Want to start baking bread? Here’s my go-to recipe, plus 3 variations

Illustration by Ashlyn Rudolph

Katherine Noble, Contributing Writer

When I was 9, I read “The Lord of The Rings” series and promptly decided I wanted to be a hobbit. Sure, there would be something exciting to do with magic and orcs every once in a while, but I was particularly interested in food. What I wanted most was to open a tiny bakery on the side of the hill, with the smell of fresh baked bread in the air.  

Sadly, my hobbit daydream has not been achieved in its entirety, but I have managed to stay hobbit-sized and still spend a substantial portion of my time making baked goods. My parents have always encouraged me to experiment in the kitchen (heck yeah, I got my cooking merit badge) and in high school, I spent my senior year working at a local bakery. 

Recently, I’ve been loving to watch the Bon Appetit test kitchen videos as well as “Binging with Babish” and a multitude of other random food videos YouTube suggests to me.

During quarantine, I’ve found baking bread to be a soothing hobby. It keeps my hands busy and produces food for the whole family to enjoy. The Commonwealth Times Executive Editor Georgia Geen wrote about her own experiences with stress baking and shared some yummy recipes, too.

 

Here’s my go-to basic bread recipe

Have you never made bread before and feel a little nervous? Don’t sweat it. This recipe includes lots of helpful tips, like how to knead dough and what temperature your water should be at so your yeast will work.

One of the awesome things about baking bread is that you can take one basic recipe and very simply switch it up into a ton of different varieties. Here are some of my favorite variations on this simple loaf.

 

Cheddar Garlic Bread 

Difficulty: easy

Combine two cloves of finely diced garlic and 1/2 cup shredded cheddar cheese or your favorite non-dairy substitute. I don’t eat dairy, so my favorite vegan cheese is the Chao Tomato Cayenne. Regardless of what cheese you use, make sure you chop or grate it into small bits so it bakes evenly. Make the basic bread recipe as listed above. In between the first and second round of proofing, gently incorporate the garlic and cheese mixture and then bake as normal.

 

Cinnamon Sugar Swirl

Difficulty: medium

The bakery I worked at in high school was pretty famous for its cinnamon sugar bread. The trick to making it stand out is a lovely cinnamon swirl on the inside of the loaf. It delivers sweetness and spice throughout the load, plus, it looks really impressive without actually being all that much work. 

Melt 1/2 cup of butter and set aside (I use earth balance vegan butter.) In a different bowl, combine 1/4 cup of granulated sugar, a tablespoon of cinnamon and a dash of cloves and nutmeg.

Make the basic bread recipe as listed above. After the second round of proofing, roll the dough out to be the same length as the pan, but much wider. You want to have plenty of room to roll your loaf up. Brush the top of your rolled out dough with the butter, making sure you get to all the edges. Then, sprinkle the cinnamon sugar on top in an even layer. Carefully roll the dough up, making sure to pinch the ends so they don’t leak. Feel free to add more cinnamon sugar and butter on top to make it even sweeter.

 

Fancy Shmancy Italian Bread

Difficulty: hard

First, use a food processor to finely chop approximately 1/4 cup each of sun-dried tomatoes, black olives and fresh basil. Make the basic bread recipe as listed above. In between the first and second round of proofing, gently incorporate the vegetable mixture. Then let it rise as normal. After placing in the bread pan, carefully take a sharp knife and make three dashes down the length of the loaf. This will add some cool ridging to the baked loaf.

Combine an egg yolk with 1 tablespoon of water then use a pastry brush to add the mixture to the top of the loaf. This will add a lovely golden brown shine to the bread. Bon appetit!

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