Friday, April 18, 2014

Guest Post: Making Bread from Scratch for Big Families

When I was younger my family had a bread machine. We didn’t make bread very often in it but once in a while we would make a small loaf of raisin bread or the like. While I knew people in the old days had made bread from scratch, no machine needed, it never occurred to me that I would be one of those people.

However as my family grew I discovered that buying bread was getting to be an expensive habit, especially if I wanted to buy something better for my family than discount white bread! That is when I got into bread baking.

Surprisingly, I have come to enjoy making bread. I have to admit, I do have some mechanical help. Several years ago I invested in a heavy duty stand mixer with a dough hook attachment and that has been a huge blessing. However a bread machine is out of the question when you want to make two or three loaves at a time. So I work from scratch and love it.

I will share with you two very different breads I have made. Of course the old standby of wheat sandwich bread is always a standard, although I mix in some barley flour for flavor. But I have really had fun making a couple artisan breads for special occasions. One is Chocolate Babka and the other is Ciabatta.

Since I went mostly by the recipes I won’t include those here, but I highly recommend you giving both of these breads a try. The Chocolate Babka makes a wonderful dessert when warm or a great brunch or snack bread when cooled. Why the difference? The warmer it is, the stronger the great chocolate and cinnamon flavor! Yum!

The Ciabatta has to be started the day before, but it is well worth it. It is also very sticky and messy. If you are going to go for it, I recommend making two batches, four loaves total, so it lasts long enough to be worth the cleanup.

I guess I’ll dive in to making the Ciabatta first. You have to make the sponge, or starter, the day before and let it sit for up to 24 hours. However if you are in a hurry I read that you can make it in as little as four hours. Just keep the sponge in a warm place and it will bubble up faster.

Once the sponge is ready you can add the other ingredients. It will end up very thin and sticky, kind of like pizza dough. If you don’t have milk or don’t want to use it then don’t sweat it. I was out of milk (funny how that happens so quickly) and just used water. It turned out great.

The recipe also calls for using a baking stone in the oven. I don’t have one of those either. It turns out that you can make this bread just like any other, on a baking sheet, without an issue. Whew, I was worried! When you turn out the dough to cut it I recommend using wax paper with flour to keep the mess down. Like I said, it is VERY sticky.

The bread turns out bubbly in the center and crispy on the outside, just like the picture! It is great toasted or plain with butter.

Chocolate Babka
Now on to the Chocolate Babka! Doesn’t the picture alone just make your mouth water? This bread is complex, to be sure, and the twisting directions gave me a moment’s pause as I am not the best at following directions like those, but it turned out so rich and delicious that I wish I had made more!

This recipe makes three loaves, which is more than enough for however many you are feeding. In fact I only made two and froze the last one to bake later. I knew that I didn’t want my kids running around on the sugar high this bread would give them if they ate too much of it.

I also cut down on the strudel. About half of what the recipe called to make. It was just too much and piled up on the bread. I like the crust it makes, but enough is enough!

I also found that ‘crumbling’ the chocolate and cinnamon center was impossible. Instead I used wax paper and a rolling pin to roll it out to the same size as the dough, minus a border around the edges. That made sure the chocolate was distributed evenly and none of the bread was dried out.

Just so you know, yes the dough is VERY thin and elastic. That makes it easy to twist without tearing it. Don’t freak out like I did and check your measurements three times!

Also, as great as I am in reading direction in chaos, I missed a step. It says to let the loaves rise in their pans before baking. Well… I didn’t. They still turned out fine. Thank goodness for forgiving recipes!

Also, my oven must have been hotter than normal because the recipe calls to cook the loaves for 55 minutes and then turn down the heat for 20 more minutes of baking. An hour in and I knew they had to come out or they would be dried out. Know your oven and trust your judgment. I almost dried out the first batch.

One last thing, although I did let the frozen loaf warm a bit it was still frozen in the middle when I put it in the oven. I turned down the heat to 325 degrees and cooked it for an hour. It came out perfect. What can I say? I was, and almost always am, in a hurry.

As you can see, baking bread, even special bread, doesn’t have to be a drama. Try new recipes and see what success you can accomplish. I never knew I would end up a bread baker, but I really enjoy it and my family loves to eat the results!

Ken Myers is a father of three and passionate about great childcare. He’s always looking for ways to help families find the support they need to live fuller, richer lives. Find out more about expert childcare by checking out @go_nannies on Twitter.

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  1. Yes we love to baking, and bread from norway is different. We have more of rey, oats , barly we use inn the home make bread. And the authority give uss advice about food and health :)

  2. I love rey bread. It's nice you are given a lot of help for healthy eating. Here, it's not that simple, unfortunately.