The Best Things in Life are the Simplest
By Kayla Butts
By: Justin & Kayla Butts Photos by: Rachel Benavides
Bread is simple. Profoundly simple. Like, mind-blowingly, best-invention-ever simple.
Bread may be the simplest thing you can make in your kitchen that is also the best thing you can make in your kitchen.
There was a time, not long ago, when every home in America featured freshly-baked bread on a pretty much daily basis. That means there was a baker in every home, although no one thought of themselves that way. It was simply bread.
At some point in the 20th Century, we outsourced our bread to the supermarket. We outsourced bread around the same time we outsourced our gardens, which disconnected most people forever from the source of their food.
The appeal of convenience lured home chefs away from their first love, and soon the tradition of baking bread was lost—not just the skills, but the daily example. We forgot how incredibly good every bite of bread should be. Less-than-mediocre became totally acceptable.
Kids grew up thinking that bread comes out of a plastic bag, rather than out of the oven. The process of bread-making became a mystery, something that happens far away in a factory. Even worse, many bread recipes over-complicate things: scaling, scoring, folding, kneading, proofing, resting—but it doesn’t sound like resting.
Bread is this simple: mix together flour, water, salt, and yeast. Let it sit for a while. Bake it. When it is cool enough, eat it—preferably all of it, immediately.
Here we offer three basic bread recipes. In our farm business, we have made many thousands of loaves of a wide array of freshly-baked artisan breads. We have experimented, invented, and had some failures (even the failures are glorious). These three recipes are bulletproof. One is a crusty white, one a honey wheat, and one a cornbread.
Why cornbread? Because for much of our country’s history, wheat (even up north) was rare and expensive, but corn was cheap and readily available. Cornbread was the daily bread. We like this recipe because you can finish this quick-rise cornbread while the other breads rise to present all these beautiful loaves together on your table.
If we could humbly suggest our best advice to instantly improve your life: first, start a garden. Grow some of your own vegetables and throw some pretty flowers in there, too. Second, bake your own fresh bread, daily. And, if you only do one, definitely bake the bread.
If you do both of these together, you will have a life filled with contentment, joy, and happy people gathered around your table and loving you.
The best things in life really are the simplest—as simple as homemade bread.
Makes 1 large loaf
Prep time: 7 minutes
Inactive prep time: 2 hours, 10 minutes
Cook time: 35-40 minutes
1 cup bread flour, plus 3 cups bread flour
1 tbsp plus 1 tsp active dry yeast
1 ½ cups water
¼ cup olive oil
2 tsp salt
Combine 1 cup bread flour, yeast, and water in a large bowl. Let mixture set for 10 minutes until a foamy sponge is formed. Add in remaining ingredients and knead for 2-3 minutes, until ingredients form a dough. Place dough in a large, greased bowl covered with a tea towel or cling wrap. Let rise for two hours. (Optional: For a more flavorful bread, store dough in the refrigerator for up to one week. Once you’re ready to prepare the bread, remove it from the fridge, let dough rest at room temperature for 30 minutes, and continue with the following steps).
Preheat the oven to 450°F. Place a rimmed baking sheet at the bottom of the oven. Carefully transfer dough to a baking sheet and shape into a batard (baton shape). Lightly dust with flour and score with 3 slashes about ¼” deep. Pour a cup of water into the rimmed baking sheet and close oven quickly to trap steam. Bake for 35-40 minutes, until hollow when thumped.
Makes 1 loaf
Prep time: 10 minutes
Inactive prep time: 3 hours
Cook time: 40 minutes
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 ½ cups whole wheat flour
1 tbsp active dry yeast
3 tbsp butter, softened
2 tbsp honey
1 ½ tsp salt
1 1/3 cup water
Optional: 1 tbsp wheat germ
Combine all ingredients in a large mixing bowl. Knead the dough with your hands or in a standing mixer for 5 minutes, until a smooth dough is formed. Return dough to the mixing bowl and cover with a tea towel or cling wrap. Let rise for approximately 2 hours, or until doubled in size.
Punch dough down and place in a greased loaf pan. Let dough proof an additional 1 hour. Sprinkle the top of the loaf with wheat germ.
Preheat oven to 350°F. Bake bread for 35-40 minutes, until the top is golden and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped.
Makes 16 servings
Prep time: 7 minutes
Cook time: 35 minutes
½ cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter
½ cup honey
1 cup whole milk or buttermilk
1 cup cornmeal
1 cup all-purpose flour
½ tsp salt
Preheat oven to 375°F.
Heat butter in a 10” cast iron skillet over low heat. Once melted, set butter aside to cool.
In a large bowl, whisk dry ingredients together until well-combined. In a separate bowl, mix honey, eggs, milk, and butter. Pour wet ingredients into dry ingredients and stir until just combined. Pour batter into skillet and level with a spatula.
Cook for about 35 minutes, or until cornbread is golden and set in the middle.