You know you're onto something when your local cropduster pilot can't say enough about your homemade Amish-recipe bread. "It is truly some of the best bread I have ever had," he wrote after tasting the bread I sold from my little roadside stand in 2017.
I can't take any credit. The Amish in this neck-of-the-woods shared their recipe with me and taught me how not to make "boat anchors," which hitherto had been my usual result when attempting bread-making. (I was kneading in way too much flour.)
When you see how "stupid simple" the trick is for high-fluffy-and-light bread, you'll never pay $5 for a loaf of bread at a Farmer's Market ever again.
As you know, I prefer for this blog to focus on technique, hacks and history rather than dull ingredients, picayune measurements and insult-my-intelligence step-by-step photos. But just this once, I'll make an exception.
For three loaves (and/or 36 dinner rolls), you'll need the following:
Mix the ingredients together and let sit for about fifteen minutes for the yeast to activate. If you don't return to find a nice head of foam in your mixing bowl as pictured, your yeast is dead. Buy fresh yeast and try again.
And now....for the super secret ingredient: potato flakes. Yeah, that's right. Half a cup of instant potato flakes goes into the slurry.
Don't ask me how but potato flakes results in a soft, fluffy, my-grandmother-made-bread-just like-this loaf that'll leave you feeling nostalgic...and inspired to make French Bread for breakfast tomorrow morning.
But wait! Surely I missed an ingredient. Conspicuous by its absence is...yes...flour.
What!? You want I should hold your hand? Flour is not dogmatic. To give you a cup amount would be to ruin the recipe. You don't measure it. You feel it. Your hands know.
As I was saying, after fifteen minutes, your yeasty slurry has a nice head of foam and it's time to begin adding flour. Like Julia Child, I suggest keeping one hand clean for answering the phone (vile instrument of torture for introverts) and one hand goopy for kneading. Being right-handed, I knead only with my (spotlessly clean!) right hand and do my kneading in my big stainless steel bowl. No need to get the kitchen countertop all floury and sticky.
Keep adding flour as you knead until your dough ball has a cohesive, smooth texture. When you do your quarter-turn-fold-over-and-push kneading, you'll know you're done when the dough ball has a smoothness but is still annoyingly sticky.
By now your dough is nicely homogenized (no flour pockets) and your carpal tunnel is killing you. There's no need to knead it to a pulp! Good luck getting the dough off your hands...hence the nail brush.
Set the bowl in a warmish place, covered, for one hour. Too short and your dough won't completely rise. Too long and it'll taste like wine.
One Hour Has Passed
Punch down the fully risen dough and divide in three equal pieces. Grease three bread tins.
If you're making bread loaves (not buns), fold each piece of dough over and over until the top is smooth, smooth, smooth.
Slap the shit out of the doughball to remove the air bubbles, place in tin and form into a nice loafy shape. Prick each loaf with a fork several times to create tunnels for the gasses to escape while baking. We don't want any holes in our bread for the peanut-butter-and-jelly to fall through!
Repeat for the other two loaves. (Alternatively, if you're making dinner rolls, grease three 9" x 13" pans. One loaf = 12 rolls (roll, flatten, prick with a fork.)
Allow to rise again for one to one-and-a-half hours (see pic below). (If you leave them too long, the loaves will collapse as soon as the hot air of the oven hits them. I make all the mistakes so you don't have to!)
Meanwhile, preheat your oven to 350° F. Bake for approximately 45 minutes, depending on your oven. If your oven has hot spots, rotate the loaves halfway through baking. When done, the loaves will be nicely golden-brown on top.
Allow the loaves to cool a few minutes so removal from the tins is easy.
It really is that easy to make delicious, nutritious homemade bread. After a couple of tries, it'll become second nature and you'll never have a flop.
All that's left to do is the dishes.
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I dislike cooking but since I'm obliged do it, the result must be spectacular or it's a waste of time and effort. That's why I seek out the best dishes and culinary techniques to test and perfect before sharing them with you!