One of my favorite parts of cooking is the challenge. I used to be a terriblebread and roll maker. I would end up with sticky, gooey, dough or really heavy, small, rock like rolls. Every once in awhile I would get lucky and have a batch turn out great. Now am I much more comfortable with yeast breads and (knock on wood) 99% of the time end up with great bread. Those of you who've made or tasted homemade rolls and bread know that there is no comparison to store bought!
So how did I go from being a bread making disaster to getting great results? Unfortunately there is no big, magic secret (that I know of anyway.) It all boils down to PRACTICE. Here are the few things I can share with you that have helped me.
1. Start with good recipes. I like to get my recipes from well known cookbooks, blogs (that I've made great recipes from before), and friends. Try to start out with very simple recipes and progress once you feel comfortable.
2. Invest in a thermometer. If you have recipes that call for a certain water temperature, it takes a lot of the guess work out of the process and will ensure that you are not either killing the yeast (by getting the water too hot) or not activating it enough (by not getting the water hot enough.)
3. Don't over or under flour your dough. This is where experience really comes into play. A dough that is too sticky won't rise properly while a dough that has too much flour results in tough, heavy rolls. Use your recipe as a guideline. If you feel you need to add more flour or water, do it in very small amounts and give it a minute to come together before adding more. Temperature, humidity, etc. all have an effect so use your best judgement. Once you have made a recipe multiple times, you will know what the dough should look like. *Melanie has a great yeast tutorial on her blog with photos and lots of helpful information. http://www.melskitchencafe.com/2009/11/tutorial-working-with-yeast.html
4. Practice, Practice, Practice. It's how you become successful at anything. Take a class or ask a friend who makes bread to help you.Don't get discouraged. I had a lot of failures! If I can do it, you can too.
Now, on to my recipe (which comes from The Sister's Cafe.) I have been promising myself for about 6 months that I would start making all of our bread. I finally got myself in gear and purchased a wheat grinder and some really good bread pans. I have been trying out different recipes and this one has been one of my favorites. The loaves turned out beautiful! I love using the white wheat flour. It has a much more mellow taste and even my kids (and maybe an unnamed husband) who hate wheat bread like this bread. It makes 5 loaves which is great because you can slice and freeze the leftovers. If you have an electric knife it works fantastically!
Yummy, Easy Whole Wheat Bread The Sisters Cafe
Yield: 5 loaves
3 1/2 cups hot tap water (helps offset the cool can of milk)
1 (12oz) can evaporated milk
3 Tbs instant yeast (like SAF)
2/3 cup oil (I used canola)
1 cup honey (use the same measuring glass as the oil and the honey slides right out)
1 cup white flour
3 Tbs vital wheat gluten
2 Tbs dough enhancer (this is optional--I just happen to have some)
12 cups whole wheat flour (I used white wheat: approx 8c wheat berries= 12 c flour)
1 1/2 TBSsalt
*I ended up adding 1 cup of white flour and 1 cup of white wheat flour more than the recipe called for.*
Grind your wheat (in your electric wheat grinder) while getting everything else ready. Then, using a Bosch or other heavy duty mixer, combine ingredients in the order given, mixing well after half the flour, then add the other half of flour and salt. Add a little extra white flour as needed if dough is too sticky. Knead in mixer for 8 minutes. Dump out dough on your 'Rolpat' or if you don't have one, pour a little oil on your counter top and spread with your hand. Form into a long log, then divide into 5 loaves. Form each loaf into a log shape and place in medium sized nonstick bread pan. Press down the sides of each dough piece to fill the bottom of the pan, leaving the top round and smooth. Let rise in a warm spot until almost desired bread size. (about 1 hour). Bake in preheated 350 oven for 25-30 minutes. Remove from oven to wire racks and brush tops of hot loaves with butter, if desired. Let cool about 10 minutes, then remove from pans and let cool completely before slicing. (if you can wait that long!!)