Fresh bread is yummy, no matter who you ask. Fresh bread that you made yourself is even better, and fresh bread that you made without electricity and with a live fire is the best bread. Its amazing that the men and women of the frontier could make food like this and not only survive but eat well, without the modern convenience of running water and electricity.
I have refined this recipe many times, and it is so easy anyone can do it. The secret is to know the little bread making secrets that you won't learn in a cook book:
1. If you boil the water you put the yeast in, even in the microwave, you will kill it. Yeast organisms' number one job is to make the hot gas that gives bread its pillowy properties. If you kill the little creatures, they won't do their job and you will have a nice paperweight for your desk.
2. Kneading: you can't do it too much. Kneading breaks up the glutens in the flour and makes it stick together. You should knead the bread until it passes the windowpane test:
a. The windowpane test is taking a small piece of dough, and stretching it out with your fingers. If it develops a little window before it tears, congratulations; you are finished. If not, put the little piece back and keep kneading.
3. Preheat your oven. After the dough raises or 'proofs', it still has one last chance to proof itself! (pun shamefully intended) This last proofing happens when you put it in a hot oven. If you put it in a cold oven that slowly raises to temperature, it will just cook and you won't get as pillowy crust as you could have. With Dutch ovens, you can either heat the whole oven (which is best) or at least heat the lid, so you get that last little proof.
Really, there isn't any magic in bread making. Just 3 secrets. Tell everyone you know.
Step 1: Recipe
12" Dutch oven
- 1 1/3 cup water
- 1/2 tbs active dry yeast
- 2 tbs butter, softened
- 2 3/4 cups white flour
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
Warm water and mix with yeast. Set aside to activate. Mix all ingredients and knead until the dough passes the windowpane test. Let raise 1 hour. Bake at 350 for 60 minutes. Let cool before cutting.
Step 2: Activate the Yeast
Remember the little creatures that love to make gas? No, not your uncle Alfred. Yeast! Well, for them to do their job they need warm water. Just don't boil the water, or you will kill them. Warm tap water is plenty hot enough to do the job. Mix the water and yeast and set aside to activate.
Step 3: Mix the Dry Ingredients, Then the Wet Ingredients
Mix the flour, salt, butter, and oats together. When the yeast water is frothy (by the way, don't use a metal spoon to stir, it can also kill the yeast.) add the yeast water to the dry ingredients. Stir it together into a ball.
Step 4: Get Messy
Take a 1/4 cup of flour and dust it on the table. Fill the measuring cup again and then grab the dough ball. Smoosh it flat into the flour, fold it in half and smoosh it again. Add flour if it is sticky. Knead it and knead it until it passes the windowpane test. Once it is kneaded, put it in a greased bowl, cover it with a towel and put it in a warm location. I started in my window, but it wasn't warm enough so I put it next to my heat vent and raised the temperature to 72. It should double in size, unless you've not kneaded enough or killed our yeast friends.
Step 5: Baking It
Slide the dough ball directly into the Dutch oven. Cover with the lid and add heat to the top. About 9-12 on the bottom and 12-15 on the top should be about right.
Every 15 minutes, go out and turn the lid 90 degrees. Turn the oven 90 degrees in the other direction.
It should take about 60 minutes to bake, and you want the temperature about 180 degrees from a meat thermometer.
Step 6: Serve It Up
When it is finished baking, and is at 180 degrees, resist the urge to cut it right away. Let it sit for 10 - 15 minutes to cool a little. It is still cooking inside, and if you cut it open, it will let out the heat and stop the cooking.
Serve it up with jam and butter, warm, and with loved ones.