Making bread is slow, but easy. It offers something greater than just good food.
In the morning my daughter grabs the wooden spoon and mixes up flour, yeast, water, and salt in a heavy, eggshell-white mixing bowl. She struggles not to flick flour out of the bowl to all edges of the counter, or more likely, she’s not even trying. Then we wait.
Before noon, the mixture has doubled in size. It’s time for her favorite part! She gets to punch it down. Her tiny hands press the dough until the air is gone. She goes to play; I shape the dough into a loaf, set up the oven, and wait some more. Almost an hour passes before the bread goes in the oven. She likes to watch it bake—for a few minutes, at least.
From the time we mix the dough until the bread is cooling on the table waiting to be sliced—about 4 hours later—she’s buzzing with low-level excitement . She’s not bouncing off the walls, but it’s obvious she’s looking forward to that first slice. When she sits down at the table and takes a bite, she’s satisfied.
She knows already that some things are worth putting time into, and she knows how fun it is to eat and share food that we worked hard to prepare. We cook every day, getting a little better each time.
Baking bread teaches these lessons easily. Bread is simple to make. Really. The only catch is the hundreds of variations and minor improvements that could become an obsession.
To make a basic loaf, you’ll need only flour, salt, yeast, and water. Mix it up, wait, knock it down, form it, wait a bit more, bake.
- 3 cups flour
- 2 teaspoons of instant or active-dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 cup + 2 tablespoons water
- Mix together the flour, yeast and salt. Stir in water until the dough comes together in a ball.
- Dust counter with flour to prevent sticking, and lay the dough ball out on the flour.
- Knead the dough for 10-12 minutes. Use the palm of your hand to stretch the dough out flat, give it a quarter turn, fold it onto itself, and stretch it out again. Try to do this without ripping the dough. Sprinkle more flour on the dough or the counter to prevent too much sticking.
- Form the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl covered with plastic. Let sit until doubled in size; about two hours.
- Gently punch down the dough, pushing out all the gasses that have made it rise. Form it into the shape you want to bake (a log or ball work well) and place onto a sheet of parchment paper. Dust it with flour (prevents sticking to the towel) and place a towel over it.
- Preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Use a pizza stone if you have one.
- Wait for the dough to double in size, 30-60 minutes this time.
- Using the sharpest knife you have—a razor blade is best—slash the top of the loaf either once the long way or several the short way. These slashes allow the loaf to grow in the oven without bursting.
- Bake for 40-50 minutes. The loaf should sound very hollow when you tap on the bottom. The best method to check for doneness is to use a thermometer and pull out the loaf when it reaches 210 degrees Fahrenheit.
Images courtesy of the author.