If you possess a fear-of-yeast and have little to zero baking knowledge or bread baking experience, Simple Farmhouse Bread is a great basic recipe to start with. This bread is soft, tender and makes the perfect sandwich bread. My Grandma used to bake bread very similar to this in large round loaves or “boules”. She slashed the top and sent loaves home for us to devour. And that we did. This bread is fancy enough to serve at any dinner party yet, humble and old fashioned… the kind you’d have seen served with a home-style dinner at any farmhouse table.
The soft, tender crumb of this easy peasant-style country loaf makes it ideal for sandwiches, Panini, toast or eaten plainly with a smear of butter. You can also make this into long loaves for use in baking garlic bread.
The other day I had the chance to visit with her and we talked about this very bread. I came home and created this recipe the next day. She called me with her recipe that morning. As I wrote her recipe down, I stared at the rising loaves of my ‘off the top of my head’ recipe. I told her that I was trying to re-create the bread she had once made. As we went along, discussing each of our recipes and steps, we reveled at how comparable the recipes actually were. I think I inherited my love of yeast breads from her. We sure do have fun visiting about recipes and she has more cookbooks than I do! She understands my love of reading… cookbooks, like novels. Reading cookbooks has given me a significant amount of knowledge, especially cookbooks or baking books about breads.
Do not be afraid…
One common theme… breads are easy to bake, once the “Fear of Yeast” is conquered. And let me tell you… there’s nothing to be afraid of.
You will be successful in baking breads if you have the following:
1. Yeast that works. (AKA: you purchased it from a grocery store that hasn’t had it on the shelf since 1983.)
2. Patience (delicious bread takes time: mixing, rising, shaping, rise #2, baking, cooling)
3. Elbow grease (women of the frontier did not have Crossfit, Kosama, Farrell’s or even Jazzercise… roll up your sleeves and knead-that-bread!)
4. An oven that works. (Test its accuracy by purchasing an oven thermometer for $5 at the grocery store.)
5. Confidence. (If you can read, you can cook/bake. Just follow the directions and you will have success. I promise.)
6. Joy. (Wait, you don’t have to have this to make the bread… but once you offer homemade bread to your children/family/friends and they beg for more, you will feel the true joy of baking.)
If you make this bread… please let me know. (via Facebook or Twitter or in the comments below) Nothing makes me happier than friends and readers who contact me and say they are moved to bake more or spend time in the kitchen with their children. I love that. (Thanks Jennifer T. from MN, love to you!)
Whatever you do and wherever life takes you, baking bread is a life skill that people admire. Well, at least I do.
Here are step by step photos, but the full recipe and tips are at the end of the post.
Let’s Get Started:
First off, mix the ingredients (like the recipe below says). If you get them all in there and the water you add with the yeast is not too hot (water over 115 degrees kills yeast), you’ll have success. Don’t stress. Mix it all up until a shaggy mass forms. Now… knead by hand *8-10 min) or in a heavy duty stand mixer fitted with a dough hook (6-8 min on low).
Kneading… push out, pull back and fold in 1/2. Turn 1/4-turn and repeat… many, many times.
This is what the kneaded dough looks like. Pretty, smooth and elastic. Lightly oil the top with nonstick spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise for 60 minutes or so, in a warm place. (NEVER let your bread rise in an oven that is turned ON, even to a low temp. This environment is too warm and can pre-cook your bread making tough pieces, ew. Plus, part of the rising time is ‘flavor development time’. Don’t skimp on that!)
See the risen dough? I think I let it rise past the point of ‘double in bulk’. Oooops. Whatevs, it is no big deal. Trust me.
*Out of time?* Bread baking is a process, yes I know… and IF you are not at a good point to let your dough rise and then bake (AKA you don’t have an extra 1.5 hours to bake right now- punch the dough down and let it rise again for more flavor development OR you can punch down and refrigerate this dough in an airtight container for up to 3 days!) Resume the rest of the steps (shaping/rising/baking) with the refrigerated dough but know the 2nd rise will take longer because the yeast gets sleepy in the ‘fridge and will need longer to activate, rise and warm up.
If you have time… let’s do the 2nd rise and bake! Punch the dough down to de-gas. This releases the gasses pent up in the dough and the gluten you developed during the kneading process is redistributed, which is good. This will give your bread great structure and the ability to rise during baking. If you didn’t knead or do this punch down step, your bread would be a brick.
Divide the dough into two equal parts.
