Do good with your hands.
It’s something my friend Ali and I have said to each other hundreds of times, on the days that feel undone. I’m no neuroscientist, but there is something pretty amazing about the way your brain becomes more creative when your hands are busy. That’s why we spin pens or drum pencils when we are pondering. It’s why we get great ideas in the shower as we’re washing our hair.
And it’s why, right now, I need to knead.
Bread is a comfort food for me for one reason.
Bread invites me to take it easy, to slow down, to become comfortable with making space for good things to happen. Bread says, “Take a breath, ponder lovely things, dream a bit.” Bread has a great imagination. Bread doesn’t like to be rushed as it considers becoming light and fluffy and the perfect accompaniment to wine or butter or a great roast with rich gravy and creamy potatoes and…oh wait, I digress.
Yes, you need to knead. And here are three wonderful recipes to help you do just that. They’re in addition to the Japanese Milk Bread and Angel Biscuits I’ve shared here before. These have all been tested, tried, and found to be joy-makers. And stress relievers. And comfort-providers.
We need (or is that knead) all the bread right now.
Happy baking. I’m praying for you. We’re in this together, you know.
Mel’s Amazing French Rolls
Makes 12-16 perfect rolls, thanks to Mel (whoever you are). I’m sharing Her exact recipe, because for the love, it’s the best. Here’s the link to Mel’s Kitchen Cafe. I want to be friends.)
1 1/2 cups warm water
3/4 tablespoon instant yeast (or 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
2 tablespoons granulated sugar or honey
2 tablespoons canola oil or vegetable oil
1 teaspoon salt
3 1/2 to 4 cups all-purpose flour, more or less (see note)
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook or in a large bowl by hand, combine the warm water, instant yeast, sugar, oil, salt and 2 cups of the flour. If you are using active dry yeast instead of instant yeast, let the yeast proof in the warm water and sugar for about 3-5 minutes until it is foamy and bubbly before adding the oil, salt and flour.
Begin mixing, and continue to add the rest of the flour gradually until the dough has pulled away from the sides of the bowl (see the step-by-step tutorial below for a visual). Begin kneading the dough for 4-5 minutes in a stand mixer (7-9 minutes by hand).
The dough should be soft and smooth but still slightly tacky to the touch. After a few minutes of kneading, stop the mixer and grab a small piece of dough to test if it needs more flour or not. It might leave a little bit of sticky residue on your fingers, but if you can roll it into a small ball without it sticking all over to your hands, it is good to go. If not, gradually add a bit more flour as needed.
Lightly grease a container or large bowl with nonstick cooking spray, and place the kneaded dough in the container.
Cover the bowl with lightly greased plastic wrap or a large tea towel. Let the dough rise until it has doubled (this usually takes about an hour, depending on the warmth of the kitchen).
Lightly punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly greased countertop.
Divide the dough into 12 to 16 equal pieces, and form the dough into round balls.
Place the rolls in a lightly greased 9X13-inch pan, spacing them evenly apart.
Cover the rolls with lightly greased plastic wrap taking care not to pin the plastic wrap under the baking sheet or else the rolls will flatten while rising. Let the plastic wrap gently hang over the sides of the pan to fully cover the rolls but not press them down.
Let the rolls rise until very puffy and doubled, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Bake for 15-17 minutes until lightly browned and cooked through.
Immediately out of the oven, brush with butter. Rejoice and eat too many. (But if you’re wise, you’ll freeze some so you can enjoy them for weeks to come).
A Really Lovely Italian Bread
Makes two loaves or four rounds. And I honestly don’t know where this recipe came from – but it’s worth the time.
1 package active dry yeast (make sure it’s fresh and high-quality)
2 cups warm water (110 to 115), though you can actually use cool water if you have more time to proof your dough—it will make for an even more flavorful end product
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons kosher salt
5 to 5-1/2 bread flour (though you can also use all-purpose flour with success)
In a large mixing bowl, add water and sugar and stir until the sugar is dissolved. Then add yeast and stir until incorporated. Let stand for five minutes or until the yeast has foamed and “bloomed” on top of the water.
Slowly mix in 3 cups of flour and the salt and beat on medium speed for about three minutes. Stir in remaining flour to form a soft dough (it will be a bit sticky—that’s OK). If you’ve got a dough hook attachment on your mixer, use it. It makes things even easier!
Turn out your dough onto a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic (adding a bit more flour if necessary, to create a workable dough). This kneading process could take anywhere from 8 to 12 minutes. That’s totally OK. What you want is a dough that springs back like the Pillsbury Doughboy’s belly when you poke it. Be patient. It’s worth it.
Place that beautifully kneaded dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap that has also been lightly greased, and set the bowl in a warm, draft-free area. Let the dough rise until at least doubled in size (1 to 2 hours on average). Step away. Relax. Do other things. Take a nap.
Remove the plastic wrap, punch the dough down, and divide into two equal pieces. Shape each piece into a loaf, set on a greased baking sheet or on a baking stone. Cover with a tea towel and let rise again—though your bread can be baked after around 30 minutes, I recommend you let it rise until those loaves have at least doubled in size (1 to 2 hours). Again, step away.
Do other things. Read. Write. Dance.
Preheat oven to 400. Before baking, make slits in the top of your loaves and sprinkle with a little water. Bake until golden brown (anywhere from 25 to 35 minutes on average) and confirm that the loaves are done by tapping the bottom of each—if they sound hollow, you’re there! Savor the bread with butter or a little olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Eat more than you should.
Fun and Easy Honey Oat Bread
Makes one big ol’ loaf of hearty bread that will be eaten quickly.
2 cups water
1 packet yeast
1-1/2 tablespoons honey
1 teaspoon. salt
3-1/2 cups bread flour
1 cup rolled oats + 1/4 cup oats for coating
Yes. That’s it. Oh, and by the way. you don’t knead it.
In a large mixing bowl, add water and honey and stir until the honey is dissolved. Then add yeast and stir until incorporated. Let stand for five minutes or until the yeast has foamed and “bloomed” on top of the water. Add bread flour, oats, and salt, and stir until well-mixed. You can even use the handle of a wooden spoon to help with the stirring. The dough will be soft and a bit sticky. That’s OK.
Cover with a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm area for at least 90 minutes or until doubled in size. Now, here’s where it gets strange but fun. Sprinkle the top of the bread dough with some of the extra oats, Then take your spoon and carefully move the dough away from the side of the bowl, sprinkling oats around until your dough has lovely oat confetti all over it. Cover it again, and let it rise for about 45 more minutes. While it’s rising, place a dutch oven pot with its lid on in the oven and heat to 450 degrees.
At the end of the second rise, carefully remove the VERY hot dutch oven from the oven and remove the lid. Carefully slide the dough into the pot, replace the lid, and pop it back into the oven. Let bake for 40 minutes, and then remove the lid, letting the bread cook for another 10-15 minutes or until it is golden brown and crusty. Remove from the dutch oven and let cool for just a bit before devouring.
If you don’t have a dutch oven, you can bake this in traditional loaf pans too! Just preheat the oven to 375, and bake on the middle rack until golden brown and crusty.