Finally! I finally did it! Not only did I knead and bake edible bread, but I did it without ripping any hair out of my skull! First there was the well-documented sourdough fiasco. Then less-than-stellar pizza dough. After that, a French baguette which looked like bread and tasted awesome, but stole away an entire Saturday afternoon. Everything that went wrong did so because I was a cocky moron. I failed to put in the same level of research effort that I normally do with any new undertaking. But now, I have finally learned something. And with this rosemary bread, I am vindicated.
Knowledge is power, bitches!
Here is the stuff I wish I knew before I ever got started:
1) If a recipe instructs you to mix in the yeast with warm water, you should probably use WARM water. NOT warm-ish tap water. Zapping the amount you need (sans yeast!) in the microwave for a minute is all it takes. This helps the yeast wake up and leads to a faster dough-rising. Now, just so we're clear about what happens to the yeast depending on the water. . . Room temp water = some bubbles. Warm water = super alive yeast that is so frothy it's crawling out of the bowl to try and eat your face.
2) Actually bring the dough together before kneading. I started while the dough was still shaggy. A couple days later, my knuckles and palms were in such agonizing pain that I thought I had magically developed arthritis. A dough has "come together" when it is one solid mass.
3) Know how to knead. I suggest looking up a video on YouTube. Like this one (although that lady is kind of cheating). Kneading goes something like this-- massage, stretch, fold, quarter-turn, and repeat until you want to kill yourself. I found that setting a timer for 10 minutes helped to ensure that I did not under-knead.
4) If the dough doesn't rise, YOU DID SOMETHING WRONG! Do not try to bake!! Go back and knead again.
5) Making bread is labor intensive, yo. Bringing the dough together is hard. Kneading is hard. Boston has been humid lately, so I end up with sweat dripping down my forehead. If I were a wimp and wanted to blow the money, I would definitely buy a standing mixer with fancy attachments to do all the work for me.
But I am not a wimp.
But I am not a wimp.
At the end of the day, learning how to bake bread is a trial-and-error process. But that's okay. Be fearless! Despite my evident frustration, it has been worth it. Besides the fact that homemade bread makes for a perfect drunk-munchy, it is way cheaper and less wasteful than store-bought stuff. A bag of flour is about the same price as a decent loaf of bread. I wonder how many loaves I could bake in my own kitchen from that ONE bag of flour. Five? Maybe seven? There's no plastic bag to throw away. You know and understand exactly what is in your bread. It probably won't get moldy because it will all be gone within a few days. Because you will want to eat it. Baking your own stuff makes you feel like a bad ass, too, like you could survive out on the prairie with nothing but a fire and a couple of pots. Anyway, I think you get my point. The pros outweigh the cons.
Rosemary Bread-- Adapted from Girl vs. Dough (she inspired me)
Yield: 2 medium-sized loaves
2.25 tsp active-dried yeast
2 tsp sugar
2.5 cups all purpose flour
1 tbsp olive oil
1.5 tbsp dried rosemary
2 tsp salt
Whisk together the yeast and sugar in 1/4 cup of WARM water (I did this in a mug using a fork). Set aside and allow to sit for 5 minutes until frothy and monster-like.
In a large mixing bowl, stir together the flour, salt, and rosemary. Make a well in the four mixture. Pour 3/4 cups of warm water, 1 tbsp of olive oil, and the yeast mixture into this well. Using a wooden spoon, fully incorporate the wet and dry ingredients until the dough comes together. Depending upon your arm strength, this can take anywhere from 5-10 minutes.
Place the dough onto a floured work surface. Knead for 10 minutes. Shape into a ball, grease it up a little, and place it back in the mixing bowl. Cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise for 1-1.5 hours or until doubled in size.
Return dough to floured work surface and gently press out the air. Divide in half. Slightly flatten each dough into a square, fold the corners into the center, and flip over to shape into a ball. Allow the dough-balls to rise on a greased (or lined with parchment paper) baking sheet for 1 hour.
Pre-heat oven to 400 F. Bake bread for 10-12 minutes. Brush (or drizzle) the bread with some olive and lightly sprinkle with salt and rosemary. Return to oven and bake another 10-12 minutes until bread is golden-brown.
Cool before slicing.