Today my lovely sister Anna is going to share her secrets to making the perfect loaf of bread - Happy New Year!
Sichuan province in China is known for having some of the best food in the world. Chengdu, the capital of the providence and the city where we live, is famous for Hot Pot, "numbing" peppers, and all things spicy. When the food here is good, it's great. Every day we see people peddling their fresh vegetables into the city from the farms that are scattered between new high rises and alongside busy roads. All the street food we've tried has been delicious! My favorite are the guys who pedal around selling whole sweet potatoes roasted over hot coals. Then there are the Jianbing - a type of crepe that's cooked on a griddle then topped with beaten egg, scallions, delicious sweet and spicy sauces, and a piece of fried something or other - and the list goes on. Yum.
But despite all our excellent eating adventures, there are some "western" foods that we miss and, although they are expensive and hard to find, and although we definitely could live without them, choose not to. Namely wine, cheese, and good bread. In Chile, where my fiancé is from, not only do they make some of the best wine in the world, but they're serious about their bread. It's always on the table at every meal and since the rare loaf of bread you find here is strangely sweet, I decided to learn how to make bread at home.
(This loaf was made with bread flour. I ran out of whole wheat flour, and since the walk to the "western food" store is a 1-hour schlep each way, I decided to forgo nutrition in the name of convenience.)
Anna's Easy Homemade Bread
2 cups luke warm water
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
1/2 teaspoon sugar
3 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups flour (I've tried all-purpose, bread flour, and a 50-50 mix of white and whole wheat - they all worked great)
We do own a measure cup, but we don't have measuring spoons here, so all the measurements except the flour and water are eye-ball measurements and the bread comes out perfectly every time, so don't worry about being precise with those. This is very hard to screw up. But do measure the flour and water! That part is important.
1. In a large plastic container or big bowl, mix everything except the flour (water, yeast, salt, sugar, & olive oil) until yeast is dissolved, just a few seconds should do.
I use a tall plastic container for the whole process. It makes it really easy to mix the dough and let it rise without any messy flour explosions.
2. Add the flour and mix with a wooden spoon for a minute, just until all the flour is absorbed into the water.
No need to knead. You just want to mix until the flour is combined into the water.
3. Cover loosely and let the dough sit overnight.I use another plastic container that fits loosely on top, but you can also loosely cover with plastic wrap. I usually mix the dough in the late afternoon or evening and it's ready to bake in the morning. I know my dough is ready when it's overflowing out of the container. It will more than double in size and be riddled with air bubbles.
4. Preheat the oven to 425. Oil and flour a baking dish.
I always bake my bread on the bottom rack of my little toaster oven. I've tried this in a glass baking dish and it really doesn't work. Metal gets nice and hot in the oven and gives you a good crust. The one time I used a glass pan, the bottom of the bread was doughy and the loaf did not cook through evenly.
5. Dump the risen dough straight into the prepared baking dish. Do not punch down, knead, reshape, etc. Just literally turn it upside down and dump!
6. Bake until the top of your loaf is a deep golden brown color. Remove from the oven and let cool completely.
It's temping to cut straight into the loaf, but resist the temptation! The bread will finish cooking as it comes to room temperature and may be doughy if you cut into it too soon.