My family's homemade long loaf bread is soft and absorbent with a little chewiness and light crust that's not too hard and crunchy. It will not break your teeth nor you won't start picking your mouth. A homemade bread that can stand any filling or toppings that you desire to eat and works well for tearing, dipping, and mopping any of your favorite sauce and soup.
It's been a while I have been making this bread and it gets better as we spend most of our free time at home. This bread reminds me of my whole ordeal when I was a housekeeper & cook in Hongkong for a French family who can't live without bread. Of course, my lack of skills in baking is under so much pressure. The very first bread I made came out as a hard rock French bread. Nobody dared to slice it because they feared that the bread knife will jump into their hands. I guess a hammer was needed to do the job. But, as Julia Child writes in "My life in France", "No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing."
This loaf bread is popularly known as French bread on the internet and even at the grocery store. But what I learned then, a French bread only uses flour, water, yeast, and salt, and I have to admit; it comes with a complicated technique to get that crispy hard crust and pillowy texture such as baguette or boulle. The reason I'm not calling these beauties French bread is because of a little bit of fat added, making it the best tender and light-crusted bread ever.
What does fat do to bread?
Fat acts as a tenderizer in bread. It reduces toughness for a more tender and a more delicate, crispier exterior. According to the New Zealand Institute of Chemistry 1 "In bread making - fat provides flavor but more importantly lubricates the dough. This helps to retain the gases released during baking thus ensuring a well-risen loaf will have a soft crumb and will stay fresh longer."
Tips for making homemade bread
1. Flour: There are reasons why all recipes about bread require bread flour and it is a good idea to understand Why? All flour contains protein and this protein correspond to how much gluten and gluten give structure and its characteristic chew to any baked goods. Bakers usually prefer bread flour for all yeast baking that requires more body and sturdiness such as bread, thus the name! Bread flour contains an average of 12-14% protein depending on the brand. Since I live here in Canada, I use all-purpose flour for any recipes that require bread flour. Canadian all-purpose flour contains 13.3% protein which is high enough for structure while in the US, Bread flour contains an average of 13-14% of protein and their all-purpose flour has a standardized 9% to 11% protein content.
2. Yeast: I used to have a stash of two different types of yeast such Active dry yeast and instant dry yeast. Yeast in general makes dough rise and yeast thrive at a warm temperature which is why warm liquid is added to the dough.
▶︎ Active dry yeast is a dormant form of yeast that needs to be hydrated or proof prior to use in any recipe. Meaning, you need to dissolve this yeast in warm water with a little bit of sugar to activate since sugar acts as their food. Leave it alone for a few minutes to be activated before adding in the recipe. This is also the perfect timing to check if your yeast is alive, you will notice how the froth doubles in size. If nothing is happening, meaning it is simply not going to work; it's time to toss it away and open a fresh one. Also, you have to consider the water temperature, it should be between 105F to 110F, below 110F the yeast will stay dormant and above 110 will kill the yeast.
The whole reason behind the method of proofing your yeast is to prove that your yeast is alive before use. Unless you go to the store with a great turnover knowing they replace their stocks of yeast and the expiration is not close to its date, then maybe you can scape the proving method - but are you brave to take the risk?
► Instant dry yeast, the granules are smaller. You can add directly with all other ingredients without activating prior to using them. Also, instant yeast has a higher tolerant temperature of up to 130F.
Thanks to the unique manufacturing process of instant dry yeast. I like the reliability, stability, and shelf life that can be frozen for several years. I have a stash of packages of instant yeast in the freezer and 3 years later they're still alive. One reason I will never part ways and stay loyal to instant dry yeast is eliminating the need for hydration Which means, saving 10 minutes of waiting is a blessing. They are made to work 100%. I only use Instant dry yeast if you are to ask me.
What if you don't have a thermometer? I tweak the water temperature in my kitchen faucet. So when I put my hand in hot running water and it stings my hand that is unbearable, I know it will kill my yeast, which is above 130F. If I can place my hand under hot water feeling a little sting for a couple of minutes, this is a perfect temperature when using instant dry yeast. By the time you measure and transfer to the mixing bowl and add the flour, the water temperature goes down. On the other hand, if the water is warm enough without the sting, that's meant for active dry yeast. It works for me!
