The quest for the elusive perfect loaf
Take I: an appeal for recipes

Homemade bread figures prominently in my memories of summers on the farm just outside Bruce, Alberta. After an exhausting morning or afternoon spent running around the yard playing various games – including kick the can and sardines in a can (apparently we liked games with can in the name) – my niece and nephew and I would vote to stir up some trouble indoors. Racing towards the porch, the winner of the foot race would throw open the door to my brother and sister-in-law’s home and instantly be overwhelmed by the yeasty perfume of baking bread. A mad scramble to remove our shoes was followed by a processional of thumps up the small set of stairs from the porch to the kitchen, where we’d crowd around the kitchen nook and eagerly await the first slice. I don’t actually recall if my sister-in-law D. baked more than one kind of bread, but the one that stands out in my mind was white as snow and oh-so-decadent when slathered with peanut butter.

I still find that few things in life are as gratifying in their simplicity as a homemade slice of bread, fresh from the oven. Now, however, I’m more likely to opt for salted butter instead of peanut butter and whole wheat or multigrain (yes, it’s true) instead of white bread. In fact, if it weren’t for the threat of scurvy – among other things – I’m convinced I could live on bread and butter quite happily.

Having established my love for bread, we come now to the crux of the matter: I am not very good at making bread, but would like to be. In addition to lots of practice, I think a good recipe is key. So, this is a call for your best, foolproof bread recipes (or recipes you think might be good and foolproof but haven’t gotten around to trying yet).

You send the recipes, I’ll practice and blog the results, and hopefully we’ll all be better for it.

Above, was my first attempt (not ever, but in awhile) at making bread. It’s a 33% whole wheat blend based on a whole wheat bread recipe in the recipe book that came with my KitchenAid stand mixer. The bread is sweet and quite dense (as whole wheat tends to be), but a little bit drier and darker than I had hoped.

And so the adventure begins.

1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
2 packages active dry yeast
5-6 cups whole wheat flour (I used 4 cups white and 2 cups whole wheat)
3/4 cup powdered milk
2 teaspoons salt
1/3 cup oil

Dissolve 1 tablespoon brown sugar in warm water in small bowl. Add yeast and let mixture stand while yeast activates (approximately 10 minutes).

Place 4 cups flour, powdered milk, 1/3 cup brown sugar and salt in the KitchenAid mixer bowl. Using the dough hook, mix on speed 2 for about 15 seconds or just until combined. Continuing on speed 2, gradually add the yeast mixture and the oil to the dry ingredients. Mix for about 1 1/2 minutes, stopping to scrape the sides of the bowl when necessary.

Continuing on speed 2, add the remaining 1-2 cups of flour, 1/2 cup at a time. Mix for about 2 minutes or until the dough begins to clean the sides of the bowl. Knead on speed 2 for an additional 2 minutes.

Place the dough in a greased bowl and lightly grease the top of the dough. Cover with plastic wrap or a towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 1 hour. (I covered mine with a slightly damp towel and put it in an oven that had been heated to 150 degrees Fahrenheit and then turned off.)

Punch dough down. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a loaf. The KitchenAid recipe books suggests rolling out each piece of dough into a rectangle (9” x 14”) and then, beginning at a short end, rolling the dough tightly and pinching to seal the ends. Place the loaves seam-side down in greased 8 1/2” x 4 1/2” x 4 1/2” loaf pans. Repeat the rising process described above.

Bake at 400 degrees Fahrenheit for 15 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for an additional 20-30 minutes longer. (I baked mine for 20 minutes longer and they were quite dark already.) Remove loaves from pans immediately and cool on wire racks.

Yields 2 loaves of 16 slices each.