Once they try it, kids love to bake bread. It takes time, but a lazy Sunday afternoon or school vacation day is perfect for mixing some very basic ingredients together and watching them transform into an airy loaf of bread.
And talk about comfort food?! How about the aroma of baking bread filling the house?
It Starts with a Lump
The most basic bread dough is made from flour, water, and yeast. Our recipe also has a little sugar, milk, and butter added to make the loaf a little more moist and softer.
We begin by mixing the ingredients in an electric mixer, although you could use a wooden spoon or whisk.
The flour turns the dough into a heavy mass that lightens and becomes smooth as it's kneaded. And kneading is the fun part.
What kid doesn't like pushing and shaping bread dough? The glory of bread dough is that it likes to be handled and manipulated. As it is worked, the gluten in the flour develops, which in turn traps the gasses released by the yeast so the bread rises.
This mini science lesson fascinates most kids. The yeast is dormant when chilled, but comes alive when mixed with liquid, fed with a little sugar, and exposed to heat.
Sprinkle flour on the work surface and let the kids knead with a pushing and folding motion that incorporates flour as needed. Keep turning the dough by quarter turns while kneading. The dough is sufficiently kneaded when it's smooth and elastic.
Lump to Loaf
After kneading, the dough is left to rise in a warm corner of the kitchen, away from drafts. After an hour, the lump of dough will be a larger and light-looking mound.
Now comes the satisfying "punch down." Small fists are ideal for deflating the risen dough so that most of the air is expelled. A little more kneading on a lightly floured countertop and the dough is ready to shape into a loaf -- or two -- for its second rise.
This second rise does not produce results as dramatic as the first, but the bread starts to take shape. Once it's risen this time, it's ready for baking.
The final magic takes place in the oven. There, the high heat causes the bread to rise even further and turn into a familiar loaf of bread.
You can also shape the dough into dinner rolls, free-form loaves, or pizza, although the baking times will vary.
Baked to a Golden Turn!
Bread is done when it rises, is golden brown on the top, and "sounds hollow" when tapped on the bottom. Yes! This means actually taking the loaf from the baking pan, turning it upside down, and tapping it gently. Use oven mitts - and don't let the younger children perform this task.
Once baked, the bread should cool completely on a wire rack before it's devoured. But, really, who can resist a warm slice, spread with a little butter?