What you will need
- 2 3/4 cups (about 650 ml) of warm water
- Some flour (about 8 cups, though it varies). Regular, unbleached white flour works well. Whole wheat flour rises slowly, due to the lack of gluten, but a mix of 1/2 whole wheat and 1/2 white flour gives good results.
- Two packets of dried yeast.
- Three tablespoons (about 45 ml) of sugar or malt extract
- A bit less than a tablespoon (about 10 ml) of salt (optional)
- Shortening--butter, oil, lard, anything that's greasy and edible
- A big bowl
- Two bread loaf pans
- A big horizontal surface--a countertop works well
- Paper towels
- A spoon and a knife
- An oven
- A rack of some sort, or just the top of the stove
- Some butter for later
Mix the water and sugar and, if desired, salt in the big bowl. Add the yeast. Go post a couple of messages to K5. When you come back, the yeast should have grown to form a stinky scum on the water.
Add flour and stir. At first, it will look like clumps of flour in liquid. Keep stirring and add more flour. Eventually, it will become a sticky, spongy mass.
Dump some flour liberally on your countertop or other horizontal surface. Remove the sticky mass with your hands and plop it onto the flour. Sprinkle flour over the top.
Now comes the part that puts many people off: kneading. For some, this is too much like work. Yet it's a satisfying kind of work. You can imagine it's the face of somebody you don't like. For each step of kneading, push down on the dough with the heels of your hands and spread it out. Then turn it over, sprinkle with flour, and fold it in half. True hackers will recognize that this uses the power of exponentiation; every iteration multiplies the number of layers by two. Twenty times, for about a million layers, is about right. Stop kneading when it stops sticking when you fold it over.
Wash the original bowl. It doesn't matter if it's still a bit wet. Put the kneaded dough into the bowl. Cover it with a damp paper towel. Go off and post some more to K5 while it rises to at least twice the original size. It may take twenty minutes or two hours. Do not continue until it has risen.
When it has risen, punch it down. Yes, use your fists. It should make hissing noises like something from the Sci-Fi channel. Then use your fingers to slap it down, pick it up, and squeeze it. It shouldn't be too sticky at this point, but it it's a little bit sticky, that's OK.
Smear shortening liberally over the inside of the two bread pans. Divide the dough into two and spread each half into one of the bread pans. Cover again with wet paper towels and wait for it to expand again to twice its size.
Smoosh the dough down again, and pinch it so that it has a bit of a crest longitudinal to the pans. Heat the oven to 375 F (190 C). Put the pans in and bake for about 35 to 40 minutes. You can check visually for doneness. If it looks like bread, it is.
Remove the pans and turn the bread out from the loaves. If you grease them enough, you should just have to turn the pans upside-down. If not, use a knife to separate them from the sides and shade the pans until the bread falls out. Put the loaves on the rack or the top of the stove to cool.
What do to with your bread
Even before the loaves have cooled, cut off the heel of one loaf, slather it with butter, and eat it. It ruins the next several slices, but it's worth it.
Then take the second loaf over to your next-door neighbor. Explain that you have just made bread, and you can't eat two loaves, and would you like some? This is a really great way of making friends of your next-door neighbor. Sometimes it works too well, though. Once, when I did this, the lady of the house tried to seduce me later on.
After the bread has cooled, eat it as you might eat ordinary, inferior, not-made-by-you bread. But for a special treat, try it cold with butter and limp bacon. (Trust me on this one, even if you normally like your bacon crisp.) For true nirvana, eat with butter and freshly cut chives.
The basic bread recipe can be adapted in any number of directions. As is, it makes a pretty good dough for Bavarian Pizza (sliced tomatoes, smoked ham, Emmenthaler cheese, and nothing else). Some people add shortening to the bread dough. Others swear by milk, so try replacing some of the water with milk. Personally, I prefer a low-fat vegan bread, with only vegetable shortening on the pans. You can make long skinny loaves for French bread: dump a couple of cups of water on the loaves when they're hot in the oven.
The following two variations were reverse-engineered and made even better by my father and me from the Neil's Yard bakery in London, England. For both of them, use 1/2 whole wheat flour and 1/2 white flour.
Herb Cheese Bread
To the standard recipe, add 1/2 lb (250 g) mild white cheese (e.g. Colby, Farmer's), diced and mixed in during kneading, and perhaps a tablespoon each of basil, oregano, thyme, sage, and marjoram.
Three Seed Bread
To the standard recipe, add a double shotglass (about 3 ounces) each of flax seed, poppy seed, and sesame seed. It's especially good if you toast the seeds first.