When I started this post, it was just going to be my favorite homemade bread recipe, which I am frequently asked to share. But as I started writing it, I wanted to share what led me to begin baking my bread at home, whenever I can.
For the Love of Bread
After spending a glorious year living in Europe, I fell in love with bread. Like Oprah-style shout it from a mountain-top type bread love. Yep, you heard it… the food that almost every diet-conscious American has been told to break up with, is. my. jam. And while I can agree that a bread-centric diet is not a good idea, I’m going to rebel against the system here and argue that bread, REAL bread can be a part of an otherwise healthy and balanced diet.
The Scandinavian Effect
I lost my Americanized fear of bread about 15 years ago, when I was living and studying in Denmark. Scandinavians are some of the healthiest, happiest people on the planet and I observed them eat bread (really good bread) all. the. dang. time. Now, the Danes typically ride their bikes or walk to the bakery … things we Americans could for sure do a little more in our lives. But they eat bread nonetheless. And, another key observation was that Danes went to the bakery for bread. Fresh out of the oven, you can smell it from the sidewalk, real bakery bread. NOT pre-packaged, preserved, pre-sliced, pre-everything bread from the grocery store. This led me to a hypothesis. Maybe the worst part about our bread isn’t actually the carbs but all the other STUFF, the stuff that really doesn’t need to be there at all.
Pre-packaged bread additives
While I love bread, I don’t love the growing list of unrecognizable additives on most of the pre-packaged bread on our grocery store shelves these days. Traditional homemade bread is made from very simple ingredients; flour, water, yeast, salt, sugar. Commercially-made bread, though, often includes a long list of additional and potentially dangerous ingredients including, to name a few:
- azodicarbonamide – a chemical compound also used to make yoga mats, shoe rubber, and synthetic leather, gained publicity after a food blogger petitioned Subway to remove it from it’s food in 2014. Also found in hundreds of packaged baked goods including breads from Starbucks and nearly every other fast food chain.
- potassium bromate – a dough strengthener banned by every industrialized country except the US and Japan, a suspected carcinogen, shown to cause cancer in lab animals.
- ammonium sulfate – like the cleaning and fertilizing ammonia kept in the child-locked poison cabinet, ammonium is often used as a bread preservative/dough conditioner in packaged bread.
- sulfur dioxide– regularly used in packaged bread as a preservative and bleaching agent. Increases bread shelf life. May cause asthma symptoms.
- L-Cysteine – an amino acid which shortens baking time of commercially made bread. Sometimes derived from human and/or hog hair, and feathers. Barf.
Along with mono- and diglycerides, artificial sweetenters, a variety of dough conditioners, and other bread-making shortcuts that provide pre-packaged breads with quicker manufacture times and longer shelf lives. Basically, while we weren’t looking, bread in this country became an industrial success and a dietary disaster.
Back to the Basics
Once I started to research my hypothesis, I became completely freaked out by packaged bread. None of us really want the additives, the preservatives, or the whatever-ives… we just want the basics. You know, real bread. But unfortunately that’s often not what we’re buying.
So I started looking for easy, accessible ways to make my own bread at home. But bread can be notoriously time consuming and gadget laden, with bread-maker and bread-hook and 3 hour prep-time recipes galore. That doesn’t usually jive with the busy lifestyle of modern families. After years of searching, experimenting, I give you my go-to homemade bread. It is based on a Genius Kitchen recipe originally, but modified a bit. You’ll have homemade bread on the table in one hour or less, start to finish.
This is literally the easiest, quickest, holycrapwehavecompany bread, EVER. No lead time required. No yoga mat chemicals, guaranteed. Homemade bread on the table in one hour – start to finish. Grown ups love it, kids love it, (my kids even request the nutrient rich “green stuff” on top). Win.
Nani’s Herb Bread
(Serves 8. Makes two large baguettes)
For the bread:
- 2.5 cups warm water
- 2 Tbsp yeast (regular or quick-rise)
- 1.5 Tbsp unbleached sugar
- 2 tsp table salt
- 4 Tbsp olive oil (reserve 1 Tbsp for topping)
- 6 cups unbleached all purpose flour
For the herb topping:
- reserved olive oil
- 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs such as rosemary, basil, parsley, oregano, thyme
- 1 tbsp chopped garlic (if desired)
- Pour warm water into a large mixing bowl, then sprinkle the yeast and sugar on top of it.
- Let it sit for about five minutes, until the yeast mixture looks frothy on top. (as pictured.)
- Add the flour, salt and oil and stir until combined.
- Once combined, knead the dough until it forms and comes away from the sides of the bowl easily. Add a bit more flour if it’s sticky. It should look something like this.
- Cover and let the dough rise in a warm place for about 30 minutes. Don’t worry if it doesn’t completely double in size.
- While your dough rises, preheat the oven to 375 degrees, and gather your herbs. To make your herb topping, roughly chop herbs and garlic (if desired). Add reserved oil and garlic/herb to mortar and mash with pestle. Dried herbs can be used if fresh are not available.
- With floured hands, remove the dough onto a floured surface and divide it into two equal balls. Hand stretch them into baguettes or create the loaf size/shape of your choice. Place on a lightly oiled cookie sheet. Spoon oil/herbs over bread. Bake both loaves for 35 minutes, or until golden brown.
- Serve warm. We love to slice ours into thick hunks and serve with dipping oil. MANGIA! MANGIA!
Christiana is a Navy wife and mother of 3, attorney and former realtor, world traveler, home renovator and decorator, yogi, fitness enthusiast, and recipe and fine wine explorer.