection to the past — back to when bread making wasn’t just a fun hobby, but a daily necessity.
That’s how I felt when I first held this 3000 year-old bread stamp in my hand. I had spotted it in an antiquities shop while touring Israel, and after handing it to me, the shop dealer told me what it was and how it was used. I couldn’t leave it behind, so I didn’t. It’s now one of my most treasured possessions. I love the feel of the smooth limestone, and the tiny birds etched across the front. And I love the kinship I feel with its previous owner. I can envision that long-ago woman kneading dough from a long-ago bread recipe, forming it into shape, then pressing this small stone into the center of the loaf to mark it as her own. Later, after the loaf had risen enough, she’d walk it to the community oven, where she’d chat with all the other bread makers as they waited for their daily bread.
On some days I’m glad I have my own oven in my own kitchen; on others, I think a community oven where I could gather with my friends would be a pretty awesome thing. But, hey, at least we can gather on the internet, right?
Bread really is a connection to our roots. Maybe your mother didn’t bake bread from scratch, and maybe your grandmother didn’t either. But it’s a pretty good bet that all your other relatives who came before did. That’s because commercially sliced bread wasn’t invented until July 6, 1928. People were a little bewildered by this newfangled loaf, and skeptical. But they obviously changed their minds at some point, or we wouldn’t be running around declaring things to be, “the best thing since sliced bread.”
When you look at the simple, short list of ingredients that go into most bread recipes, it’s really a little odd that we’re all so crazy about it. Of course, it tastes wonderful. But is it just the taste? I don’t think so. I think we love the process of baking bread—and the expression behind it—as much as the final product. Bread making is part science, part magic. It’s the exchange of time and energy for anticipation and satisfaction. It’s a whisper to yourself, as you’re pushing that living mound forward and backward, under and over, that says, “You’re an artist.” It’s grace and love and therapy, all wrapped up in a glob of dough.
But enough gushing. Maybe we should just make some. If you’ve never made bread before and you’re a little nervous about the prospect, please don’t be. You’re going to feel so proud of yourself when you pull that first loaf from your bread maker (or oven, if you choose to go that route. I’ve also adapted the basic recipe below for making with a mixer and for making by hand so you have all three choices). And you’ll likely be hooked forever. Basic white bread is a gateway loaf; once you’ve baked the first, you’ll be on to the second. That’s both a warning and a promise.
A Word about Bread Machines
First things first: let’s talk about those bread machines. Sometimes people feel that using a bread machine is cheating, as if by using an appliance you can’t really say you’ve “made bread.” That’s just silly. Let’s not share any of our fresh bread with those people. By that same logic, they would also have to say that you haven’t really washed your dishes if you used a dishwasher instead of your hands. And we know that’s not true.
I do make bread by hand often, because I love the whole tactile experience of making and kneading bread dough. But life does not always allow me that luxury. So more often than not, I pull the bread machine down from the high shelf above my washer and dryer, toss the ingredients in the pan in the order listed, press a few buttons, and walk away — to my garden, or my laptop, or to chase my grandkids around the yard. The beauty of a bread machine is that you get to have the best of both worlds: fresh bread and a little more time on your hands. No shame there — we’re all busy people.
One of the big plusses with a bread machine is that you can program it to the “dough” function and use it to do the heavy-lifting of bread making (the mixing and kneading). After the first rise, the machine will beep and you can then take out the dough, punch it down (which really means to gently deflate … why did they have to throw the word “punch” in there?), form it however you wish — bread, dinner rolls, pizza crust, bread sticks, or cinnamon rolls — and let it do the final rise. I use this function more than any other.
I still have the Breadman Bread Machine I got for Christmas a good twenty years ago. It’s still working just fine for me, but if it every goes belly up, I’ll get another. They’re so much more compact now, and prettier, too. This one looks pretty straightforward. Whatever machine you buy will come with a book full of bread recipes. Try a new one each time and see which you like best.
Now let’s look at the ingredients used in basic bread making.
Bread Making Ingredients
At its very simplest, bread can be made with just flour and water (panpati) or flour, water and salt (chapati). But if you want fluffy, white, American-style bread, you have to add a few more ingredients. Here’s what goes into the basic bread recipe for a bread machine that I’ll share below:
- Water: if it’s water you would drink, it’s water you can use to bake bread
- Yeast: You have two choices for this kind of bread: active and instant (also called quick rise). Either works just fine; the difference is in how you blend it. Instant yeast can be mixed into cooler water, but active yeast needs warm water. For years and years, I always mixed my yeast with warm water, until I learned that in hot climates or hot weather, cool water is better for your bread. This is a great article discussing the hows and whys of that, but don’t get too bogged down in the math they present. The takeaway is: warm water in colder conditions; cooler water in hotter conditions.
