Jeff and I love homemade bread. Not only is it more economical than store bought, but we find that we just love the flavor and texture so much more! In fact, we don't ever buy bread products anymore, choosing instead to make our own breads, rolls, and even tortillas. We have a bread machine, and use it often. However, when my wrists are feeling up to doing the heavy-duty kneading (they are sensitive, and kneading makes them hurt if I'm not careful), I'll pull out this recipe formula and do up a loaf of bread entirely from scratch. Making the dough all by myself gives me a sense of pride and accomplishment - after all, bread baking is quite an undertaking.
This is a "universal" recipe from Amy Dacyczyn's Tightwad Gazette. I love using this book as a reference for all sorts of frugality, but I especially love the universal recipes. They are great because you can make something delicious using whatever ingredients you have on hand, and are especially good uses for leftovers. I posted a recipe for universal pilaf a while back, making a millet and ground turkey pilaf as an example. I also have already posted the shorthand version of the universal bread recipe, along with the Italian Herbed Tomato Bread I created with it. In this post, I'm going to give you the more detailed recipe for universal bread, quoted from The Tighwad Gazette. Hold on to your hats, this is neat stuff!
These ingredients and proportions will make one loaf or two medium-sized pizza crusts. Remember that making double or triple batches and freezing extra loaves saves time and money.
Liquid. Use 1 to 1 1/2 cups. Water is the most common choice, but other possibilities include potato water, vegetable broth, milk, or fruit juice.
Oil and fat. Use up to 1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil, melted butter, or melted margarine. Fat-free bread has a chewy crust that many people like, but others prefer the soft texture that comes with the addition of fat. Fat also increases shelf life.
Yeast. Use from 1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon.
Salt. Use up to 2 teaspoons. Salt regulates the growth of the yeast, keeping the dough from rising too rapidly and having uneven internal structure. If you want to eliminate salt, experiment with other yeast inhibitors including cocoa, cinnamon, garlic powder, and onion powder.
Sweetener. Yeast doesn't require any sweetener to grow; it can feed off the flour. But sweeteners make the yeast grow faster, help the crust brown, and, of course, make the dough sweeter. Use 1 to 2 tablespoons sugar or 2 to 4 tablespoons honey for a regular dough; up to 1/4 cup sugar or 1/2 cup honey for a sweet dough. Honey will make your dough sticky even after kneading, so take care not to add too much flour while kneading.
Flour. Use as much flour as required to make a dough that's soft yet holds its own form - usually 3 to 4 cups. This will vary with the flour and the humidity. Choose from white, whole wheat, soy, rye, or other flours. White flour has the most gluten; flours such as whole-wheat, oat (made by grinding rolled oats in a food processor), soy, or rye have less. Gluten makes the bread light and fluffy, so unless you like dense bread, use no more than 1/2 cup total of low-gluten flour per loaf.
All of the following are optional. For the three kinds of additions immediately below, use just 1/2 cup of any category. Increase liquid by 1/4 cup for every 1/2 cup of dry additions; reduce liquid by 1/4 cup for every 1/2 cup of wet additions.
Dry additions. Dry milk powder, Parmesan or Romano cheese, raw rolled oats, wheat germ, or sesame seeds.
Moist additions. Grated cheese, mashed potatoes, cooked oatmeal, cooked vegetables, grated carrots, raisins, chopped apples, or dried tomatoes.
Wet additions. Pumpkin, applesauce, or pureed vegetables such as tomatoes or zucchini.
Herbs and flavorings. Use 1/2 to 2 teaspoons dried herbs (fresh herbs can be used but may color your bread green) or half a medium onion or 1 to 2 cloves of garlic, sauteed before being added to the dough. Sweet dough can be flavored with 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon and/or 1/4 teaspoon nutmeg, cloves, or allspice.
Decorations. Make an egg wash with a beaten egg and a little water. Brush on the dough just before baking. Sprinkle poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or rolled oats on top.
Mixing and baking. Combine and heat liquid, herbs, sweetener, salt, fats/oils, and additions until tepid (95 to 115 degrees). Add yeast and stir. Add flour, one cup at a time at first, mixing well. As the dough thickens, add flour more slowly, stirring until the dough is kneadable. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface, and knead until smooth and elastic, adding flour sparingly to keep the dough from sticking (too much flour will make the dough too firm and the bread bricklike). Cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel and allow to rise in an oiled bowl until doubled in bulk. Shape into desired form and place in greased pans or baking sheets. Cover and allow to rise again until the dough is not quite as large as you want the final product to be. Mist the loaves with water for a chewier crust. Bake in a preheated 375-degree oven; rolls and breadsticks for 20 to 25 minutes, loaves for 30 to 35 minutes.
1 to 1 1/2 cups liquid
Up to 1/4 cup fat
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon yeast
Up to 2 teaspoons salt
Up to 1/4 cup sugar or up to 1/2 cup honey
3-4 cups flour
1/2 cup optional additions
Up to 2 teaspoons flavorings
With my latest loaf of bread, I went fairly basic, using 1 1/2 cups water, 2 tbsp. margarine, 2 tsp. yeast, 1 tsp. salt, 1 tbsp. sugar, 1 cup wheat flour and the rest white flour, and 1/2 cup cooked cracked wheat. I shaped it into a long loaf, like French bread. We'll use this loaf tomorrow to make garlic bread for our romantic Valentine's Day lasagna dinner (which I will of course post about after we've had it). :-)
One thing I've done with the dough after it has risen once, is I wrap it in cling wrap and foil and freeze it. Then I use it the same way one would use a loaf of purchased frozen bread dough. I just discovered this thread on the Taste of Home forum about ways to use frozen dough, and some of the recipes got me really excited! I have two loaves in the freezer right now, and I think I'll be using them in fun ways in the next while.