Knead to Know

Know which side your bread is buttered on

When baby, it’s cold outside, the warmth of the kitchen beckons. We want to hang out there more, fiddle around, and maybe learn something new.

Like baking bread.

Go to the grocery store and you’ll find colorful bags of Hudson Cream Flour, milled from wheat grown in Stafford County, Kansas, near Wichita. Buy a bag or two along with some instant or bread-machine yeast, which you can add right to the flour—no proofing necessary—the surest cure for the dreaded yeast-a-phobia or fear of working with yeast.

Pick up a Danish dough whisk at Pryde’s in Westport or A Thyme for Everything in Lee’s Summit; the dough whisk has a long wooden handle and a mitten-shaped top made with heavy-gauge wire so you can easily stir the dough by hand. All you need then is a big bowl, water and salt.

Buy a bread cookbook you’ve been wanting or check out recipes on Epicurious or The New York Times Cooking website.

And you can get to work making a custard-crumbed, no-knead bread that is as easy to stir together as brownie batter from a mix. Use a more traditional recipe, bread flour, and knead the dough, and you’ll get a feathery crumb. Use only about a ¼ teaspoon of yeast, let the dough sit for a day or two, covered with plastic wrap on your kitchen counter, and you’ll have slow-rise bread with a honeycomb crumb.

Put the ingredients in a bread machine, and let your electronic kitchen assistant do all the work. Or make a real project of it and ferment your own sourdough starter to naturally leaven your loaf.

How do you know when your bread is done? Forget the thumping and tapping. Take its temperature instead. An instant-read thermometer inserted in the center of a loaf should read 190 degrees F when your bread is fully baked.

And what is better on homemade bread, warm from the oven, than good butter? Make your own in the food processor by whirring 1 cup of heavy cream way past the whipped cream stage until it separates into butter and liquid whey. Discard the whey and transfer the butter to a cheesecloth-lined sieve. Press out the rest of the liquid. And then share it all with friends and family.

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