3. Salt boasts the flavor of your homemade bread at the same time it plays the role in tightening the gluten structure and adding strength to your dough, according to King Arthur baking Company2. Also, salt can kill the yeast. What should you do? Either mix first the yeast with other ingredients before adding salt or, place the flour in the bowl and then add the yeast on one side and salt to the other side. Mix the salt and yeast where they are before stirring everything.
3. Water is in charge of the consistency of the bread. Without water, there is no gluten development. Water serves as a solvent and dispersing agent for sugar, salt, and yeast. Also, the most important ingredient for the yeast to ferment.
4. Sugar doesn't affect the structure of yeast bread, except in a positive way: the lower the amount of sugar the stronger the loaf rises. But remember this, because we are tracking our diet (a baker's conundrum), and if you decided to reduce the original sugar quantity a recipe asks - the textural difference you might see is the tendency towards dryness.
Sugar is hygroscopic. Which means sugar attracts and holds moisture. Without it, moisture will just evaporate from bread during baking, giving you a drier loaf of bread
How about longer storage quality? Bread with sugar stays fresher and longer for days than without.
Before you understand kneading, you need to know what is gluten. When you stir flour and water, the protein from flour and water will grab each other forming that bubble gum-like, elastic mass of molecules we call gluten. This structure with the help of sugar, salt, and kneading will give the bread that elasticity to capture all the bubbles produced by yeast in order to grow, fluffy, chewy, and light once baked.
Whether you use a machine to knead or your bare hands, the outcome will be the same and delicious. Doughs usually flop when they are severely under-knead or over-knead which is quite common when using a stand mixer. Because stand mixer produces faster results, and we tend to overdo it without realizing it. Sign of over-worked dough:
- Dense and stiff
- Hard to knead by hand
- Hard to flatten
- resist being reshaped
- Tears easily when stretched
Contrary, under-worked dough will be harder to form a shape, it will just flop around and tear easily. Whereas, the underworked dough can be fixed by continuing the kneading, while the overworked dough is hard to fix.
When using a stand mixer, As soon as the dough pulls away from the bowl with clean sides and bottom (see figure 1), this is the sign to start checking.
☞A well-kneaded dough should feel soft and tacky but not sticky. It should be stretchy and elastic and it should bounce back with a gentle press using your second finger. Try the windowpane test (figure 2), get a small ball of your bread dough, and stretch it into a square. keep stretching as thin as you can without tearing where light can pass through.
Kneading with your hand, I have to admit, I rarely knead the dough with my bare hands for the whole kneading process. I only use it for the last finishing touches if the dough needs more kneading. This long loaf bread recipe doesn't need a machine to do all the work. Although, you need a lot of elbow grease to knead this bread dough by hand.
So, how to do it? On a practical level, it takes about 20 to 25 minutes with strong forearm muscles to fully knead this dough. Use the heel of your right palm, push the dough away from you and use your finger to pull it back and fold. Rotate the dough then use the heel of your left palm to push, pull and fold, continue. In this process, you will notice a repeated push-pull, rotating and crisscross of your arm - like using a rhythmic, gentle motion that massages and stretches the dough to strengthen the gluten. The best advantage of kneading with your hand is, over kneading will unlikely to happen unless you over-exhaust yourself.
Stages of fermentation during bread making
- Bulk fermentation (first rise), it is called bulk because even if you plan to make multiple loaves out of one dough, but still you let it rise as one dough at the same time. Bulk fermentation in warm temperature usually 1 hour to 2 hours and up to 3 hours in colder temperature.
- Folding, gently scrape the edge of the bowl, with your first three fingers of your two hands, pull the edge of the dough that's farthest away from you and towards the center. Repeat by making a quarter turn of the bowl for a total of four turns.
