Now for something you can actually eat. Take a glance sometime at the ingredients in most bread you buy at the store. Even the fancy stuff that costs lots of money. Also note that "natural flavorings/enzymes" covers a multitude of sins.
Get used to eating a bread with a real crust on it. If you can squeeze your bread into a cube with your bare hands, it is too soft (I regularly did this at grocery stores up until sophomore year in college) . The crust on a piece of good bread should require care and time while eating, lest it cause you gum lesions.
- Your Old Friend (take her or him out of the fridge a bit before you start, the top picture is mine)
- 550g (a light 4.75 cups / 1.25 lb.) Flour
- A heavy throw of salt
- 275 ml (a bit more than 9 oz / 1 cup) 26º C (78º F) Water*
- 5g (4 Tbsp) Baker's yeast
Same deal as before. Get the yeast in the water first, to wake up for about 8 minutes. Don't be too rough with it at first - do you like having the covers torn off of you in the morning?
While the yeast awakens, throw your flour and salt together to commingle. Make a well in the center and once the yeast is awakened amidst the water, pour it in. Mix this in a general manner with a spoon for a short time, and then throw in your old friend.
Now, you hit a crossroads, you may either put this mixture into a bread machine or stand mixer (should you be so equipped) for the kneading; or do it manually. If you do the first (and cheat the process), let it knead for 6-8 minutes on medium - it should pull off from the sides of the bowl. For the latter, knead the dough with your hands** for at least 10 minutes. You must now be firm with the yeast. It should be awake and ready to work. The dough should look beautiful and be springy when you poke it. Take a rest for 10 minutes.
After your (and your dough's) rest, cut it into five equally proportioned balls. These are your loaves. You can cut these however you want. I like smaller loaves, so I cut the dough into smaller pieces and put 2-3 in each loaf pan. Feel free to do 2 big loaves if you'd like, or 100 baby loaves. Put them into greased loaf pans, sprinkle with flour, cover with a light towel, and set them somewhere warmish (about 26º C / 78º F) for the better part of an hour. They will double into wonderful, buttock-like loaves, and you can have a bath, drink a few whiskey sours, or read up on your esoterica.
When your hour is up, preheat your oven to 220º C / 425º F. Place the loaves in and bake for 20 minutes. Then, carefully shimmy them out of their pans, and set them on their sides for 8 more minutes. Repeat for the other side (so total cooking time is 20 + 8 + 8 minutes). They should knock nicely when done. Cool them on some type of rack.
Be sure to try some right away, but if you find your loaf quotient too great, slice and freeze. I'll give you something to put it on your bread tomorrow. True Bread.
* Consider de-chlorinating your water if you live in the city like me. I got a bottle of de-chlorinator fairly cheap at a pet supply store and it lasts forever. Yeast is a living thing, so in the same way that you'd rather not wake up in a heavily-chlorinated environment, neither does yeast.
** Kneading does not have to be anything fancy. Just punch, pull, roll, stretch, and mash your dough around in a fairly firm manner. The main thing to understand is that you are trying to stretch out the gluten in the flour so that your bread is not overly dense. Do whatever it takes to get your dough to this point.