Breaking Bread

To say these are trying times is more than just an understatement. It's nearly laughable. Between wondering where all the toilet paper went and attempting to work from home (if you're lucky) while getting your kids to do something beyond look at screens (again, if you're lucky), there's that ever-nagging question that somehow doesn't manage to take a break even during the throes of a global pandemic. How can I jump on the bread-making bandwagon?

Whether you are ready to take on the care and feeding of a sourdough starter or looking for something savory to serve with soup that doesn't call for yeast, Seasoned Cooking has a bevy of bread to share with you. Sweet, savory, or in between, we've got it all. Make a cinnamon-raisin bread and then use some of the last few pieces to make a beautiful breakfast bread pudding. Make some rye to go with your pastrami. Swirl some pesto into your favorite loaf. And while many of these recipes use a bread machine to make the dough, you can still make them if you don't have one by following these simple recipe conversion steps from our friends at Don't Waste the Crumbs.

If you're ready to explore, we're offering ten of our favorite bread recipes below. Whether you are looking for a great sourdough starter or a savory muffin option, we've got you covered!

Easy Sourdough Bread

For the starter:

  • 1 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)
  • 1/4 teaspoon yeast
  • 1 cup high gluten unbleached flour

Mix the starter in a glass or steel bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set it aside at room temperature until it is doubled and bubbly, maybe 4 to 6 hours.

For the sponge:

  • 1 cup of the starter
  • 3/4 cup warm water
  • 2 cups flour

Mix the starter amount with the flour and water, cover, and set aside to ferment until it has tripled in volume. At room temperature, it will take four to eight hours. You can put it in a cool place--about fifty degrees--and let it perk all night. Your garage may be just right. You can also let it ferment in the refrigerator overnight. At temperatures of forty to fifty degrees, the friendly bacteria will be more active than the yeasts and the flavor will be more sour.

To recharge the starter, add about one cup of flour and one cup of warm water to your remaining starter. Keep it in the refrigerator and use it or recharge it every few days. After a few recharges, you will plenty of complex wild yeasts in your starter.

For the dough:

  • All of the sponge
  • 1 1/2 cups flour (more or less)
  • 2 teaspoons salt

Mix the salt with the flour. Knead the combination into the sponge by hand until you have a smooth, elastic, slightly sticky dough, adding more flour as needed. Put the dough in an oiled bowl and let it rise again until doubled, about an hour.

Form the loaves. This works best as a large freestanding round or oval loaf or two smaller loaves. Place a clean cotton cloth in a bowl or basket with which to hold the loaf. Lightly dust the interior of the bowl with flour. Place each formed loaf upside down in a bowl on top of the dusted flour. Cover the loaves with plastic and let them rise again until doubled. This rising will probably take less than an hour.

To from the thick, chewy crust that is typical of artisan breads, follow these instructions: Place a large, shallow, metal pan in the oven on the lowest shelf. You will pour hot water in this pan to create steam in the oven. High heat is hard on pans so don't use one of your better pans. An old sheet pan is ideal. Fill a spray bottle with water. You will use this to spray water into the oven to create more steam.

Preheat the oven to 475 degrees. (If your oven runs on the cool side, set it on 500 degrees.) When the oven is hot and the bread is fully risen and is soft and puffy--being very careful not to burn yourself with the rising steam and with a mitted hand--pour about two cups of very hot water in the pan in the oven. Quickly close the oven door to capture the steam. With spray bottle in hand, open the door and quickly spray the oven walls and close the door.

Gently invert the loaf or loaves onto a slightly greased non-insulated baking sheet on which a little cornmeal has been dusted. With your sharpest knife, quickly make two or three slashes 1/4-inch deep across the top of each loaf. This will vent the steam in the bread and allow the bread to expand properly. Immediately put the bread in the steamy oven. After a few moments, open the door and spray the walls again to recharge the steam. Do this twice more during the first fifteen minutes of baking. This steamy environment will create the chewy crust prized in artisan breads.