Shape the 2 portions into a ball. It is very important that you shape the ball accordingly. Pick the smooth side of the ball, that will be the top of the loaf. Take the edges of the loaf and pull them to the center (bottom) and seal them to the center. This is done to create surface tension on the outside of the loaf. This is called the ‘gluten cloak’ and it will make certain that your loaf will rise up and not out… meaning you’ll have a nice round loaf, not a flat disk.
Once you have the edges pulled to the center (bottom), flip over and cup your hands around the dough. Roll the dough vertically only, keeping the bottom of the loaf in contact of the counter at all times. This will help tighten the exterior of the loaf. Again, doing this to make sure you have a nice round loaf, not an extremely flat one.
Spray with nonstick spray, cover with plastic wrap. Place in a warm area for 60 minutes, or until bread has risen until double.
When bread has risen to be double the size it started as, remove plastic.
Combine egg and water for egg-wash.
Brush on loaf. The yolk gives great color and the white makes the final product shine. Lovely!
Ooooops I forgot to show you how to slash the loaves. Make 1/2″ cuts into the bread with a razor or an extremely sharp smooth bladed knife. This allows the bread to expand at the top, not through the bottom, where it is weaker from the area you gathered. This slashing is necessary. Bake loaves for 30 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven.
When done baking, loaves are golden and sound hollow when tapped. They can register from 190 to 200 degrees F on an instant read thermometer. I rely on my Thermapen.
Cool a bit… never cut hot bread. There is moisture in the bread that needs to properly evaporate. At least cool the bread to a ‘warm’ temperature. Then cut accordingly and butter…
There’s nothing better than that.
Simple Farmhouse Loaves
Makes 2 large loaves of soft white bread
Ingredients: 1/2 C warm water
2 packets or 4 ½ tsp yeast (I use instant/bread machine)
2 TBSP sugar
1 TBSP honey
1 ½ C warm water
1/2 C nonfat milk powder
2 tsp salt
1/4 C butter
6 C all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur brand)
Egg wash: 1 egg + 1 tsp water (to brush on risen loaves of dough prior to baking)
In a large mixing bowl add 1/2 C warm water, add yeast, sugar and honey. ‘Proof’ yeast until foamy (5-10 min). Add 1 ½ C warm water, nonfat milk powder, salt, eggs and butter. Whisk vigorously until combined. Add flour and fold into mixture until a shaggy mass forms. At this point continue by hand until a ball forms or immediately move to a heavy duty stand mixer to work dough until a smooth ball remains. (6-8 minutes on low speed). By hand, knead dough for 8-10 minutes, on a lightly floured work space until a smooth ball forms. Place in clean oiled bowl and lightly oil the top of dough. Cover bowl with plastic wrap, leave to rise in a warm area. Let dough rise 60 minutes, or until double in size (this depends on the warmth of the environment, on a stove top of a pre-heating oven is where I place my dough). When done rising, punch down to de-gas. Cut into 2 pieces. Shape the dough into two round loaves, being sure to create surface tension so the loaves don’t go flat. (See pictures above.) Spray dough rounds with nonstick spray and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in warm area until double in size (60 minutes). When ready to bake, remove plastic wrap. Brush loaves with egg wash. Slash dough 1/4”-1/2” deep with razor blade or very sharp knife. Bake loaves in a 350 degree preheated oven for 30 minutes or until loaves are golden and sound hollow when tapped. (Temperature: 190-200 degrees F on an instant read thermometer) Remove from oven, place on cooling rack. Cool until warm or room temperature.
The Simple Steps of Bread Baking:
Involves proofing yeast and mixing all ingredients together until a shaggy mass forms.
Pressing the dough out, folding, turning and repeating to develop gluten structure for the bread. If you didn’t knead the dough, you would end up with a flat brick. The gasses produced by the yeast ‘raise’ or leaven the bread and the ‘structure’ or gluten network is what allows the bread to grow, holding shape.
Letting the dough rise and develop flavors. Usually done in a warm environment with dough well oiled, in a bowl and covered.
Punch and Shape:
After this rise, dough is punched down and given a rest to relax gluten. Dough is then shaped into a loaf, rolls or other shape, sprayed with nonstick spray and covered with plastic wrap to rise again.
The dough rises for a second time prior to baking to make a fluffy, flavorful loaf.
Baking: Most sweet loaves and basic loaves are baked at 350 degrees F. Artisan breads are baked at higher temperatures and use steam to blister and make the crust chewy.
Cooling breads after baking will allow the moisture within the loaf to escape. (If you cut bread too soon it can be soggy and may not cut very well.