- Sugar or honey: Once the water has activated the yeast, it needs to be fed by either sugar or honey. Either one will do. Honey will make the bread slightly sweeter, but it also protects the moisture in the bread and helps it keep longer. Although around my house, we’ve never had to worry about bread longevity.
- Salt: You know how you can sometimes skip or reduce salt in a recipe? This is not one of those times. Salt is as vital as any of the other ingredients because it strengthens the gluten structure, helps to slow fermentation, and adds flavor.
- Oil or butter: different recipes will call for one or the other, but either one will work. Short on butter? Save what you can for slathering on the bread and use oil in the recipe instead.
- Flour: Whereas you could swap out distilled water for well water, salt for sea salt, or regular yeast for quick yeast, and no one could tell the difference in your final product, flour is one ingredient that will change the flavor of your baked bread. Whole wheat flour will make denser bread and has a more “hearty” bread. Many people prefer that, but others feel that the more neutral taste of white bread makes it more versatile. My adult son is one of those. He’ll eat any kind of bread I make, but for peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, he’s pretty adamant that white bread is the only bread.
So What About the White Flour vs Whole Wheat Flour Debate?
As the owner of a grain mill and about 75 pounds of whole wheat berries (currently), you might expect a lecture from me on the evils of white flour. But I’m not here to lecture … I just want to encourage you to jump in to bread making. And the debate is truly that. Many people staunchly oppose white flour, but there’s a sudden push-back to that in the flour world (Is there such a thing? Let’s say there is.) Don’t let anyone make you feel bad about using all-purpose flour. It’s readily available and inexpensive. And just because you learn to make a loaf of white bread doesn’t mean you won’t make whole wheat bread down the road. You’re just getting started.
If you’re using a bread machine, you’ll need:
- the bread machine, obviously. 🙂 You can find these in just about every department store, or you can check them out on Amazon. Here’s one option, and here’s another. This one is more expensive than the first two, but it comes with 18 programmable options.
- measuring cups and measuring spoons. I have this exact combo, and I love it.
- a loaf pan. I’m a big fan of stoneware, so I have three of these, but these are less expensive and will work just fine.
If you’re using a mixer, you’ll need:
- a mixer. I’ve been using a Bosch mixer for at least twenty years. It’s similar to to this.
I’ve also used my Kitchen Aid (although mine is old and not nearly as pretty as this red one). You can use just about any stand mixer as long as it has a dough hook attachment.
The Basic Bread Recipe and Step-By-Step Instructions
With a bread machine:
This is my go-to recipe for basic white bread. The instructions seems to go against the usual bread machine advice, which is to add the liquids last, but it turns out great every time.
1 cup warm water
2 TBSP sugar
2 1/2 tsp yeast (I prefer this yeast)
1/4 cup oil (I usually use olive oil)
3 cups flour
1 tsp salt
- In your bread machine pan, add water, yeast and sugar and leave it for ten minutes to let the yeast begin to activate.
- Add oil, then flour and salt.
- Set your bread machine on the “White Bread, 2 pounds” option.
*A word about salt: regardless of what a recipe tells you, don’t ever add it directly to the yeast. Salt will kill yeast unless it’s mixed into flour and/or added last.
**A word about yeast: buying it by the pound is much more economical than buying it in those tiny packets, but if you want to start out with a three-pack, that’s fine. When you run out, though, you’ll probably want to buy a jar or bag.
Using a mixer:
Using the same ingredients above, follow these steps:
- In the bowl of your stand mixer, add the yeast, sugar and water (unless you’re in a very hot climate or it’s a very hot day, make this water warm but NOT hot. You should be able to drop a bit on your wrist and not feel discomfort. Water that is too hot will kill the yeast, so it’s always better to err on the cooler side.)
- Using the paddle attachment, stir up that mixture and leave it alone for 10-15 minutes. During this time, the yeast will activate and begin to feed on the sugar. You should begin to see small bubbles forming across the top, which tells you that your yeast is alive. If bubbles don’t form even after ten minutes, your yeast is probably not viable. Of course, if you’re using a ten-year old packet of yeast you bought and forgot, it’s more than likely dead, I’m sorry to tell you.
- Once you can tell your yeast is active, stir in the oil, then add 2 1/2 cups of the flour and the salt. Mix well.
