Homemade bread is one of the most delicious and comforting foods around. Walking into a kitchen teeming with the yeasty smell of warm bread is like receiving a warm hug from a dear friend; unless, of course, your oven is billowing black smoke and smells of charred food. It's true that some types of bread do require a certain culinary finesse, however we've got a few recipes here that are virtually fool-proof—meaning even the most culinary-challenged can pull them off!
This first recipe is for Amish bread, which is essentially a sweet white bread. Slice it up for sandwiches or toast slathered with butter and preserves. YUM!
Amish White Bread
6 c. all-purpose flour
1 1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tbsp. active dry yeast
2/3 c. white sugar
2 c. warm water
1/4 c. vegetable oil
To make: First, you need to activate the yeast. For this, you'll want to get a large bowl and add the water and sugar. Once the sugar is dissolved, add the yeast. Let this sit until the yeast takes on a foamy look. Next, add the oil and the salt to the yeast. Be careful not to stir too vigorously.
Mix in the flour one cup at a time. Set that aside and sprinkle a handful of flour on the (clean!) counter top. Transfer the dough from the bowl to the counter and begin to knead until the dough is smooth. If your dough is still very sticky, sprinkle flour into it as you knead until it becomes smooth.
Oil a large bowl and roll the dough just enough to give the dough a very light coat of oil. Put a damp tea towel over the bowl so the dough can rise (double in size). This usually takes about an hour.
Take the dough out and knead again for a few minutes. Split the dough into even halves and shape them into loaves. Place each loaf into a well-oiled bread pan and leave it to rise for about 30 minutes, or until the dough has risen about 1 inch above the top of the pan. Place in a preheated oven at 350 degrees F and bake for about 30 minutes.
This next recipe we have is for a Jewish bread called Challah. It's a very simple bread that is rolled into ropes and braided before baked. Challah will impress your friends and family in both the looks and the taste department—resulting in nods of approval and a boost to your pride!
7 1/2 c. bread flour
4 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast
3/4 c. white sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 1/2 c. warm water
1 c. margarine (melted)
3 eggs (beaten) plus 1 egg (beaten)—keep separate
To make: In a bowl, add warm water, melted margarine, the 3 beaten eggs, and sugar. Mix thoroughly. In a separate bowl, mix together the flour, yeast, and salt. Slowly add the liquid ingredients to the dry and mix together.
Sprinkle a handful of flour on a counter-top and knead the dough until smooth. Add a few sprinkles of flour here and there if the dough seems too sticky. Split the dough into equal halves. Take each half and split it into three equal pieces (so you have six smaller mounds of dough). Roll each mound into ropes about 3/4 inches thick (you can do this by rolling them between your hands "prayer" style).
Once all six ropes are equal in size and length, you're going to braid them into two loaves. To do this, take three ropes and pinch them together at the top. Proceed to "braid" them, pinching them together at the bottom. Do the same for the three remaining ropes. If you can't braid, just make two ropes per loaf and twist them together.
Grease a cookie sheet and transfer the loaves onto it. Brush them with the last beaten egg. Put them in a warm place to rise until they have doubled in size (about an hour or so). Bake in a preheated oven at 325 degrees F for 20 - 30 minutes.
If you're looking to fill the chilly autumn or winter mornings nursing a hunk of sweet bread and a steaming cup of coffee or tea, then we have just the recipe for you! Portuguese sweet bread is brilliant on its own or warmed with butter. You can even sprinkle a bit of cinnamon on top for a spicy treat. But best of all: it's easy to make!
Portuguese Sweet Bread
6 c. all-purpose flour
2 pkg. active dry yeast
3/4 c. sugar plus 1 tsp. sugar
1 tsp. salt
1/4 c. warm water
1 c. lukewarm milk—scalded, then cooled
3 eggs plus 1 egg
1/2 c. butter—softened
To make: Dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Once it has dissolved, add the milk, 3 eggs, butter, 3 cups of flour, 3/4 cup of sugar, and salt. Mix together, then stir in the remaining flour.
Take a handful of flour and sprinkle on the counter-top. Knead the dough until it is smooth (it should take on an elastic texture). Grease a bowl and place the dough inside, turning it over so the dough takes on a thin coating of grease. Cover with a wet tea towel and set in a warm place until the dough has doubled in size (usually this is about 1 and a half to 2 hours).
Knead the dough for a minute or two, then divide it into equal halves. Shape each half into a loaf and place in a greased bread pan. Cover with a towel and let it rise for another hour. When the loaves have risen, beat the remaining egg and brush it over the loaves. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F and bake the loaves for about 35 - 40 minutes, or until golden brown.
You should find that these breads are all fairly simple in preparation and will deliver a wonderful result that you can enjoy time and time again. To make things easier, double the recipe and freeze a few loaves for when company comes or to save as a snack when you feel peckish. Give these recipes a try and you never know—you may find that you have knack for bread-making after all!
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