Monday, August 2, 2010

Buttermilk honey bread


Don't panic! Wait, come back!

Seriously, I don't know why people freak out so much about making bread. Homemade tastes a million times better than anything you can buy at the grocery store, and while it's harder to make it than to shell out a buck and change, it's totally worth it and not that hard.

Really, there are two main tricky points when it comes to making bread. First is yeast. They're scary little beasties when you don't know what you're doing with them. But they're less scary when you have a thermometer (meat, candy, whatever, anything that can take the temperature of a liquid that you're going to put in food). Just get your liquid, whatever the recipe says to use, measure it out and pop it in the microwave for maybe 20-30 seconds. Then, stir it around with the thermometer a bit, then read the thermometer. You want 105-115 degrees. If it's 120 or so, that's still alright, 'cause it'll cool down a few degrees while you're grabbing the rest of what you need: yeast, first of all (usually active dry, in the little pouches), and sugar, 'cause sugar is yeast food, and if you don't feed them, they won't do anything.

Right, so, warm water or milk, check. Sugar, however much the recipe tells you to use (usually from a pinch to a teaspoon), grab that, sprinkle it into the bowl. Yeast, open the little pouch (or however many pouches/teaspoons the recipe calls for) and sprinkle that in the bowl, too. Grab a spoon and stir it all around a little bit. A few little yeasties will probably stick to the spoon, but that's alright, no big deal. Now, back away. Go do something else for about 10 minutes. The best thing to do is probably to get together the liquid ingredients for your bread, whatever else is supposed to be mixed with the yeast.

Ten minutes later, it should be all foamy, like this:

Proofed yeast

If it isn't foamy, throw it out, get some new yeast and start over -- yeast does go bad sitting in your cupboard, and yours probably has.

The other tricky part about making bread is actually having the time to do it. Bread recipes take a long time, 'cause the dough must be left to rise at least once, if not two of three times, depending on the recipe. Don't skimp on the rising time -- it does a lot for the bread's flavor. Do, however, read the recipe before you start to make sure you have enough time to get it done.

This recipe makes a very neutral-flavored, all-purpose sort of bread. If you want a yeastier, more rustic flavor, there are plenty of more traditional recipes out there, most of them without buttermilk.

Buttermilk Honey Bread
From The Bread Bible
3/4 c warm water
1 tbsp (one packet) active dry yeast
1 tsp sugar

1 1/2 c buttermilk
1 tbsp butter
3 tbsp honey
1 tbsp salt
6 c flour, either all-purpose or bread flour

1 egg
1 tbsp milk

1. Proof the yeast: Pour warm water into a bowl, add sugar and yeast, stir, let stand 10 minutes.
2. Put the butter in a large bowl and melt it in the microwave. Immediately add the buttermilk and whisk to combine. Stir in the honey, then the salt.
3. Mix in the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until combined.
4. Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead about 5 minutes, until it comes together into a smooth, uniform ball.
5. Place dough in a greased bowl, turning it once to coat both sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in size, about an hour or so.
6. Punch down the dough (you don't have to actually punch it, but if you have aggression to get out, go ahead). Turn it out onto a floured surface and divide it into two portions, forming each into a loaf shape. Put each into a greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise again 30-45 minutes or until doubled.
7. Whisk together the egg and milk and brush over the tops of the loaves. Bake at 375 for about 45 minutes, until loaves are nicely brown, pull away from the sides of the pans a bit and sound hollow when tapped with your finger. De-pan and cool on racks.

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