Bread-making is certainly less common than it used to be. It requires a time commitment of a few hours, requires a fairly large amount of patience and determination, and with many artisan breads easily available at local supermarkets it may seem hardly worth it to devote the time and energy necessary to make a good loaf of bread. Sure, everyone knows the smell of baking bread is one of the best smells a person can experience, and even many of the artisan loafs for sale still contain a smorgasbord of preservatives not included in your grandmother's recipes, but even with those incentives the process still can seem far too daunting to start a particular bread project.
I'm here to tell you: this recipe is worth it. Like all yeast-bread recipes it does take a good deal of time to obtain a final product, so it's not necessarily a middle-of-the-week project. But if you have a few hours free on a weekend sometime (and, I suppose, aren't on the Atkins diet) I entreat you to give this a go. The crumb is amazingly soft and moist, but still holds together well enough for sandwiches. It's also partly whole-wheat, so it's healthier than many breads.
(I'm going to go step-by-step here, with photos for every step; it may be helpful to open all the steps on one page right off the bat. Within each step, there will be instructions and asides, with the asides separated by being in parentheses -- thus, anyone that just flatly wants to know what to do, you can ignore the parenthesized bits. These asides will make note of some of the reasons why I'm instructing you what to do in that specific way and other expansions on the blunt instructions. I will also list the condensed, aside-and-picture-less recipe in the final slide.)
Let's get started!
Step 1: Necessary Ingredients
Here's what you'll need:
1 1/2 cup Water
1 cup Cottage Cheese (yes, seriously)
1/2 cup Honey
1/4 cup Butter
5 1/2 - 6 cup All-Purpose Flour
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
2 tablespoons White Sugar
3 teaspoons Salt
2 packages of Quick-Rise Yeast
Most of these ingredients are pretty standard for breadmaking -- except, of course, the cottage cheese. In this recipe, though, it works beautifully to make the bread heartier, and if you use regular cottage cheese (as opposed to low- or no-fat) it can make the crumb even more moist, as all added fats do.
You'll also want to have a stick of hard (cold) butter for future buttering purposes in addition to the 1/4 cup listed here.
Step 2: Additional Supplies
You'll also need:
1 cup measure
1/2 cup measure (not completely necessary if your 1 cup measure is graduated at the 1/2-cup mark, but you'll want to throughly clean and dry the measure after using it for wet ingredients
1 large mixing bowl
2 loaf pans
Shortening (for greasing the loaf pans)
1 Tablespoon measure
Spoon, for stirring
Electric Mixer, either hand or stand-up. (Not necessary either, but it'll make life a little easier. The alternative is to use a fork or wooden spoon and an arm or two ready to get a work-out.)
Step 3: Preparing Wet Ingredients
Add the water, honey, and butter to the saucepan. Set on the stove, and set heat to medium-low.
Step 4: Cottage Cheese
You'll also be adding the cottage cheese to the saucepan, but we first need to eliminate the lumpy curds and make it smooth.
To do this, get out the strainer, place it over the mouth of the saucepan, and add the cup of cottage cheese to it. Use a spoon to press the cottage cheese through the strainer, straight into the heating water-butter-honey mixture. Once it's all pressed through, turn the strainer over and scrape the bottom of the strainer for the extra cottage cheese stuck there.
(Alternatively, you can use a food processor or blender to make the cottage cheese smooth. If you do that, this straining step is unnecessary, and simply add the smooth cottage cheese to the pan.)
Step 5: Heating the Liquid Mixture
Once the water, butter, honey, and cottage cheese have been added, the resulting mixture should look something like what's pictured here. Keep the mixture heating until it reaches 120-125 degrees, stirring frequently.
(I strongly recommend measuring this with a meat or candy thermometer if you have one; if you don't, though, a finger will suffice. This temperature range will feel uncomfortably warm for bathing, but bearable -- NOT scalding. Of course, I will note loudly here: if you are using your finger to test the temperature of a liquid mixture over a live heat source, BE CAREFUL. Test the temperature early, test it often, and if you see it starting to bubble or otherwise think it might be too warm, DON'T PUT YOUR FINGER IN -- dip a spoon in and bring it to your lips to get a sense of how warm it actually is. There shouldn't be too much worry about burning yourself unless you walk away from the mixture for a long period of time or turn the heat up too high, but this is not a no-risk method.)
(Some of you who have made bread before might be wondering about this temperature I'm listing, as most recipes call for adding the yeast directly to delicately warm 100-degree water; warm enough to activate the yeast, but not high enough to kill it. This method is different: the yeast is added at the time the rest of the dry ingredients are added are as well. This allows for a bit more wiggle room for the actual temperature of the liquid mixture, as adding a large amount of room-temperature dry ingredients to a smaller amount of warm liquid results in a dough mixture at the perfect temperature for yeast, even in a wider range of warm liquid temperatures.)
Once the liquid has reached the requisite temperature, add it to the mixing bowl.
Step 6: Adding the Dry Ingredients
Next, you'll add the dry ingredients. Measure 2 cups of the all-purpose flour: spoon flour into the cup measure until the flour heaps over the measure's rim, then level with the flat side of a knife.
(Flour packs very easily, and when it does it does so densely. This method allows the flour to be as airy as possible when measuring it out. Yes, eventually there will be much more flour in the dough than this, but at this stage you want more of a batter-type mixture than a doughy one, so the dry ingredients can properly dissolve and mix in the liquid.)
Also add the cup of whole wheat flour. Then, add the two packets of yeast to the still-warm liquid surrounding the mound of flour, and use a spoon to stir the area where you added the yeast. Add the 2 tablespoons of sugar to the liquid as well.
