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There is something very therapeutic about kneading your own bread dough. After a tough day in the office, it feels pretty good to beat a ball of dough. And when you are done, you get to enjoy eating a nice, warm, freshly baked loaf of bread! So put away the stand mixer and give your own hands the chance to create a homemade loaf of bread.
I decided last night that I wanted to make some fresh bread to go with our minestrone soup. Instead of the usual rolls or a flatbread, I hit the internet to find a recipe for a braided loaf. I came across Window on the Prairie and found a recipe for a Swiss Braided Bread (http://windowontheprairie.com and http://windowontheprairie.com/2010/09/13/swiss-braided-bread/ for the recipe). I made a few of my usual substitutions in the recipe (raw sugar in place of white sugar, unsweetened coconut milk instead of milk) but essentially stuck to the recipe. A quick note about Window on the Prairie too, great recipe with tons of pictures to show you how things should look throughout preparing the bread. I will definitely be checking this blog out some more.
In a large bowl, combine yeast, 2 cups of flour, salt and sugar. Mix with your hands to combine.
Break the butter into about 8 pieces and add into the flour mixture. With your hands, incorporate the butter into the flour. This will leave you with a crumbly mixture.
Microwave the milk for 45 seconds. Add the milk into the flour mixture and mix well to combine. This will leave you with a smooth batter. Add in the remaining 1 1/2 cups of flour, 1/2 a cup at a time, mixing it well. The batter will be a little bit stiff at this point.
Flour a work surface and begin kneading the dough. Fold the dough over itself and then push it away with your palm. Rotate 1/4 turn and repeat. Continue kneading the dough for about 10 minutes. Form the dough into a smooth ball.
Add some vegetable oil into a bowl and place the ball of dough in the bowl. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 2 hours, until it has doubled in size. I left it next to the stove where I was making the soup, a warm place in the kitchen will assist with the rising of the dough.
After 2 hours, punch the dough down to release any air bubbles.
Flour the work surface and turn out the dough. Form the dough into a square and slice into 3 even pieces. Roll each of the dough pieces into a rope. Pinch the 3 ropes together at one end and then braid the dough.
Place on a greased baking sheet (baking sheet with some vegetable oil spread out over it). Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise for 30 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350F.
The loaf should be a couple inches longer after the second rise. Place in the oven and bake at 350F for about 40 minutes, until lightly browned. Serve with your favorite soup or use to make delicious toast and sandwiches.