Thursday, May 16, 2013
I really don’t remember a time when I wasn’t helping in the kitchen – peeling, chopping, mixing … or standing on a kitchen chair in front of the stove melting butter for popcorn.
Growing up, we lived in a tiny apartment, so I was never far from the kitchen. Even if I wasn’t paying attention, my mother was nearby, chopping, stirring, seasoning, and serving. She seldom used recipes – everything was done by taste, and that’s how I learned to cook. I can’t really say that she taught me how to cook – it was more like I absorbed it from being around it all the time.
I have to say that I was completely surprised when I found
out that people used recipes for things like soup or turkey stuffing or meatloaf. I thought everyone cooked like my mother did, and that recipes were for things like making pickles.
My mother didn’t do much baking, but once I left the maternal nest, I fell in love with baking bread. There’s something magical about the way a mixture that’s mostly flour and water can start off so lumpy and ragged and sticky, but end up smooth and stretchy and bouncy.
When I first started making bread, I used recipes. But I found that most bread recipes made two -- or sometimes even three -- loaves of bread. It never made sense to me to make two loaves at a time, so I started modifying recipes to make a single loaf. Then I started experimenting with different flours and crazy ingredients. And when I started my blog, Cookistry, I posted a lot of bread recipes.
I don’t know if I actually have one signature bread recipe, but I have one that is the template for many of my breads. I swap flours, change the type of sugar or fat, or change the shape of the bread because I know the basic recipe is so reliable. This bread recipe is nearly foolproof, and it works with a variety of different kneading methods, from hand kneading to machine kneading to no-kneading. I also use this same recipe in my bread machine, but with less yeast.
1 cup lukewarm water
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
1 Tablespoon sugar
11 1/4 ounces (2 1/2 cups) bread flour
1 Tablespoon olive oil
1 teaspoon salt
Combine the water, yeast, and sugar in the bowl of your stand mixer, let it sit for a minute or two, then add the flour. Knead with the dough hook until the dough is smooth. Add the salt and olive oil and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest until it doubles in size, about an hour.
Flour your work surface and turn out the dough. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Knead the dough just enough to knock out the air, then form it as desired. This will make 1 loaf or 12 buns, and you can make the loaf free-form or use a bread pan.
Cover with plastic wrap and set aside until it has doubled in size, about 30 minutes.
Uncover the bread (or buns). If you made a loaf, slash it as desired.
Bake at 350 degrees until the dough is nicely browned, about 30 minutes.
Let the loaf (or buns) cool on a rack.