(You need the yeast to dissolve in the liquid, and you need the liquid to be warm, so that the yeast activates. Once it activates, it'll want food -- the sugar, which it happily munches on for energy and in doing so produces carbon dioxide as a byproduct, the stuff that forms the bubbles in our dough-to-be.)
Then add the tablespoon of salt and egg, and start mixing. Once everything is combined, the resulting batter will look something like what's in the main picture.
Step 7: Adding the Flour
Now you're going to start turning this batter into a bread dough. Add the rest of the flour a cup at a time and mix in each added cup. (If you wish to have a greater proportion of whole-wheat flour, from this point adding whole-wheat flour instead of all-purpose is fine.) As you add flour, the batter will get more and more sticky, and if you're using a mixer it will start to crawl up the beaters; once this starts to happen, switch to mixing by hand.
(Of course, if you're already mixing by hand, then keep going!)
This step with the bowl is done when the dough starts to look like the dough in the final picture. At that point, the dough will be pulling away from the bowl significantly, and will feel only somewhat sticky to the touch.
(You'll notice there aren't strict instructions as to how much flour to add, exactly, at this step. That's not an error; breadmaking is done largely by sight and gut instinct, rather than following a precise set of instructions to the tee, as in a dessert baking recipe. This step is done when the dough pulls away, not when you've added a specified amount of flour. It should, if you're counting, end up being 3 1/2 to 4 cups added at this step, but it's more important that the dough look and feel as it should than anything.)
Step 8: Kneading!
Flour a cleaned countertop, or a countertop covered with waxed paper, as in the first picture. (There are about three handfuls of all-purpose flour shown in that picture.) Take the dough from the bowl and pull it out onto this floured surface. Scrape the bowl well for extra; the dough will be generally pulling away from the sides of the bowl, but a fairly good amount will remain stuck to the sides.
Cover your hands in flour, then turn the dough over so it too is covered in flour. Then start kneading: fold the dough to the left, then with the heel of your palm push down and away from yourself; then fold the edge of the dough facing away from yourself and fold it back, then push again with the heel of your palm. Repeat until the dough is smooth and elastic, about two minutes.
Step 9: First Rise
Butter the mixing bowl from before. (Take a cold stick of butter and rub it around the bowl you were using, until completely buttered. You can clean and dry the bowl before this step, if you really desire, but it's not totally necessary; the dough should be much less sticky than it had been after being kneaded, so it won't pick up the stuff in the bowl, and in any case, what's in the bowl is just stuff that's also in the dough.) Place the dough in the bowl, then turn it over so its surface is also buttered. (This way, it doesn't dry out while rising.)
Cover, and place into a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size., about 45-60 minutes.
(A good warm, draft-free location is the inside of a cold oven, but if you don't have one to spare tuck the bowl into a corner away from traffic and breezes.)
(You can test if the dough has doubled by pressing two fingers into the top of the dough. If the indentation those fingers make does not spring back and instead remains, it has doubled.)
Step 10: Second Rise
Grease both loaf pans. (Take a paper towel, dip it into the shortening, then rub the shortened paper towel over the interior surface of the loaf pans until they're entirely greased.)
Punch down the risen dough. (Just push a fist into the risen top of the dough. Much of the carbon dioxide the yeast has been producing during rising will puff out -- don't worry, that's what's supposed to happen!) Divide the dough in two, then shape into loaves and place each loaf into a greased loaf pan. (Shaping into loaves is a bit hard to convey through pictures. Take a dough half and elongate and flatten it a bit. Then, fold all of the sides under the dough, starting along the longer dimension, then tucking back the shorter ends -- the idea is to form a taut top surface. Pinch the folded-under edges together, then place the loaf into a loaf pan pinched-side down. Repeat for the other dough half.)
Place both loaf pans back into the warm, draft-less area, cover, and let rise again until doubled in size, 45-60 minutes. (This time you won't want to test the dough with your fingers, as it'll make the final product have a dent in it. Simply estimate: if the dough has risen over the edges of the loaf pan forming a familiarly bread-shaped loaf, it's done.)
Step 11: Baking/Enjoying
Once the dough has risen for a second time, start baking! Set the oven to 350 degrees. (If you're using the oven as a rising space, it's fine to simply remove the cover, leave the loaves in, and turn on the stove.) Bake for 40-50 minutes, until the loaves are deep golden brown and sound hollow when you tap on them. Once done, remove immediately from the pans. If you like, you can brush both still-hot loaves with butter.
That's it! Enjoy!
Step 12: Condensed Recipe
1 1/2 cup Water
1/2 cup Honey
1/4 cup Butter
1 cup Cottage Cheese, pressed through a strainer or food processor/blender until smooth
5 1/2 - 6 cups All-Purpose Flour
1 cup Whole Wheat Flour
2 packages Yeast
2 tablespoons Sugar
1 tablespoon Salt
Heat first 4 ingredients over medium low heat until 120-125 degrees (uncomfortably, but bearably, warm to the the touch). Transfer to large mixing bowl.
Add 2 cups of the all-purpose and the 1 cup of whole wheat flour. Add yeast and sugar to the liquid mixture before mixing. Then add the salt and egg, and mix well. Add the remaining flour a cup at a time to make a stiff dough that pulls away from the bowl.
Knead on a floured, smooth surface until smooth and elastic, about 2 minutes. Place in a buttered bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled, 45-60 minutes.
Grease two loaf pans. Punch the dough down, divide, and shape into two loaves. Place in pans, cover, and let rise a second time until doubled.
Heat oven to 350 degrees. Bake 40-50 minutes, until the loaves are deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped. Immediately remove from pans, and brush still-hot loaves with butter or margarine if desired.