Bread is one of the oldest and most basic foods in existence. It’s also one of the most difficult to master. This no-frills recipe is a good start for budding bakers–one that will nonetheless give you a new appreciation for all that goes into a fresh loaf of bread. You’ll get a good arm workout with all the kneading (I’m starting to look a bit like Popeye over here), but believe me when I say that the results are worth the elbow grease.
- 4 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1 ½ cups warm water
- 2 tablespoons olive oil (optional, for a richer flavor)
Step 1: Activate the yeast.
- In a small bowl, combine the warm water, sugar, and yeast. Stir gently and let it sit for about 5-10 minutes until the yeast is activated. It should become frothy and bubbly.
Step 2: Mix the dry ingredients.
- In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour and salt until well combined.
Step 3: Combine the wet and dry ingredients.
- Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour in the activated yeast mixture. Add the olive oil, if using. Stir with a wooden spoon or dough scraper until a shaggy dough forms.
Step 4: Knead the dough.
- Transfer the dough onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough for about 8-10 minutes, or until it becomes smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky. Add more flour if necessary, but be careful not to add too much.
Step 5: Let the dough rise.
- Grease the mixing bowl with a little oil. Place the kneaded dough back into the bowl and cover it with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let it rise in a warm, draft-free place for about 1-2 hours, or until it doubles in size.
Step 6: Shape the dough.
- Once the dough has risen, gently punch it down to release any air bubbles. Transfer it to a lightly floured surface and shape it into your desired loaf shape or divide it into smaller portions for rolls.
Step 7: Second rise (optional).
- If you want a lighter texture, you can let the shaped dough rise again for about 30-60 minutes. Cover it with a towel or plastic wrap.
Step 8: Preheat the oven.
- Preheat your oven to 425°F (220°C). Place a baking sheet or loaf pan in the oven to preheat as well.
Step 9: Bake the bread.
- Carefully transfer the shaped dough onto the preheated baking sheet or into a greased loaf pan. Score the top of the loaf with a sharp knife if desired. Place it in the preheated oven and bake for about 25-30 minutes, or until the bread is golden brown and sounds hollow when tapped on the bottom.
Step 10: Cool and enjoy!
- Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack for a few minutes. Slice and serve the bread warm or at room temperature. It’s delicious on its own or with butter, jam, or your favorite spreads.
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