There is nothing to equal the aroma of bread wafting through the house when you come home after a long day, unless it’s eating a hot slice dripping with butter and honey. When I was a kid it was not rare, but always a treat. I learned to bake bread from my mom and still use her basic recipe. Bread making is an ART and you have to get a “feel” for it. The more often you practice your art, the better product you’ll turn out and you will discover techniques to make it your own. I still use the same basic recipe, but now I’m able to tweak it to make pizza dough and bread sticks; hamburger buns, whole grain breads, and even sweet rolls. My latest favorite is a vegetable bread that has gotten rave reviews from family and friends at a couple of pot luck socials lately.
Let me say that I bake at an elevation of 4,500 feet above sea level. I tried it in New York, once, and ended up with a loaf you couldn’t cut with a chainsaw. There is a lot of information about how to adjust a recipe to make it in a HIGHER altitude. There is very little (if any) that addresses the opposite situation. If you are attempting my recipes at an altitude below 3000 feet, you may want to take a look at this article: Baking at high altitude And then follow your own deductive reasoning to make it work for you. These are a couple of adjustments I’d point out to you:
- The article suggests that you use 1/3 less yeast for Denver, so I would assume that you could increase it about the same amount for sea level.
- In higher altitudes you have to be very careful not to over-proof your bread and to punch it down twice. In lower altitudes it may have to raise for a longer time, but maybe once is good enough. Just keep a good eye to see that it’s “double.”
- I imagine the amount of flour you use will need to be determined by practice. For me, the less flour I have to add while still really giving the gluten a workout, the better the bread turns out. But if your climate is humid, you may have more moisture in the flour to begin with and restricting the addition of flour may not be such an issue for you.
- For the oven temperature, again I am guessing that when they recommend that you lower the temperature 25 degrees, that you could bake at a higher temperature at a lower altitude.
In short: PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE. I don’t know anyone who would complain about too much homemade bread. If you want to keep the calories down in your own family, make a few points with your neighbors!
So, here goes! The basic recipe is this:
Mom’s Homemade Bread
Makes 4 or 5 loaves. (Half batch in parenthesis.)
- 5 (2 1/2) cups hot water from the tap (she actually used 4 cups water and a cup of cold milk. I omitted the milk awhile back.)
- 2 (1) Tbsp. salt
- 2 (1) Tbsp. sugar
- 2 (1) Tbsp. yeast (stir in some of the flour before you throw the yeast in, so you don’t kill it by too high a temperature.)
- 6 (3) Tbsp. oil
- 6 (3) Tbsp. honey
- Flour to right consistency. (I’d recommend starting with white flour only. I’ll cover tips and tricks for using whole grains in a later post.) Add it two cups at a time, stirring it in each time until it’s too stiff to stir with a spoon.
This is where most recipes tell you to turn it out onto a floured surface and knead the dough using the heels of your hands. DON’T DO IT! That’s where the dough becomes stiff and dry. Instead, sprinkle it with just enough flour to keep the dough from sticking to your knuckles, and work it right in the bowl.
At first it will appear a little wet and feel very spongy. Punch the flour down from the top and around the edges of the bowl, using it as a buffer until it’s incorporated enough to turn the edges of the dough under, then fold it up from the bottom to keep the texture consistent through the entire mass. Sprinkle the flour in smaller amounts as you work it rotating the bowl while you punch it with both hands toward the center until it gets silky smooth and elastic, but still very soft.
Allow to rise to double. Divide the dough and form into loaves by rolling dough inside itself and pinching the ends together. Place in greased (or oiled) pans, top side first, to coat with oil, then turn over. Allow to rise again–just so the peak is even with the top of the pan. It will continue to raise in the oven, so don’t overdo it before baking. Bake at 350°F for about 35 minutes.