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Best Homemade Bread Recipe Ever

It turned cool here quickly, or as cool as can be for a California September.  It's a brisk 71 degrees here right now.  Brrr!

Still, I can feel fall in the air, so I'm getting excited about baking again.  Because it really does get hot here during the summertime (110 isn't uncommon) we don't run the oven for about 4-5 months out of the year.  Once Halloween candy appears on the grocery store shelves, though, I know it's time to pull out my baking pans!

Yesterday, I baked bread for the first time this season.  I've made bread for years, and tried many different recipes, and this is one of my favorites.  It turns out perfectly every time.

Best Homemade Bread Recipe
2 1/4 cups milk
1 tablespoon sugar
1 packet (or 2 1/4 teaspoons) of dry yeast
1 tablespoon vegetable oil or melted butter
2 teaspoons salt
5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups flour (use unbleached white flour for white bread.  For wheat bread, use 1 cup white flour and whole wheat flour for the remaining.)
   
First, measure out the milk and sugar into a small saucepan.  Warm over low heat until the milk reaches about 110 to 120 degrees.

Pour the warm milk into a large bowl, and add in the yeast.  Give it a bit of a stir, then let the mixture set for 5 to 10 minutes.

To this liquid, stir in the vegetable oil and the salt.  Slowly add in the flour.  Once the mixture becomes too stiff to stir, turn out onto the counter top and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and let rise until it's doubled (it'll take an hour or two).  Punch down, and divide into two equal pieces.  Form each piece into a ball and let rest for about 10 minutes.

Now, you can form each piece into loaf shapes.  I'll either place them into greased loaf pans, or free-form the loafs and lay them on a baking sheet.  Cover the dough again and let it rise again until doubled in size.  This usually takes a bit less than one hour.

Bake in a 375 degree oven for about 40-45 minutes.  (Free-form loaves seem to bake faster so they're usually done in 40 minutes; bread in the loaf pans take the full 45 minutes.)

I also lightly cover my loaves with foil at about 25-30 minutes in, otherwise the tops brown too much.  Depending on your oven, you may want to do the same.

I also give my bread a light brushing with melted butter immediately after removing from the oven.  It makes the crust soft and yummy.

Yield: 2 loaves

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