- Shaping, take the dough out of the bowl and divide into two. Gently pat the dough at the same time releasing any trapped bubbles while shaping into a thick rectangle. Starting from the longest side ,roll the dough as tight as you can but gently. pinch the two ends of the dough to seal. Roll back and forth with a very light touch of your palm to smooth the surface and help tighthen the dough. Transter into a large baking sheet spacing 3 inches apart. Give a few slashes as you please using a very sharp knife.
- Final proofing (second rise), cover the dough lightly with a plastic wrap or a dish cloth and let it rice in a room temperature until it double in size.
To sum this all up, this process of making homemade bread sounds very long and complicated but once you put your hands in it as you learn the technique, it is actually easy. All you need to do is gather the ingredients at room temperature, either you knead manually or for a faster result, use your standing machine. Mix it all together, then knead; not too much and not less. Let it rise, deflate, shape, let it rise again and finally, Bake. This is an amazing foundation for making bread, once you learn the basics, form into different shapes that pleases you, add some flavors, milk, butter- it is limitless.
Now that you have this beautiful, warm, and tasty long loaf bread, this winter tomato soup is an amazing soup to pair with. Any leftover bread, I would suggest - make garlic bread or maybe, grilled cheese...
I know there are times when we just need everything easy and just enjoy" me time", the easiest No-knead bread recipe is also an option
How to make long loaf bread at home
- Stand mixer, large mixing bowl, Baking sheet
- 900 grams (6 cups ) All-purpose flour
- 12 grams (2 teaspoons) Salt (low sodium pink salt is an option)
- 7 grams (2 ¼ teaspoons) Instant yeast
- 450 grams (2 ½ cups) Warm water
- 38 grams (3 tablespoons) Sugar
- 53 grams (4 tablespoons) Olive oil, canola oil or vegetable oil
- Place the water, sugar, yeast, and 500 grams (4 cups) of flour in the bowl of a stand mixer with the paddle attachment. Mix at low speed until smooth and sticky.
- Add the salt and oil, and mix for a few seconds. Change the paddle attachment to a dough hook. Increase the speed to medium-low and start to knead while adding the remaining flour gradually.
- Continue kneading - after 4 minutes, the dough will start to pull away from the bowl but still tacky and sticky with a uniform appearance. After 7-8 minutes, the dough pulls away from the sides and bottom of the bowl and the dough will have a compact form that feels soft and tacky but not sticky, stretchy and elastic-like that bounces back from a gentle touch of your second finger.
- Take the dough out from the bowl and knead using the heel of your hand for a few seconds to help you form a smooth round ball. Transfer into a large oiled mixing bowl and roll the dough to coat with oil. Cover with plastic wrap and seal, and then place proof undisturbed for 1-hour or until the size is doubled.
- Remove the plastic cover. With your first three-finger of both hands, gently and carefully pull the farthest sides away from you and fold towards the center. Rotate the bowl into quarters and repeat until the fourth fold.
- Turn out the dough into a lightly floured work surface and divide it into two equal pieces. Gently pat the dough while shaping into a thick rectangle, approximately 13 inches by 9 inches. Roll the dough from the long side pressing tightly to remove air pockets. Pinch the end to seal. Repeat with the other dough.
- Transfer the dough into the lined baking sheet. Using a sharp knife create a few slashes as you please. Cover lightly with plastic wrap or a dishcloth and let it proof for 40 minutes or until the size is doubled depending on your room's temperature.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F and bake for 30 minutes, rotating the pan halfway through the baking time. Transfer the long loaves of bread into a cooling rack to cool.
- If you are to knead by hand, please go back up and read how to knead by hand.
- For added texture, sprinkle cornmeal or semolina flour on the dough and on the baking sheet instead of lining it with parchment paper.Dusted with semolina flour before baking.
- For a beautiful golden-brown crust with a bit of a crisp and bolder flavor, brush the dough with an egg wash and then sprinkle a touch of salt before baking.
- This bread is freezer friendly - cool the bread completely, wrap it with aluminum foil, and then put it in a freezer bag before freezing.