After the bread is in the oven, turn the temperature down to 450 degrees and set the timer for about forty minutes. Check on the bread ten minutes before the baking should be complete. If the top is browning too quickly, tent the loaf with aluminum foil for the remainder of the baking to keep it from burning. The bread is done when the crust turns a dark golden brown and the internal temperature reaches 210 degrees. It is important that the bread is well-baked to drive moisture from the loaf. If the bread is under baked, the excess moisture will migrate to the crust and you will no longer have the dry chewy crust of a great artisan loaf.

Olive-Red Pepper Bread

  • 1 1/3 c. water
  • 1/4 c. butter
  • 1 T. plain yogurt
  • 2 tsp. salt
  • 4 c. all-purpose flour
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 2 tsp. active dry yeast
  • 1/4 c. sliced black olives
  • 1/3 c. chopped roasted red peppers
  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil

In your bread machine, measure and add the liquid ingredients (water through yogurt) to the bread pan.

Then measure and add the dry ingredients (salt through sugar) to the bread pan. Carefully make a hole in the dry ingredients (making sure to not press through to the wet ingredients) and add the yeast there.

Select the "dough" setting on your machine and start the machine. Most machines will present you with a single-raised round of dough after about an hour and a half.

While the bread machine is making the dough, make the filling by combining the olives, red pepper, and olive oil. Once the dough is ready, turn it out onto a lightly-floured surface and gently press it into a large (baking sheet-sized) rectangle. Spread the filling down the center of the rectangle and carefully fold the two edges over the filling, making sure they overlap. Carefully twist the dough 2-4 times to give it a bit of texture. Then bring the ends together and turn them under while placing the dough on a baking sheet. Allow the dough to rest in a warm, moist area for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 375°F. Bake the bread for 25-35 minutes, or until the top is golden. If desired, brush the top of the bread with oil. I used a lovely rosemary-infused oil I got over the holidays.

  • Yields: 1 large loaf
  • Preparation Time: 2 hours 45 minutes (about 10 minutes of hands-on time)

Pesto Bread

  • 2 c. warm water
  • 1 tsp. olive oil, plus more for greasing the pan and brushing on the finished bread
  • 4 ½ c. flour
  • 2 tsp. yeast
  • 1½ tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. sugar
  • ⅓ c. pesto — I used a roasted vegetable pesto, but any kind will work
  • 1 tsp. mixed coarse spices — I used garlic, red pepper flake, and dried basil

In the pan of your bread maker, place the first six ingredients (water through sugar) in that order. Choose the dough setting, close the lid, and start the bread machine.

After the cycle has run (it should take about an hour and a half), carefully remove the dough and set it on a lightly floured surface (or a large silicone baking mat). Carefully press it out into a 12" x 16" rectangle and spread the pesto of your choice evenly over the top of the dough, leaving about 1" on all sides uncovered. Carefully roll up the dough along the longest part of the rectangle. It doesn't matter if you pinch or twist the bread while you do this.

Oil a large loaf pan and set the rolled dough into the pan and sprinkle with your coarse spice mixture. Preheat the oven to 500° F, allowing the loaf to rise while the oven preheats.

Place the loaf pan in the preheated oven and toss 3-4 ice cubes in the bottom of the oven before closing the door. Bake in the preheated oven for 15-20 minutes or until the bread is golden and puffed. Remove and cool slightly before brushing with more olive oil and removing from the pan to fully cool.

  • Yields: 1 large loaf of bread
  • Preparation Time: About 2 hours

Parmesan Focaccia

  • 1 1/4 cups milk
  • 1 T. olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting
  • 1/3 cup grated parmesan cheese
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 2 tsp. Italian seasoning
  • 2 1/2 tsp. yeast
  • Coarse sea salt and pepper

Bring all ingredients to room temperature before placing them in the bread machine. Place the milk and olive oil in the pan of the bread machine. In a large bowl, whisk the flour, cheese, salt, and Italian seasoning together. Carefully sprinkle the mixture over the milk and oil in the pan of the bread machine. Form a small divet in the flour, being careful to not poke through to the liquid beneath, and place the yeast in the divet.

