Last night, I watched a Barefoot Contessa episode that I had recorded. Ina made chicken salad, using her "secret ingredient" of tarragon. Yes!!! I had a little too much cooked chicken for the Chicken & Mushroom with Balsamic Cream Sauce dinner I had made, the night before.
Ina served her sandwich on a beautiful whole wheat bread. That got me to thinking-- lately, I've been disappointed in the tasteless (and expensive) commercial bread I've been buying. I decided it was time to start baking bread again. Every time I bake bread, I wonder why I wait so long!
I am not a master baker of bread, by any means. I read blogs with the most beautiful Artisan bread photos-- and I vow that I will practice this art, when I have more time. In the meantime, I've learned a few simple tricks that have yielded pretty decent bread. I will admit, though, that I no longer use a bread machine. Mine broke, and that's when I realized how easy it is to use my Kitchen Aid Stand mixer. Unlike some true bread baking experts, I don't particularly want to knead my dough by hand!
Anyway, let's start with the bread. I used a recipe that has never failed me over several years:
Honey Wheat Bread (you will see the entire recipe at the bottom of this post, via "Key Ingredient").
Besides my Kitchen Aid Stand Mixer, and the dough hook, I use a "Dough Doubler". Let me save you some money-- you can buy these at King Arthur Flour's website, like I did. Or, you can find out that most restaurant supply stores sells these buckets. They're what restaurants and caterers use to prep, store and tote ingredients in. That way, I no longer have to dig out a big bowl and bother with using plastic wrap. I recently read that a shower cap works great. I'm getting ahead of myself, again--
I preheat my oven to 250F for a couple minutes, then turn it off. This makes a nice draft-free place for me to let my dough rise.
I use Bread Machine rapid rise yeast, by the way. There are all kinds of yeasts, but I'll stick to the basics (and that's about all that I know anyway).
To begin, I added sugar and the yeast to warm water and set that aside. Next, I added the evaporated milk, water and whole wheat flour (I use King Arthur flour, by the way). I let the KA mix it, and let it rest for 15 minutes...and, as usual, I cleaned up the mess and got the oven warmed.
Next, I added the unbleached white flour and let the KA mixer do all the kneading for about 5 minutes.
I like to use a light layer of olive oil, and then I placed the dough and turned it to coat. That's when my husband said he was going to hit the jacuzzi, and I decided to join him.
45 minutes later, I was ready to "punch" the dough. I've read enough bread bakers advice, that I should not take that literally! I am gentle about that.
My kitchen is not much larger than a postage stamp, so this is what works well for me:
I place a wet dish cloth on top of my cutting board, to keep things from slipping around. Then I place one of my nifty plastic cutting mats on top, sprinkle some flour and that's where I fold the dough and work out the bubbles (and say a little prayer). I love my bench scraper (or whatever you might call it) for so many things. Here, I like to cut the dough in half.
Here's where I wish I had saved those shower caps from hotel rooms! I used plastic wrap and put these back into the oven for the second rise-- 30 minutes.
I removed them before preheating the oven (obviously) and filled a small pan with water and set it on the very bottom rack. I read that this helps to make "steam". True or not, I find that my bread turns out moister, so that's my story and I'm stickin' to it!
There is nothing like the smell of fresh baked bread, is there? Well, maybe cinnamon rolls, but home baked bread is so good!
Now let me introduce you to a gadget that I have owned for years. These aren't sold any longer, as far as I know. I've seen people on eBay, bidding furiously for these-- mine is not for sale:
How cool is that?! Want to see it again?
The slicing guides are in different colors, so that I match the electric knife in perfect alignment! That's how these slices look so perfect:
I am happy to report that this bread is a winner!
Right about now, the men in the house are hungry. I'd better get busy with the chicken salad:
Simple-- cooked chicken, celery, salt &pepper, fresh tarragon and -- if you know Ina Garten-- "Good" Mayonnaise. Ina, please get a clue-- nobody wants to use bad mayonnaise! I can't find Hellman's Mayo where I live. So, it's Trader Joe's.
I really wanted to add scallions to this, but the men said "no"! Secretly, I would love to add dried cranberries-- maybe tomorrow, for my lunch.
Right about now, I can feel the men anxiously waiting for lunch. I got to working fast... a little more mayo, some lettuce.... here! Lunch is ready:
I actually didn't eat one of these. I'm not a HUGE fan of mayonnaise. The boys loved it.
Me? Somebody has to eat the "heel" of the bread. I guess I'm a heel (ark, ark, ark):
This is delicious bread! I hope that you try it.