I like to bake.
For many years, I stuck to simple recipes that didn't involve yeast and all its attendant complications. I admit it - an organism the size of a grain of sand intimidated me. I always adored fresh bread, though, and wished I could learn to make it...if only there wasn't that pesky yeast.
I wasn't alone...I know plenty of people who won't even risk a bread machine. Shoot, I know a couple of folks who won't even buy those frozen loaves of dough you just put in the oven.
I finally got past my aversion to cooking with yeast when I really, really wanted to make cinnamon rolls from scratch rather than from a tube. The recipes called for yeast. Oh, dear. Well...I did it. And then I did it again. And then I decided that I could brave the big one...bread.
Basic bread is simple, smells amazing, and when eaten warm from the oven with butter melting over it, drizzled with honey, and sprinkled with cinnamon? Pure gustatory bliss.
Give it a try - you won't be sorry!
Up to 6 cups flour (I use White Lilly unbleached bread flour, but regular all purpose will work fine, too)
2 envelopes active dry yeast
2 Tablespoons shortening
3 Tablespoons sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
2 cups very warm water (I add 1 cup boiling water to 1 cup chilled water taken from the refrigerator dispenser) no hotter than 110 degrees F
1/4 cup melted butter
Before you start, lightly oil a large bowl and set it aside. Line a large cookie sheet with Release foil or brush it liberally with melted butter and set it aside.
In a bowl (I use my mixer, but you can use your hands if you like), layer 1 cup flour, shortening, another cup flour, yeast, another cup flour, and the salt and sugar. Mix them until they look a bit like meal, or basically until the shortening is somewhat evenly distributed in the flour mixture.
Slowly pour in the water while mixing on low speed.
Now...aside from not killing the yeast with -too hot water, or not reviving the yeast with too-cold water, adding the right amount of flour is the trickiest part of bread making. And it's not that tricky. At this point, you are almost done. The dough will likely be crawling up the hook or forming something sort of ball shaped in the bowl. Give it a touch. Go one, I'll wait.
Yep...it's warm and springy and probably still a little sticky at this point. You've made a living thing. Cool, huh?
If you touch the dough and it sticks to your finger...
Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, three to five minutes.
Form the dough into a ball and place it in the oiled bowl. Roll it around and make sure the entire surface of the ball is oiled. You don't want it drying out!
Rising bread is an alchemical wonder.
For the love of all that's holy, leave the poor thing alone for at least forty minutes, or until it has doubled in size. This is where the yeast gets really busy doing its yeasty thing, which will in turn help make your bread light, smooth, and lovely.
Using your finger tips, divide the dough in half. It will de-poof during this process, but don't worry...it'll all come out right in the end.
...go find something to do for another forty minutes while they rise to the occasion. They should double in size again.
Heat the oven to 425 F. You can pop them right into the oven, or you can inscribe a design on the surface of the loaves with a very sharp, smooth-edged knife. I usually make a star design.
Hey, look, they're kissing loaves! When they touch like that, I call 'em "kissing loaves" because it looks like they're kissing, duh. Don't worry of yours do this - it won't hurt anything.