There’s no greater comfort than the aroma of freshly baked bread. I believe that is a scientifically proven fact.
I’m no master artisan bread baker — not by a long shot! But I can pull off a few loaves, and this is one of my favorites. It’s not passed down through generations or anything fun like that. In fact, it’s just something I got off AllRecipes or some such useful website a handful of years ago and tweaked until I got my idea of the perfect bread for soup.
I love a lot of things about it: for one, the ease. I started having pain in my left hand a few years ago and so I don’t want anything that I have to knead by hand. This works just perfectly in a standing mixer using a dough hook. Also, the ingredients are super simple; things that anyone who wants freshly baked bread should have around at all times. The olive oil provides a subtle sweet aroma that just makes it smell and taste even more warm and inviting.
But what I really love is the texture! It’s got an almost biscuit-like quality. I love to rip into a chewy crust as much as the next guy, but sometimes with soup I prefer a crisper bite. When lightly toasted, it makes a fabulous crouton. I love to drizzle with just a tiny bit of olive oil and place atop my bowl o’ soup.
And even though I’m a self-admitted non-master artisan bread baker, I do have a few tips for the home baker!
For one, temperature is important to activate the yeast. Things should be on the warm side – that includes the equipment. If it’s very cold in my kitchen I make sure to warm my mixer bowl up either by a brief stint in the oven, or running under hot water. Same goes for the bowl that the bread rises in. I use a glass bowl, so I can even microwave it for 30 seconds to get it warm. Note: Not hot, just warm!
I also set the bread to rise where ever is warmest. If I’m doing a lot of cooking and baking and my oven is still warm, then often just leaving it on top of the stove will do. But sometimes I place it in my bedroom to rise, because it gets the most sun. An added bonus…your room will smell like bread!
And I have a few tips for forming the loaf. After the first rise, I don’t punch the dough down and knead again. Instead, I gently lift the dough out onto a clean surface and I form a long oval loaf shape. Then I roll the bread out like a rolling pin, shaping as I go to keep the ends round, until it reaches the desired shape.
I think this is a great recipe to start off with if you’re new to bread baking! If you do it often enough, you can just be making the bread in the background, letting it knead away while you multitask on something else. It just becomes second nature after awhile. The most important thing is to get started, don’t be intimidated and try it once. Perhaps before you know it you’ll just become the kind of person that bakes their own bread.
Oh and one last thing: I’ve had great success replacing a cup of the AP flour with spelt, so try that if you’re looking for a heartier loaf.
3/4 cup warm water
1 tablespoon sugar
1 packet active dry yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons )
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus extra for the bowl and drizzling)
2 1/4 to 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
Add water and sugar to the workbowl of a standing mixer fit with a dough hook. Sprinkle in the yeast and let sit for 5 minutes.
Mix in the olive oil.
Add 1 cup of the flour along with the salt. Mix on low until well incorporated, and then turn the speed up to medium and mix for 3 minutes.
Add another 1/2 cup of flour and mix well, starting on low and then switching to medium speed. Then add another 1/2 cup of flour, again starting on low and switching to medium. Knead on medium for about 5 minutes. You may occasionally have to get in there with your hands if the dough starts climbing up the hook. It should become smooth and elastic and slightly sticky. At this point, incorporate flour by the table spoon, until it is no longer sticky. When it starts to seem dry, stop adding flour. This could be anywhere between 1/4 and 1/2 cup. Knead again on medium until it is smooth.
Meanwhile, drizzle about a tablespoon of olive oil into a large bowl. The dough will double in size, so make sure you have enough room. Form the dough into a ball and place in the bowl, tossing it around to coat with oil. Cover the top in plastic wrap and put in a warm place. Let dough rise for about an hour, or until doubled in size.
Now gently remove the dough from the bowl and place on a clean, dry surface. I don’t ever have to flour the surface, but if it seems sticky or the surface is very warm, you may need to. Gently form the dough into a long oval. Now roll out and form a loaf that is roughly 14 inches long and 4 inches wide.
Place on a lightly greased baking sheet. Score it across the top in three diagonal slices, drizzle with a little olive oil and let rise for about 15 minutes. In the meantime, preheat the oven to 375 F.
Place in the oven and bake for 25 minutes. Lower the heat to 350 F and bake an additional 10 to 15 minutes. Use tongs to check the bottom, if it seems to be browning too much, then transfer the bread directly to the oven rack for the remaining baking time.
It’s sometimes tough to know if the bread is baked perfectly, but the outside should be golden brown. Remove from the oven and let sit for 10 minutes before slicing in. If the inside is a little undercooked, no worries, just note that for next time. Sometimes there is trial and error involved when baking a new bread.
Slice and serve! Wrap up any remaining bread (as if!) with plastic wrap to keep fresh.