Bread has been part of our daily diet for centuries and it went from a simple, white bread to the variety we have today, from whole wheat to seed bread and even gluten-free or wheat-free bread. Even for our ancestors, bread was an important part of their diet and if we read the old books, we will find it mentioned there in a form or another.
Nowadays, bread baking has turned into both and industry and an art, especially if you proud yourself to be making good quality bread, crusty on the outside and moist on the inside, fluffy and golden brown, with the best fragrance in the whole world. For me at least, that's what a good bread is and freshly made bread always makes me think about my childhood and those days when I sit with my grandma in the kitchen and she made bread, allowing me to help. For her it was a ritual and it has to be perfect in order to have a good bread, for me it was just a game which turned into a passion later on, but also a necessity when I couldn't find a bread to satisfy my taste on the market.
Before giving you the recipes, bear in mind that making bread is not as hard as it looks and as long as you take into account a few tips, you can't go wrong. The first thing you have to know and never forget is that yeast is a living organism and it lives and expands only under certain conditions, especially temperature. When working with yeast, all your ingredients have to be warm, not hot nor cold, but warm enough, a bit higher than body temperature. If it's too hot, it will kill the yeast, if it's too cold, the yeast won't be able to feed and make the dough rise. As a baker, you learn a lot of things about this, but to sum it up in an easy to understand sentence, remember that all your ingredients, especially the liquid has to be warm enough for you to be able to hold your hand in there without burning nor having any kind of discomfort.
Depending on the type of yeast used, you will have to either mix it into the flour first or let it bloom in liquid before adding the rest of the ingredients. Many recipes use a small quantity of sugar or other sweetener as well because yeast feeds on sugars then it releases carbon dioxide and make the dough rise.
You will find in most recipes either vegetable oil or butter. Their main purpose is to make the dough richer, flavor it, but also preserve its moisture for a longer period of time. However, adding oil or butter also makes it more caloric. You can skip it, but don't be surprised to have a bread that dries out and crumbles easier.
Recipes are made to be customized and no recipe is set in stone. And if there is one thing I learnt from this quest of finding the perfect bread, that is to never be afraid of the dough. Once it's risen, you can knead it and shape it as much as you want and start all over again if something goes wrong. So go ahead and experiment with the recipes found in the book, find your own favorite and have fun making it!