Perhaps the most essential of all foods,
bread is extremely gratifying to make and to eat. The basic ingredients
of flour, water, salt and yeast can yield an enormous variety of loaves
with a huge range of flavors, textures, and shapes. Bread has a
reputation for being time consuming and difficult to make, but almost
anyone can make a satisfying loaf. In fact, the actual hands-on time
spent making bread is less than the average prep time for a meal.
To knead yeast dough - pulling and
stretching dough helps develop its gluten and incorporate air, both
necessary for the chewy texture and proper rise of good yeast bread.
Don't be too gentle during initial kneading. The harder you work dough,
the better the gluten develops.
Place your hands side by side on the dough
and press firmly down with the heels, flattening the dough to about 1/2
inch thick. With your hands still side by side, grasp the far end of the
dough and fold it back on itself, flattening again. Rotate the dough 1/4
turn and repeat. Continue kneading and rotating until the dough feels
elastic, pliable and somewhat sticky.
To clean sticky scraps of dough from a work
surface, scrape off with a plastic or metal pastry bench knife. Or use
warm water and a woven mesh scrubbie. Avoid hot water, which "cooks" the
dough and leaves a sticky mess. Also avoid using a sponge, which will
quickly become clogged with dough.