Bread machines have become so popular that some people think the old-fashioned method of bread making is mysterious and extremely difficult. But if you can operate a bread machine, then you are more than capable of carrying out the traditional bread-baking process, which allows you to produce a wider variety of bread textures. It’s also a lot more fun.
For a basic white bread, begin by dissolving some active yeast in very warm water (not boiling hot, or it will kill the yeast and your bread won’t rise). Then you add sugar, shortening and additional warm water. If the water is the correct temperature, you will clearly see the yeast attack the sugar, which will look like it’s disappearing as the yeast “eats” it.
Next, stir in the flour and knead the dough. You have to alternate the process of pulling and stretching the dough with taking a break and letting it rest for a few hours, which makes bread baking a great project for youngsters as well as busy adults.
After letting the dough rest (according to the directions in your recipe), you shape the dough into loaves. Or be creative; roll it into thin, ropelike pieces and braid them, or tie them into knots or twists.
After shaping your dough, allow it another resting period, which professional bakers call “proofing.” If you’re using a greased pan to bake your bread, you can coat the bottom of it with cornmeal. (Cornmeal mix contains flour and won’t work properly.) Give your bread another gourmet touch by brushing beaten egg whites on top of the dough before baking.
Finally, remember that most people actually underbake their bread. Since it is almost impossible to burn bread, go ahead and bake it until it looks done, then leave it in the oven for an extra 15-30 minutes. After baking, make sure the bread cools completely on a wire rack. Leaving it in the pan will make your bread soggy.
If you need a traditional bread recipe, don’t be afraid to use one printed on any package of active dry yeast. Or, you can check out www.bread.com. Just don’t try to use a bread machine recipe for homemade bread, or vice versa.
If you’re ready to try some more unusual bread recipes, check out Artisan Baking Across America by Maggie Glezer (Artisan, $40, 236 pp.).
This book answers any questions you can think of, from what kind of bread-baking equipment is available to what your dough should look like. It also includes basic information (such as instructions on how to knead bread) and descriptions of a day in the life of a professional bread baker.
To illustrate its techniques and good-looking loaves of bread, the book contains numerous color photographs.
The author adapts recipes created by artisan bread bakers from around the United States, turning their best-selling breads into easy-to-follow versions you can try at home. For starters, you can impress your friends with the Acme Herb Slabs, which look delicious and difficult, with their unique bubbly crust, but are deceptively simple to make.
And you won’t even have to touch a bread machine.
Now’s the peak season for avocado eating. The premium Hass avocados, grown in Mexico, are ripe and ready for guacamole and other tasty treats. For a free set of recipes, send a self-addressed, stamped envelope to Mexican Avocado Leaflet, c/o Lewis & Neale, Inc., 49 E. 21st St., New York, NY 10010. … Vegetarian kids, get writing! The Vegetarian Resource Group is holding its annual essay contest for kids up to age 18. Send an essay 2-3 pages long, on any aspect of vegetarianism, to the Vegetarian Resource Group, PO Box 1463, Baltimore, MD 21203. Include name, age, address, telephone number, grade, school and teacher’s name. Entries should be postmarked by May 1.Got a food tip? Write to Eaters Digest c/o this paper, or e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org