Summer's twilight is a great time for bread-making.
Bread dough itself is low in fat and therefore easy to handle, even if it's warm. And that same warm air promotes the quick growth of yeast, cutting down on waiting time for both the dough and the formed loaf to rise. Finally, breads bake relatively quickly, and the oven is on for a short time, adding less heat to the house.
The recipes here use a food processor for speed and ease of mixing. If you wish to mix doughs by hand, place the ingredients in a mixing bowl, instead of food processor bowl, and stir to mix. Rub in butter between palms of hands, if called for in recipe, until no longer visible, then add liquid and stir with a rubber spatula to evenly moisten flour.
Cover and let bowl rest 5 minutes. Then beat dough with wooden spoon until smooth and fairly elastic, or scrape dough to lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, about one minute for each process. Return dough to bowl, cover and allow to rise as in individual recipes.
After your loaf is baked, keep it loosely covered at room temperature for up to 24 hours. For longer storage or advance preparation, wrap and freeze bread, then reheat briefly at 350 degrees before serving.
Home-baked bread may sound like a lot of trouble, but if you try it once, you'll break the packaged-bread habit forever.
Old-fashioned white bread
Makes 1 loaf
3 cups unbleached, all-purpose flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
1 teaspoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons melted butter, olive oil or vegetable oil
Combine flour, salt and sugar in work bowl of food processor and pulse several times to combine.
Place warm water in another bowl and whisk in yeast, then butter. Add mixture to ingredients in work bowl. Pulse 6 or 8 times to form ball of dough. Let processor run continuously 30 seconds.
Butter or oil mixing bowl and scrape dough into bowl. Cover bowl and let dough rise until double in bulk, about 1 hour.
Butter 8 1/2 -4 1/2 -2 3/4 -inch loaf pan. Scrape risen dough from bowl to floured work surface. Press dough with palms of hands to deflate. To form loaf, stretch dough into rough rectangle, then fold in short ends until dough is about length of pan. Then fold far long edge down to middle, continuing to fold and roll to form tight cylinder. Place loaf in pan, seam side down. Cover loaf with plastic wrap and allow to rise until double, about 1 hour.
Heat oven to 375 degrees. When loaf is completely risen, place on middle rack in oven and immediately lower temperature to 350 degrees. Bake until well risen and firm to touch, 30 to 40 minutes. Turn out on rack to cool.
Variations: Part whole wheat bread: Substitute 1/2 cup whole wheat flour for 1/2 cup white flour. Substitute honey for sugar. Cinnamon-raisin bread: Just before forming loaf, knead 1 cup dark or golden raisins into dough. Press dough into rectangle and brush with 1 teaspoon melted butter. Sprinkle dough with 1 teaspoon sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon, then roll up tightly and place in pan.
Hints for success: For the best home-baked breads, carefully follow these rules:
* Measure accurately. Spoon flour and other dry ingredients into dry-measure cup and level off with knife or metal spatula. Don't use a glass cup meant for liquid when you working with dry ingredients.
* Protect the yeast. Be sure liquid is just lukewarm before adding yeast. If liquid is too hot, the yeast will die immediately and the dough will not rise properly.
* Interrupt the rising. If you don't have time to do the whole process at once, refrigerate the dough after it rises. Then you have up to 24 hours before you must form the loaf, let it rise and bake it.
* Bake sufficiently. Make sure the bread is baked through. An instant-read thermometer is your best guide -- sometimes underdone bread looks quite brown and baked through.