The aroma of fresh-baked yeast bread can do more for the soul in winter than cuddling under a warm blanket with a great book.
And baking bread can be simple, it’s just time consuming when you have to knead it for 20 minutes, and let it rise a couple of times.
When you make batter bread, you get a delicious-tasting loaf of bread in half the time. Batter yeast breads are easy to mix and rise quickly. They don’t have to be shaped because they take on the shape of the pan or bowl in which they are baked. The bread can be baked in cake pans, casserole dishes, pie plates, coffee cans, muffin tins or a cast-iron skillet.
Making batter breads essentially involves three phases: dissolving the yeast, mixing the dough and varying the crust.
• Dissolving the yeast. Be sure the yeast is fresh by checking the expiration date on the package. Test the temperature of the liquid ingredients with your hand (they should feel warm, but not hot) or test with an instant-read thermometer. The temperature should be warm (105 to 115 degrees for active dry yeast; 95 degrees for compressed, fresh yeast). Liquid that is too hot will kill the yeast; liquid that is too cool will not activate the yeast.
In a small bowl, combine the yeast with all or a small amount of the warm liquid. Let mixture stand 3 to 5 minutes until it gets foamy and expands. In many recipes prepared with quick-rising active dry yeast, the yeast is not dissolved in the liquid. Instead, the yeast is mixed with the other dry ingredients in the recipe. The liquid is heated to 120 to 130 degrees, then stirred into the dry ingredients. The remaining ingredients are then mixed in. This combination of warmer dough and the quick-rising yeast means the first rising can take as little as 20 minutes compared to 60 or 90 minutes for traditional active dry yeast or compressed, fresh yeast.
• Mixing the dough. Warm mixing bowl by filling it with hot tap water. Pour out water and dry. Place dissolved yeast in warm bowl. Add remaining liquid ingredients (any liquid not used to dissolve the yeast, eggs, honey or molasses); mix well. Add fat, sugar, salt, spices or herbs and about two-thirds of the flour called for in the recipe.
Beat vigorously with a large spoon or with a standing electric mixer fitted with the flat or paddle beaters for at least 1 minute.
The results will be a thick, rough, lumpy batter not stiff enough to hold its shape. Gradually stir in enough of the remaining flour (about ¼ cup at a time) to make a stiff, but slightly sticky dough.
Continue beating 5 to 8 minutes until dough appears to smooth out and stretches as the spoon or beater works through it. Turn dough into greased loaf pan. Cover and allow dough to rise to the top of the pan. Bake as directed in recipe.
• Varying the crust. For a golden brown crust: Before baking, brush the top of the bread loaf with egg wash (egg mixed with milk or water). Or, before baking, brush the top of the loaf with milk.
For a softer crust: As soon as the bread is removed from the oven, brush the top with melted butter. Wrap hot baked bread in a clean kitchen towel; cool completely wrapped in the towel.
The batter bread most of us are familiar with is beer bread. It often comes out ugly, but the taste is delicious. You may not need a recipe, but here’s one if you do.
Beer Batter Bread
3 cups self-rising flour
∑ cup sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
12 ounces beer
2 tablespoons melted butter
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Butter an 8- by 4-inch loaf pan and set aside. In a large bowl, combine the flour, sugar, salt and beer; mix well. The mixture will be sticky. Pour into the loaf pan and bake for about 55 minutes.
At the last three minutes of baking, remove from oven, brush the top of the loaf with the melted butter and return to oven for the final three minutes of baking.
Four-Grain Batter Bread
4½ to 4¾ cups all-purpose or bread flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 teaspoon salt
¼ teaspoon baking soda
2 packages regular active or fast-acting dry yeast (4½ teaspoons)
2 cups milk
½ cup water
½ cup whole wheat flour
½ cup wheat germ
½ cup quick-cooking oats
Grease bottoms and sides of 2 (8- by 4-inch) loaf pans with shortening or cooking spray; sprinkle with cornmeal.
In large bowl, mix 3½ cups of the all-purpose flour, the sugar, salt, baking soda and yeast. In 1-quart saucepan, heat milk and water over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until very warm (120 to 130 degrees). Add milk mixture to flour mixture. Beat with electric mixer on low speed until moistened. Beat on medium speed 3 minutes, scraping bowl occasionally.
Stir in whole wheat flour, wheat germ, oats and enough remaining all-purpose flour to make a stiff batter. Divide batter evenly between pans. Round tops of loaves by patting with floured hands. Sprinkle with cornmeal. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; let rise in warm place about 30 minutes or until batter is about 1 inch below tops of pans.
Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake 25 minutes or until tops of loaves are light brown. Remove from pans to cooling rack; cool. Makes 2 loaves, 16 slices each.
Nutrition information per 1 slice. 100 calories, 1 g fat, no cholesterol, 90 mg sodium, 19 g carbohydrate, 1 g fiber, 4 g protein.
Source: “Betty Crocker The Big Book of Bread”
Oatmeal Batter Bread
1 cup warm whole or 2 percent milk (105 to 115 degrees)
¼ cup honey or packed light brown sugar
1 packet (1/4 ounce) active dry yeast
1 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
1 large egg, lightly beaten
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
½ teaspoon kosher salt
¾ cup whole-wheat flour
½ cup old-fashioned or steel-cut rolled oats (do not use quick-cooking oats), plus more for optional garnish
Combine the milk, honey or brown sugar and the yeast in the bowl of stand mixer or a mixing bowl, stirring until the yeast has dissolved. Let the mixture rest for 5 minutes.
Grease an 8- by 4- by 2-inch loaf pan with cooking oil spray.
Add the all-purpose flour, egg, oil, and salt to the yeast mixture. Beat on low speed until combined, stopping to scrape down the sides of the bowl as needed. Increase the speed to high; beat for 3 minutes. Stop to scrape down the sides of the bowl. The dough will be very sticky.
Use a wooden spoon to stir in the whole-wheat flour and oats until well incorporated; this will take some arm strength. Transfer the batter to the loaf pan, spreading it evenly. Cover, and set it in a warm place to rise for at least 1 hour or until doubled in size.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Uncover the loaf pan; sprinkle the bread with some oatmeal, if desired. Bake for about 15 minutes, then tent loosely with aluminum foil. Bake for 20 to 25 minutes or until the bread sounds hollow when lightly tapped.
Uncover; immediately transfer the bread (in the loaf pan) to a wire rack to cool for at least 20 minutes before serving, or cool completely before storing. Makes 12 servings.
Nutrition information per serving: 160 calories, 3 g fat, 20 mg cholesterol, 100 mg sodium, 29 g carbohydrate, 2 g fiber, 5 g protein.