I know saying this bread is fool-proof is a pretty big guarantee but I have NOT had success making bread in the past (flat, dense, icky loaves of wasted time) but I have made this bread several times and it has turned out absolutely delicious every time!
It takes a few hours (mostly rising time) but is is worth it. If you work during the week, save it for a weekend cooking spree. I love it for breakfast, lunch, or dinner. It is that good.
(BTW, I found this recipe online but as my computer battery was about to die, I copied it down by hand. Now I have no idea where I got the recipe. Plus this has a bit of my personal tweaks)
2 cups warm water (don't freak out about the temp. I just use water from the tap, warm enough that I would be comfortable washing dishes in it--not too hot)
1 tbs Yeast
2 tbs Sugar (add more if you like a little sweetness in the background)
1 tbs melted butter
2 tsp salt (don't skimp on the salt. You really need this much to flavor the bread)
5-5.5 cups all purpose flour
1. In a large bowl, dissolve yeast with sugar in warm water and let it sit for 10 minutes. Unload your dishwasher while you wait. Or scrape your children's booster seats with a putty knife. Or some other task you have been avoiding.
2. Add salt, butter, and three cups of flour. Combine with a wooden spoon for 2 minutes (you can use a mixer if you want, but mine is broken and you might as well not have to drag it out. The spoon works fine). The dough will be very sticky!
3. Stir in 2 cups of flour as well as you can. Now the dough will be very floury. Don't worry about this.
4. Dump the whole mess out on your (clean!) kitchen counter and glance at the clock. Then kneed that baby for 10 minutes. This is also a good time to wear a cute apron and channel your inner domestic goddess. Work in all the extra flour from the bowl and when the dough starts to get sticky again, sprinkle with some more flour. Repeat. At first, 10 minutes seems like a LONG time but just think--you are getting an awesome arm workout and then you get to eat carbs afterwards. WIN WIN! At the end of those 10 (100,000,000,000) minutes, the dough should be very elastic and smooth.
5. Spray a large clean bowl with cooking spray and plop your dough in. Then turn it so it gets oiled on all sides. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place for an hour, or until doubled in size.
6. Punch dough down (pretty much my favorite part!) and divide in half. I like to use the serrated bread knife to do this.
7. Shape each half into a rectangle and roll flat with a rolling pin. Then roll up the dough from the long side into a french loaf type lookin'....loaf. Pinch the edges closed and place the seam on the bottom. Also roll the ends under so they are nice and even.
8. Place on a greased cookie sheet (not air bake). I have to turn my loaves diagonally so they fit. (You can also sprinkle your cookie sheet with cornmeal before you put the loaves on but I have never had any and the bread turns out fine without it).
9. Cut diagonal gashes on the top of each loaf. A lot or a few. It's up to you. Just don't cut too deep! Again, I use my bread knife to do this but kitchen sheers would work well too.
10. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled again. Yeah, it does take a while to get the bread. Hang in there! It is worth it!
11. Bake at 375 for about 30 minutes (check after 25). It should be nice and golden brown.
12. If you like really crispy crust (my husband does NOT!), spray lightly with water while baking. On the other hand, if you like a soft, chewy crust spread melted butter over the top as soon as it comes out of the oven.
Yum! I am making some this afternoon. If I start at 3pm I can have the bread rising by 3:30pm. 3:30-4:30 to rise. Then form the loaves, rise from 4:45-5:30ish. Bake for 30 minutes. On the table by 6pm!!
As with all homemade bread, it goes bad sooner than store bought. I have had great success with freezing a loaf (I used a leftover bread bag from the store) and eating it later in the week or month.
Enjoy! Don't fear! you too can make fool-proof bread!