I’ve been experimenting with bread lately, having fun making olive bread, asiago cheese bread, and other variants.
Here’s my basic bread recipe.
Warm water: Use approximately 3/4 to one cup per loaf desired.
Yeast (for lighter bread, use two packets).
Salt. I usually use about 1/4 teaspoon.
Sweetener (to feed the yeast): Cane sugar or brown sugar. Depending on the desired sweetness, use one to two tablespoons per loaf; use more brown sugar than you would white sugar.
Flour: Unbleached white flour with either white whole wheat flour (it’s made from a different strain of wheat from the whole wheat flour we are used to) or rye flour.
Honey wheat bread: Substitute 1/4 to 1/2 cup honey per loaf for the sugar before adding the flour.
Olive bread: About 3/8 cup or more chopped or sliced green olives or “salad” olives plus the juice before adding the flour. (I save olive jars when the olives are gone so I can use the juice); supplement with black olive slices if desired. Pimento-stuffed olives are fine.
Asiago bread: About 1/2 cup or more shredded cheese per loaf before adding the flour. May substitute or blend grated Romano and Parmesan (avoid the pulverized kind that comes in a shaker).
Garlic bread: About three to four tablespoons of minced garlic per loaf. Avoid the hard, dried minced garlic from your spice rack; prefer the minced garlic that comes in a tube or jar; supplement with garlic powder for extra oomf. Alternately, peel and sauté one bunch of garlic, cutting the cloves into large chunks, and mince and sauté one clove per loaf in butter or olive oil and add the whole mixture, including butter or oil, before adding the flour.
Onion bread: About a quarter cup of onion flakes per loaf before adding the flour; supplement with onion powder. May also used fresh chopped sautéed onions.
Mix water, salt, sugar or honey, and yeast in a bowl. Allow yeast to proof for five to ten minutes or until bubbles form on the surface. Add the flavoring (caraway seeds, olives and juice, cheese, etc.) at this point so it disperses evenly throughout the dough.
Stir in flour about one cup at a time until dough reaches the desired consistency, smooth and knead-able and no longer sticky (you will recognize it when you feel it). I normally use a mix of 1/2 unbleached white flour and the remainder white whole wheat flour or rye flour. (I haven’t tried olive or asiago rye yet.)
Turn out on a floured board and knead until it feels right, twenty or thirty times (putting some flour on your hands makes it easier). Form it into a ball.
Pour a little oil (olive oil preferred) into a clean bowl and rotate the ball of dough in it until it’s coated on all sides; wipe excess oil with a paper towel.
Cover the bowl, place it in a warm place, and allow the dough to rise until it’s doubled in size, commonly 90 minutes to two hours, depending on the temperature and humidity–longer if lighter bread is preferred. Don’t worry about it rising too much; rising too little is the danger. (A gas oven with a pilot light is an ideal rising place.)
Punch down the risen dough on the floured board, shape it into loaves and place the loaves in lightly greased loaf pans or on a lightly greased cookie sheet (I use olive or vegetable oil). If you wish, press caraway seeds, minced garlic, or onion flakes into the tops of the loaves. Allow loaves to rise until doubled in size.
Score the top of each loaf diagonally three or four times and place in an oven preheated to 400 degrees for approximately half an hour or until a knife inserted into a loaf comes out clean.
For extra-crustiness, place a pan full of boiling water on an oven rack below the bread and brush the tops of the loaves three or four times while baking.
Do not seal the bread in any kind of packaging for at least 24 hours. Afterwards, keep it refrigerated (remember, no preservatives); freeze extra loaves and disdain anyone who says you can’t freeze bread.
The first step takes about 20 minutes. The second takes about 10.
The dishes and utensils are easiest to wash if you wash them immediately, before the dough dries on them.
Flour gets everywhere. Live with it.