By the ingredients list, it looks complicated. It's not. Baking is actually pretty easy if you follow these tips:
- When you put the water in, it should be warm but not scalding. You can get it the right temperature out of the tap- just put your finger in the stream of water. When it feels warm, that's about right.
- Mix the yeast and sugar first. Then add your warm water. You can watch the yeast wake up and start working- the sugar feeds them, and the warmth gives them energy.
- I'm not too specific below on the amounts of water and oil. I don't know how much I put in. Basically, the combination of the wet ingredients (the water + oil [+ egg yolk in this case]) needs to balance out with the dry ingredients (flour, mostly) so that you end up with a smooth ball of dough that holds together and doesn't stick to your fingers. Add the wet ingredients a bit at a time while you're mixing so that you get a feel for the wet/dry balance.
- The oil to water ratio is up to you: if you put in a lot of oil, you get flaky bread that doesn't really need to be buttered (can be delicious!). I usually just put in a little oil (1/8 c maybe?) and use mostly water (a heartier, healthier bread).
- The egg: use it or don't, up to you. Spreading egg white over your loaf makes it shiny and a lovely golden brown when baked, and can make the crust harder. If I'm going to use the egg white, I like to put the yolk in the bread so it's not wasted.
- Knowing when it's cooked: pick up the loaf (in a towel if it's too hot!) and knock on it gently with your finger or the back of a spoon. If it sounds hollow, it's cooked through.
Here's what I did this morning- but it was "throw it in a bowl if it looks good" baking.
- 1 1/2 teaspoons (t) yeast
- 1/4 c sugar
- [some] water
- 1 egg
- [some] oil
- 3 c flour
- 1/4 t salt
- [some] oatmeal
- [some] nuts and dried fruits (I used Mediterranean Magic trail mix- with figs, walnuts, pistachios...)
- Mix yeast and sugar in a bowl. Add (some of) the warm water. Add the flour. Separate the egg (save the white for later) and add the yolk. Add the rest of the ingredients except the egg white (the nuts and dried fruits last). Mix with your hands until you have a firm, elastic ball of dough which doesn't stick to your hands.
- Let rise in a warm place.Tip: I leave it in a ball in the bowl and cover the top with a damp towel. I then stick it in the oven- which I've heated to its minimum and then turned off. Leave the door open if it feels warm enough to accidentally cook the bread.
- After your dough has changed shape noticeably, knead it.
- You can let it rise and knead again as many times as you want. The more you do this, the softer your dough will be.
- Shape dough on a cookie sheet which you've scattered with dry oatmeal (or flour or whatever- so it doesn't stick. A circle is nice. Rolls are nice. Braiding it gives you pretty bread you can pull apart. You can also do it in a loaf pan. Up to you!
- Spread the egg whites over the exposed parts of the bread using your fingers or a pastry brush. You don't have to use all of the egg whites!
- Bake. I like to let the oven heat up to 350F while the bread is in there. It makes it rise a little extra.