UPDATE: This post was originally for white bread - delicious, simple, vegan white bread.
Then Bacon entered the picture, double smoked slab Bacon specifically, caused a ruckus and well, I had to update the post. The instructions haven't changed that much, just note the part where you lace the dough with Bacon. Veggie and vegan friends - my apologies, just ignore the meat. I was weak and heeded the siren call of...BACON!
I used to be intimidated by bread. Never mind my attempt to avoid carbs - the very thought of baking bread made me think I'd rather walk through a blizzard to buy a slice than try to bake a loaf at home. So over the last couple of weeks I've spent time talking myself into getting over it and trying to bake a loaf.
As a kid I used to go to Deb's house where her mom Susan would make these loafs of bread and we kids would tear into them before they'd even cooled, slathering them with butter and enjoying all the yeasty warm goodness! I'll forever associate the smell of bread baking with Susan Alan!
But I thought there was no way I could pull it off...what the hell was I afraid of???? Determined to conquer my fear I set off. So to speak.
I did some research, and looked at about a dozen different recipes trying to learn what the major tips and tricks were and to find a recipe I could deal with, and I cobbled together the bits. Things like make sure the room is warm when the bread is rising, make it rise twice, use cooking spray instead of flour to keep the dough from sticking when you knead it, stuff like that. Plus I had to find a way to make a loaf of bread without the much coveted Kitchen aid stand mixer. I live in NY, I have a NY kitchen, I don't have anywhere to put one of those no matter how bad I want one. And I DO want one.
So I had to work this out manually - and it was so much easier than I thought! The result is a loaf of bread that's dense and chewy but still fluffy with a slight salty sweetness and a heady yeast aroma... hard not to eat the whole loaf at once...Oh and now there's Bacon.
Stuff you need (in two parts, makes two loaves):
- 1 packet of active dry yeast (1.5 tablespoons)
- 1/4 cup of white sugar
- 2 1/2 cups of bread flour
- 3 cups of very warm water (I used hot water from the tap)
- 1/2 cup All Purpose flour (I actually used a quarter cup, plus a quarter cup of wheat flour just because I had it around the house. And it made me feel like I was somehow making this bread healthier. Dumb, I know.)
- 1/2 cup canola oil
- 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon salt (skip the teaspoon if you're making the bacon version)
- 5 additional cups of bread flour (possibly 4, but have 5 ready)
- Half a cup of bacon, cooked and diced - I use Schaller and Weber double smoked because that's what's available to me but there are some spectacular shops out there that turn out heavenly bacon...
- Non-stick cooking spray (like Pam)
In a big bowl, combine the yeast, white sugar, 2.5 cups of flour and three cups of warm water and whisk vigorously until smooth - like pancake batter - about two minutes.
Now add the half cup of AP flour, the canola oil, and the salt. Whisk again, till fully incorporated.
Now you're going to start to add the bread flour - I've made this bread several times, and it was 5 cups each time. Add the flour one cup at a time making sure to incorporate it completely before adding another.
I switched to a spatula at this point to make mixing easier, then after about the third cup of flour, I just dove in with my hands as the dough starts to form and is easier to manipulate by hand. Somewhere between the fourth and fifth cup of flour, you'll find the dough starts to form a ball and pull away from the bowl entirely. Keep going mixing and kneading until the dough forms a smooth ball.
Once you've got all the flour incorporated, keep kneading for a couple of minutes (like 5 to 10 min) until you've got a slightly tacky but not sticky ball of dough.
Put this dough into a well greased bowl and cover with a damp cloth. The dough will rise better if it's in a warm spot with no drafts. My apartment was freezing this morning so I turned the stove on and put the bowl on the stove top near the vents with great results! Now let it rise to about double it's size - it should take anywhere from 45 to 90 min depending on the temp of the room, and the humidity. You'll know it's risen as far as it's going to go by poking it - when it's completely risen the place you poke will remain indented.
Cook the bacon while you're waiting for the dough to rise if you haven't already, drain on paper towels and set aside.
When the dough has risen, you need to punch it down once and prepare it for a second rise. Just stick your hand in the middle (weirdest sensation), and push the dough down.
Turn it out onto a surface sprayed with non stick spray (counterless Chi, used a greased cookie sheet) and divide the dough into two equal parts (my halves are nearly always off) and prepare two loaf pans by spraying with non stick spray. Starting with one half of the dough, roll it out to about half an inch thick, cut that sheet into three parts and braid it together for an interesting finish on the bread.
If you're adding bacon, take one of the three parts of the braid, and flatten it a bit more - lay the bacon in the center of the strip, and pinch it closed. Braid the bacon filled rope with the other two sections.
Place each batch into your loaf pans and cover with a damp cloth for a second rise - about 30 min - until the bread reaches just the edge of the pan.
Pre-heat your oven to 350 - 375 and bake on the center rack until the top is golden brown (usually between 28 and 35 min, ovens vary). Remove from the oven and pop loaves out onto a cooling rack.
Cut off a slice and see if you can resist eating the whole loaf...
Top with tomato and avocado and a smear of home made mayo (I didn't have lettuce) for a B.A.T. featuring built in Bacon!
Or slice and slather with a batch of home made butter!!
If your bread lasts a day or more, cut thick slices dip them in a batter of milk, eggs and sugar and make them into salty sweet French toast!
There's really no going wrong with this...There, de-mystified bread! Bacon'ed up - even better!