One of my favourite things to do is to make bread. I live in something like 600 square feet, and to fill that small space with the smell of baking is very comforting – it’s like I live in a baked fog. It smells like a hug. And the kneading! Nothing beats kneading. I own a Kitchen Aid mixer and its bread hook attachment, but I can’t be bothered. Not for loaves. For anything else, but not bread – I live for the feeling of dough writhing in my hands.
Because I bake bread at home for the week and don’t own the kind of commercial preservatives that would keep my loaves sufficiently soft and supple, I cheat. I add vegetables, which serve a dual purpose – soft, fluffy loaves of bread for as long as the loaf will last, and fibre, which is presumably absent from the soft white flour I use so much of. But I’ve never felt all that guilty about eating refined carbohydrates. If obesity is what ultimately gets me, it will have beat out a lot of other, more uncomfortable things.
In any event, here’s the recipe for the bread I love toasting the most:
White Bread for Cheaters
- 1/2 cup mashed sweet potato (about 1 medium-sized)
- 1 1/2 cups water from boiled sweet potato, cooled to lukewarm (or the temperature you’d heat a baby’s bottle to)
- 1 1/2 tsp. yeast
- 1 tsp. sugar
- 1 1/2 tbsp. soft butter (or olive oil, depending on your mood)
- 4 cups unbleached white flour, plus 1/4 cup for kneading
- 2 tsp. sea salt (all salts are not created equally, but whatever you have on hand will do)
Combine water, sugar, and yeast. Let sit until foamy, 5-10 minutes.
Combine salt, flour, and mashed sweet potato. When the yeasty liquid has foamed up, mix it all together. Inhale deeply. It smells lovely.
Once you’ve got your ingredients together and a ball of dough has formed, dump the lot onto a floured surface. Knead the thing for 8-10 minutes. It seems like a long time, but it’s not – two songs, or two portions of a half-hour show, plus one commercial break. Don’t think about the time, just do it. If you’re pissed off, be rough. All the better.
When the dough is soft and elastic, form it back into a nice smooth ball, and drop it into a greased bowl or pot. I like to slather my pasta pot in butter and use that – it’s the right size, and it has a lid – I hate greasing plastic wrap. Cover the bowl or pot, using either greased plastic wrap, a damp towel, or an oiled pasta-pot lid. The wamer the room, the better. I live in a building filled with old people who prefer a tropical temperature, so I always have good bread-rising conditions. I also almost never wear pants.
Let rise in a warm room for 1 1/2 to three hours. Let the thing double in size. Then, smack it down, transfer to a greased baking pan, loaf or whatever you prefer, and let rise again, 1 1/2-two hours. An hour or so before baking, preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. (I’m Canadian, and yet do not know how to measure things in metric. Also, I cannot tell time on an analog clock. School district #36 failed me.)
When the dough has risen above the pan, slide the whole thing in the oven and bake for 45 minutes.