I've had a few friends ask about making bread. So, I thought maybe I'd do a tutorial for you. This method will work with any of my bread recipes. I'm going to share my new favourite recipe out of my new favourite cookbook -Secrets of a Jewish Baker: Recipes for 125 Breads from Around the World.
Step One: make the sponge
If you are using another recipe, put all the water, the yeast and half the flour in a bowl. Once stirred it will basically look like pancake batter. Cover with a tea towel and sit in a warm place about 30 minutes.
Milk Bread: 2 cups warm water, 1 1/2 Tbsp yeast (2 packages yeast), and 3 cups flour
After 30 minutes your sponge will look like this:
Add all the remaining ingredients in your recipe. Mix well. Add only enough flour to make a soft dough. Too much flour will make your break dry and yucky.
Add to sponge: 4 tsp sugar, 2 Tbsp soft butter, 2/3 cup skim milk powder, 2-3 cup flour (start with 2 and work up to 3 if you need), and 2 tsp salt.
Knead the dough until smooth, about 10 minutes. USE AS LITTLE FLOUR ON YOUR TABLE AS POSSIBLE! I tend to use the old trick of oiling my table instead. This is very important because you want your dough fairly soft (but not sticky).
Cut the dough into as many loaves as you are making. If you are making the Milk Bread, cut the dough into two. Cover with a tea towel and let rest 10 minutes.
Now for the fun part! Shape the loaves into your desired shape (oil table if needed, do not use more flour). I love to do a round braid (like challah for Rosh Hashana). Here's the video that taught me. If you want more of a loaf shape, try the 8 strand braid. Of course, you can always do a regular loaf.
Press dough out into a rectangle.
Fold the top half to the middle and press together. Then fold the bottom half up to the middle and press. Now fold the top to the bottom (forgot to take a picture) and pinch the two folded edges together. You may need to gently roll the dough to make it long enough for your greased bread pans.
Now you need to find a warm place for your bread to rise. If you've got central heating that will be just about any where in your home. Since we heat with the corn stove in the basement (up until this year), I turn my oven on very low, just enough to warm it to about 80F. Then I TURN OFF the oven. It's now a good spot to proof/rise my loaves. Cover again with a tea towel and let rise again, usually about 45 min. Sometimes I use an egg wash on the bread. Just break up an egg with a fork and brush on the dough, don't use too much or it will taste eggy. Do this just before putting in the oven to bake.
Preheat your oven (take the bread out first if you are using it to proof your dough) to 350F. Bake for about 30 minutes. When you think it's done, tip the bread over (out of pan) and knock on the bottom. Listen closely, it will sound hollow when it's done. Be sure to take out of the pans and put on cooling racks. Try not to cut into the loaves until they have cooled at least 20 minutes.