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There are few things that smell better than fresh bread baking. When you walk into a house where someone is baking bread you feel warm inside. Unfortunately the art of making bread by hand has given way to the Bread Machine. Something gets lost when you throw all the ingredients in and press a button.
I do not own a bread machine. I prefer to make my bread the old fashioned way-by hand. There is something therapeutic about baking bread. Feeling the dough in your hands. Kneading it until it has formed the perfect elasticity for a high and light loaf. Just try making a loaf without the machine, and you may grow to love it as much as I do.
Let me give you a few basics before I give you a good basic bread recipe. First, you need a thermometer. When you bake with yeast, it's crucial that water temperature is accurate. No finger is sensitive enough. Look for one with a stainless steel stem and dial on top. Second, do not "eyeball" the amount you need. Use measuring spoons and cups for accuracy. Level off flour with a knife or straight edge. Make sure your measuring cup for liquids is placed on a straight surface.
Kneading - To start, add just enough flour to the dough and your hands to keep the dough from sticking, then pat dough into a ball, which may feel sticky.
Flatten dough and fold it toward you. Using the heels of your hands, push the dough away with a rolling motion. Rotate dough a quarter turn and repeat the `fold, push and turn' steps. Keep kneading dough until it becomes smooth and elastic. Use a little more flour if dough becomes too sticky, always working the flour into the ball of dough. The process is complete in about 4 to 10 minutes, or when the dough is smooth, satiny and elastic, and when you poke it, the dough springs back.
Resting -To create maximum resting conditions for the dough:
Cover the top of the mixing bowl loosely with a damp, clean cloth or plastic wrap sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Set the dough in a warm, draft-free place.
So now you have the basics and are ready to make your homemade bread. I promise it will be worth it.
Traditional White Bread
6 1/2 cup All-purpose or -Unbleached flour
3 tbsp. Sugar
1 tbsp. Salt
2 tbsp. Shortening
2 packs regular or quick-acting -Active dry yeast
2 1/4 cup Very warm water -(120 to 130 degrees
Mix 3-½ cups of the flour, the sugar, salt, shortening and yeast in large bowl. Add warm water. Beat on low speed 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Beat on medium speed 1 minute, scraping bowl frequently. Stir in remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, to make dough easy to handle. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface. Knead about 10 minutes or until smooth and elastic. Place in greased bowl and turn greased side up. Cover and let rise in warm place 40 to 60 minutes or until double. (dough is ready if indentation remains when touched).grease 2 loaf pans, 9 x 5 x 3 or 8-½ x 4-½ x 2-½ inches. Punch down dough and divide in half. Flatten dough for each loaf with hand or rolling pin into a rectangle, 18 x 9 inches. Fold crosswise into thirds, overlapping the two sides. Flatten or roll into square, 9 x 9 inches. Roll dough tightly, beginning at one of the open (unfolded) ends, to form a loaf. Press with thumbs to seal after each turn. Pinch edge firmly to seal. Press each end with side of hand to seal. Fold ends under loaf. Place seam side down in pan. Brush loaves lightly with margarine. Cover and let rise in warm place 35 to 50 minutes or until double in size. Place oven rack in low position so that tops of pans will be in center of oven. Heat oven to 425 degrees. Bake 25 to 30 minutes or until loaves are deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped; remove from pans. Brush loaves with margarine if desired. Cool on wire rack. 2 loaves (16 slices each).