Back when I was just a kid, in maybe 5th or 6th grade, I went to this "camp"--actually a conference center--with my church youth group. The camp was called Ridgecrest, and it was a wonderful, wonderful place. We spent a week there, in large group worship sessions, small Bible classes, and just hanging out with each other and with new friends that we met there. It was a great time of worship, learning, and fellowship.
A lot of that fellowship occurred in the house that the church rented for us. It was across the interstate from Ridgecrest itself (don't worry, there was a bridge). There were several houses there that were rented out to different youth groups. I believe they all were owned by the same people. Everyone who stayed in one of those houses ate breakfast--possibly dinner, too, but I don't recall--in this one huge dining hall. The food was excellent, but best of all was the bread. It was homemade every morning. There were different varieties--white, wheat, raisin, cinnamon--all served fresh from the oven at breakfast. I had never had bread so good in my entire life!
I never expected to have bread so good again, either. But then we moved to Egypt, and I stopped working outside the home. I started reading blogs. I was inspired to try baking my own pita bread, and I was pretty happy with the result. I thought that maybe, just maybe, I'd try making some "real" bread sometime. That's where I ran into problems. I found plenty of recipes online, but so many of them just said "dump the ingredients into the bread machine ..." That's all well and good if you have a bread machine. I wasn't so sure about buying one when I wasn't certain that I'd use it a lot. Other recipes called for complicated starters that take days to make, or worse yet, assumed you had a starter and didn't bother telling you how to make it at all. Then I started reading comments on bread recipes and discovered that whole wheat bread, which is what my husband and I prefer, apparently is more complicated to make than white bread because the whole wheat flour absorbs more water or some such thing, making it more difficult to mix, easier to burn, more likely to turn out hard, and the problems continued. I gave up in frustration and started talking to my husband about buying a bread machine after all.
Then I was reading a blog--I think it was Terry over at Breathing Grace, or it may have been Antique Mommy--and she (whichever "she" it was) was talking about a simple, delicious recipe for whole wheat bread. She provided a link to the blog that had the recipe, which I of course followed, just to see what she considered "simple." I'd been surprised before at some of the "simple" recipes out there ... maybe simple if you've been baking bread since you were six! But this one looked manageable. So I bookmarked it, thinking that one day I'd get around to trying it.
"One day" turned out to be today. I actually had all the ingredients on hand, a fact that testifies to my increased domesticity since we've moved here. I never would have had whole wheat flour sitting in my kitchen cabinet or active yeast in my fridge back home! But anyway, I tried the recipe ... and it really was easy. It took some time, but most of that was letting the dough rise or rest while I did something else. So I followed the instructions and then set the two loaves of freshly baked bread to cool on my makeshift wire racks (actually two roasting pan inserts for my toaster oven, thus allowing air circulation ... one of them was even wire). I went back to my ironing--and the smell coming from the kitchen drove me crazy! I had smelled the bread baking and had been anxious to try it then, but it got so much worse when I knew that it was out of the oven, sitting there on the counter. So as soon as I finished the ironing, I went and sliced myself a piece. I took one bite ... and cut myself another piece or two. I felt like I was back at Ridgecrest for breakfast!
They came out a little short and flat, not to mention a little lopsided, but I'll just have to do a better job at shaping them next time. There certainly wasn't anything wrong with the taste! I know myself too well to say that I'll never buy bread from the supermarket--or the commissary--again; I can be lazy at times. But I can say this: I won't buy it again thinking that I'm getting a good deal either on the price or on the taste. It's so inexpensive to make it yourself, and it really does taste much better.
For those of you who are interested--and for myself, because I have this fear that the original post will be moved and I'll lose the recipe--here's the recipe I used:
3- 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
1 package active dry yeast (I used 2-1/4 tsp active dry yeast from a jar)
1-3/4 cup water
1/3 cup packed brown sugar (hey, I didn't say it was healthy!)
3 tablespoons butter or margarine
1-1/4 teaspoon salt
2 cups whole wheat flour
In a large bowl, combine 2 cups all-purpose flour and yeast. Set it aside.
In a medium saucepan, combine water, brown sugar, butter or margarine, and salt. Heat until the butter almost melts. Apparently if you let it boil, it will kill the yeast.
Add sugar mixture to flour and yeast. Beat on low for 30 seconds, then on high for 3 minutes. The original post said that the batter would climb the beaters, but mine didn't.
Using a wooden spoon (or silicon, as I don't have any wooden ones), stir in the wheat flour and remaining 1-1/2 cups of all-purpose flour. Or just knead it in, like I ended up doing.
Put the dough on a floured surface. Knead it until the dough is smooth and elastic, not sticky. This takes 6 to 8 minutes. Shape the dough into a ball and put it in a lightly greased (or sprayed with cooking spray) bowl.
Leave it alone to rise for 90 minutes, being sure to keep the kittens entertained away from the kitchen in the meantime :) You know it's risen enough when you can stick your finger into it about a 1/2 inch and the impression remains.
Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide it into two, cover each half, and let them rest for 10 minutes, again keeping the cats away from it.
Shape the two pieces into loaves and put into greased pans. Cover them and leave them alone to rise for 35 minutes. In the meantime, get the oven started preheating to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
Bake them for 35 minutes. Cover them with foil for the last 10 minutes so the crust doesn't become too brown.
Take them out of the oven and let them cool on wire racks, or whatever you have lying around.
Slice and serve. It tastes great alone or with a little margarine ... probably also with jelly or used as a sandwich. I'll have to experiment and let you know.