So many people email and tell me that they're "so scared" of making yeasted breads. They swear that there's something wrong with them and that they just can't get yeast to work. Their breads come out too dense, they don't rise, or they come out flavorless.
Sunday How-To to the rescue!
This tutorial is for making bread with a stand mixer, though it's completely doable by hand. I'll put those directions in too, but the photos are for a mixer.
What you'll need:
1 cup White flour, 2 cups wheat flour, 4 tablespoons butter (melted) or other oil, 1/4 cup honey or other sugar
1 packet (or 2 1/4 teaspoons) active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups water
2 teaspoons Salt
Steps 1-4 are the same for a stand mixer or by hand.
Step 1: Proof the yeast
Pour 1 cup of barely warm water in your mixing bowl. Common error #1: using too hot water to proof the yeast. Anything warmer than 110°F will kill your yeast causing your bread to not rise. If you're worried about temperature, the water should feel just slightly warm to the touch. If you're really worried, err on the side of too cool, or use a thermometer.
Sprinkle the yeast on top and allow it to sit and get foamy for about 10 minutes. The foam action lets you know your yeast is alive!
Step 2: Add the sugar
ALL yeast needs sugar to feed on and cause the air that causes bread to rise. Sometimes, the sugar in the air or the flour is enough, but I like to speed up the process by adding a sugar. This time I used honey from my friend's bee hives. Whisk the sugar into the yeast and water mixture.
Step 3: Add the gluten
A key problem with many whole wheat breads is that whole wheat flour has less gluten than its white counterpart. That's why so many wheat breads come out so doughy! So, I go with a 2/3 wheat 1/3 white flour mixture, and i add the white flour first, then whisk it together into a creamy batter-like substance.
Now, before you start the next step, heat your oven to 200°F. Once it's heated, let it sit for about 10 minutes, then turn it off.
Step 4: Add the wheat flour
I add mine in two additions: one right before placing the bowl on the mixer. If you're doing this by hand, just slowly add it until you can't stir any more, then begin kneading.
Fit the bowl onto the mixer fitted with the dough hook, and mix until a very loose dough forms, about 3 minutes.
At this point, add the salt. Common error #2: Adding the salt too early. Salt kills the yeast, making bread not rise. Don't add your salt until there are a good amount of other ingredients in the dough. At this point, gradually add the butter or oil and the rest of the flour and mix until a stiffer dough forms, again about 3-4 minutes.
Step 5: Knead!
Knead your dough by hand or in the mixer until a smooth and not sticky ball forms. At this point, scoop it out of the mixer and transfer to a lightly oiled bowl. You may need to neaten up the ball before transferring.
Step 6: Rise!
This is where that weird oven thing comes in. Cover the bowl with the dough and place it in your turned off warm oven. This is just warm enough to facilitate good rising.
Allow to rise about 90 minutes, or until doubled.
Step 7: Shape
I wanted to make a loaf of bread suitable for sandwiches, but this bread can be shaped however you want. Keep in mind that smaller loaves will bake quicker. Remove the dough from the bowl, and shape as you see fit. The following photos will show how to form a loaf for a loaf pan.
Step 8: Rest!
Pre-heat the oven to 375°F. Place a pan of ice cubes on the bottom rack of the oven. This creates steam which creates a nice crust. While the oven is heating, your bread needs to rest. Common error #3: Baking bread too soon. Many people do not allow their bread dough to rest after forming it into its shape. The gluten needs to relax before baking which will cause a better rise in the oven.
Step 9: Bake and cool
Place the bread into the oven to bake for about 30 minutes. I like a nice dark crust on my wheat breads, so I let them bake closer to 40 minutes. Remove the bread from the oven and allow to cool completely before slicing. Common error #4: Slicing bread too soon. It's SO TEMPTING to slice bread straight out of the oven. But, especially with wheat bread, slicing it too soon causes the steam to escape too quickly, which in turn causes a doughy and dense final product.
SLICE and ENJOY!
Happy bread baking!