- Switch to the dough hook, turn the machine on, and slowly add flour (up to that last 1/2 cup) until the dough forms a ball and begins to clean the sides of the bowl. You don’t want any more flour than what it takes to get there. Since temperature and humidity affect bread, you may have to add an additional small amount of flour to get it to that stage, but resist adding any more than that.
- Still using the dough hook, knead the dough for 6-8 minutes, or until the dough is elastic and stretchy. If you try to pull some out and it breaks away from the dough mass immediately, it isn’t kneaded enough.
- Once it’s kneaded enough, remove the dough hook, cover the mixer bowl with oil-sprayed plastic wrap (to prevent the dough from sticking to the wrap), and place in a warm place away from drafts. If your oven has a bread proofing feature (which will only turn the oven on to 100 degrees), use that. Or you can put the mixer bowl in the oven and turn on the light. That will also heat it up a bit. Leave the dough to rise until it has almost doubled in size. This will take at least 30 minutes, but could take a bit longer. This is a great time to put away all the ingredients you just got out, and to make sure you’ve taken a stick of butter out of the fridge to soften.
- Remove bowl from oven (if that’s where you placed it) and punch down the dough. Again, we’re not giving it a whupping — we’re just gently deflating it.
- On a cleaned and lightly floured surface, pour out the dough and smooth it into a loaf shape. Place it in a greased loaf pan*, cover it again with the oil-sprayed plastic wrap, and let it rise again until nearly doubled. This second rise, which we call “proofing,” makes a big difference in both the flavor and texture of the bread, as it gives the bread more volume and mellows the yeast a bit.
- While the bread is proofing, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
- When the bread is ready for baking, carefully remove the plastic wrap and place in the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes (check at 25 since some ovens bake faster).
- When the crust is firm and dry and the loaf is deep golden brown color, it’s done. Take pan out and remove the bread from the pan to a cooling rack immediately, otherwise the bottom of the loaf can get soggy.
Making Without a Bread Maker or Mixer:
Use the same ingredients and steps as above, except you’ll do all the mixing and kneading by hand. When kneading, resist the urge to use too much flour. A little is fine, but it’s better to oil your hands than to keep adding flour, which can make your bread too heavy and dense.
It will take you a good 10-12 minutes to knead by hand. Here’s a short video I made to show you the basic kneading movement, plus an easy way to form this dough into dinner rolls. My granddaughter, Maddy, played the part of Rosie the Riveter. 🙂
And that’s it! You’ve made your first loaf of bread! Congratulations, you bread maker you.
This and That (Tips, Tricks and Suggestions)
- *If you’re using a nonstick loaf pan, be sure to grease it with butter or oil you’ve applied with a paper towel. Do NOT use spray oil on those pans, as something in the spray can ruin the finish on the pans
- This recipe calls for 2 1/2 teaspoons of yeast, but packets contain 2 1/4 teaspoons, so you’ll need to use part of a second packet if you’re using those. Yet another good reason to buy it in bulk!
- Since you’re already making a mess, regardless of which method you use, why not get the most bang for your buck? Double or triple the recipe, bake one loaf, and freeze the other two. To do this: form the bread into loaves, wrap tightly in oil-sprayed plastic wrap, place in a disposable loaf pan, cover pan with foil, and freeze for up to three months. When you’re ready to bake, move from the freezer to the fridge, remove from the plastic wrap (you’ll use that to drape over the pan itself) and let thaw overnight, or place on your kitchen counter in the morning and it will be ready to bake for dinner.
- If you can’t (or don’t want to) eat the whole loaf within three days, slice half of it and freeze it as described above. You can actually pull out individual slices and toast them straight from the freezer.
- You can use this dough for all sorts of baked delights: pizza crust, cinnamon rolls, bread sticks, focaccia, or dinner rolls. And if you’d like to branch out and experiment with different dinner roll recipes, here are two that my family loves: Always Perfect Dinner Rolls and Easy, Fluffy, Greek Yogurt and Honey Dinner Rolls.
- Consider this a master recipe. You can bake and eat it just as it is and it will be delicious, but you could also add in a tablespoon of dried herbs (Italian is nice), or a mixture of grated cheddar cheese and chopped chives (1/2 cup shredded cheddar and 1/4 cup finely minced chives), or that same amount of cheese and 1/4 cup of diced jalapenos. I’m sure you can come up with even more creative mix-ins. If you do, please come back and share!
Along that same line, I would really love to see your first finished loaf. If you can, would you come back and share a photo of your beautiful bread?
Enjoy your new skill! I hope you’re thoroughly smitten with this bread recipe for a bread machine, and that this is just the beginning of a long line of freshly baked bread — right from your own two hands.