As a college student, bread making is not something most think about or have time to do on a regular basis. It’s a lot easier to go to the store and pick from a wide selection of sliced breads—just as it is for any food items found in the store. In this generation, it’s easy to take for granted the convenience of a supermarket and the men and women who work to make the food we eat. This is where the gap between the consumer and the farmer begins—because we are not directly making or growing the food we eat—bread making is a prime example of this, and so I spent the weekend learning how to make bread. Here is my story and the lessons I learned along the way.
Last week, I had a curious interest about bread making. It was interesting—earlier in the week my roommate and I were having a conversation about how much we love bread and then later on that night I was on Facebook and saw one of those quick food recipe videos—it was about making homemade bread. It intrigued me just enough that the next day I was making my very own homemade bread.
I went to the store and got all the ingredients, and when I came back I instantly got started on the process. My favorite part of the bread making process was kneading the dough—it reminded me of kneading clay in pottery class—which is something that this process is very similar to. Kneading is an important step in the bread making process. Kneading activates the natural gluten in the wheat bread flour. Gluten is a protein that stretches; when we knead the dough, the gluten stretches and becomes more elastic. Then the yeast does its job in the process. The yeast in the bread releases carbon dioxide creating little air pockets. The air pockets are only possible because the gluten allows the bread to stretch instead of crumble and break apart. This results in a light, chewy, airy texture in the final product.
I think what shocked me the most was the amount of waiting time that went into bread making. After kneading, you must let the dough rise. Letting the dough rise gives the yeast time to metabolize some of the sugars in the flour and release carbon dioxide creating little air bubbles. Yeast is a fungus and is essential in leavened bread. The more active the yeast is, the more the bread will rise. Yeast is most active at room temperature or slightly warmer, but as the baking process starts it then kills the yeast. It takes quite a few hours to let the bread rise and even after that you must do that a couple of times to get the perfect outcome.
As I reflected on the process, I realized that bread making, in its own unique way, is a form of art, and after going through the recipe I can begin to appreciate the process and the people who make bread on a daily basis. It’s an art in the way one kneads the dough, it’s an art in the type of bread made—bagels, dinner rolls, sourdough, rye, or whole wheat—it’s an art in how you let the dough rise, and its an art in how you shape the dough to be baked. A big part of the bread making process is a form of art that some have mastered perfectly.
As the weekend went on, I found myself really enjoying making bread and sharing it with others. After making two loafs of bread on Friday I went on to make homemade cinnamon rolls on Saturday and contemplated the process of croissants on Sunday—which is a blog for another day.
It seems crazy to think how something as simple as making bread can make us closer to our agricultural roots. But anything that takes a raw product, such as wheat and dairy, and then turns it in to something new, like bread, ice cream or yogurt, can connect us back to the industry that allows us to do this—agriculture. Now even though I enjoyed my time making bread and other bakery treats this weekend, I will probably still take the convenient route of going to the store and save making homemade bread for another time when I need to be reminded of how our food is grown.
Recipe for White Bread
1 package (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
2 ¼ cups warm water
3 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons canola oil
6 ¼ cups all-purpose flour
Step 1: In large bowl, dissolve yeast in warm water. Add sugar, salt, oil, and start with 3 cups of flour. Mix together and slowly add in the remaining flour to form a soft dough.
Step 2: Create a floured surface and knead dough until dough becomes smooth and elastic. Roughly knead for 5-10 minutes.
Step 3: Place in a greased bowl. Cover and let dough rise until it has doubled in size. Roughly 1.5-3 hours.
Step 4: After dough has doubled in size, punch down and divide dough in half. Shape the dough and place in a greased loaf pan. Cover and let rise again until doubled in size. Approximately 1 hour.
Step 5: Bake at 375 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until golden brown.
Step 6: Let cool and Enjoy!