Close the lid on the bread machine and select the dough setting. Press start. When the dough setting cycle has completed, carefully remove the dough from the machine and place it on a clean, dry, lightly-floured surface. I like to use a silicone baking mat for this step. Using flour-coated hands, stretch and start forming your dough into a rectangle. When you are done, it should mostly reach to the edges of a standard cookie sheet. Transfer to a cookie sheet (this is super easy if you use a silicone baking mat) and let it rest for 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400° F. Bake the focaccia for 25-30 minutes or until the top of the bread is golden and puffy. Remove from the oven and drizzle with more olive oil and sprinkle coarse sea salt and pepper.

  • Yields: 10 servings
  • Preparation Time: 2.5 hours

Bread Machine Rye

  • 1 1/3 c. water
  • 1 T. butter
  • 3 c. bread flour
  • 1 c. rye flour
  • 4 tsp. vital wheat gluten (found near the flour in your market)
  • 2 T. dry milk
  • 1/4 c. granulated sugar
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1 tsp. caraway seed
  • 2 1/2 tsp. yeast

Place the water and butter in your bread machine's bread pan.

Add the dry ingredients (except the yeast) on top of the water and butter in the bread pan.

Form a hole in the flour for the yeast. Make certain none of the wet ingredients are seeping through. Pour the yeast into the hole.

Snap the bread pan into the bread machine and close the lid of the machine. Use the basic bread setting and a light crust. Start the machine. When the bread is done, carefully remove the loaf to a cooling rack and cool completely before slicing and using.

  • Yields: 1 - 2 lb. loaf
  • Preparation Time: 8 minutes to assemble (Baking time is about 3 hours)

Cinnamon-Raisin Bread

For the dough:
  • 1 c. lukewarm milk
  • 2 T. sugar
  • 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract
  • 1/2 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 c. melted butter
  • 1/3 c. mayonnaise
  • 4 c. flour (more as needed)
  • 2 1/2 tsp. instant yeast
For the cinnamon-raisin mix:
  • 2 T. butter
  • 1 tsp. cinnamon
  • 1 T. sugar
  • 1/2 c. raisins

In a bread machine, add the first six ingredients (milk through mayonnaise). Carefully sprinkle the flour evenly over the other ingredients and then form a small well in the flour. Add the yeast to the well, set the machine on the dough setting, and start the machine.

While the dough mixes and rises, combine the remaining ingredients (2 tablespoons butter through raisins) and set aside.

When the dough cycle has finished (usually about 1 1/2 hours), carefully remove the dough to a clean silicone baking mat. Carefully press the dough into a large rectangle and then sprinkle the reserved cinnamon-raisin mix evenly over the dough, leaving about a 1-2 inch border around the edges. Lift one edge of the rectangle and fold it over to the opposite side, pressing lightly. Repeat the process, choosing alternating edges (top, bottom, left, and right) until you've worked the cinnamon-raisin mix through the dough. It's okay and even desired for there to be some clumps of the mix in the dough.

Split the dough into two even portions. Shape each portion into a loaf and place in a greased loaf pan. Bake the loaves for 25 minutes at 375° F. Remove the warm bread from the pans and cool completely before slicing or wrapping in plastic for storage.

  • Yields: 2 medium loaves
  • Preparation Time: 2 hours (with about 10 minutes of hands-on time)

Bananas Foster Bubble Bread

  • 1 cup granulated sugar
  • 1 T. cinnamon
  • 1 can flaky biscuits
  • 4 ripe bananas, peeled and sliced
  • 1 cup caramel sauce (choose your favorite premade variety or make your own)
  • 3 T. dark rum (feel free to skip if you don't want to use alcohol or have already used it when making homemade caramel)
  • Pinch salt
  • Vanilla ice cream

In a small bowl, combine the granulated sugar and cinnamon. Mix until combined then set aside for later. Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Spray an 8x8" glass baking dish with cooking spray. Using a sharp knife or pair of kitchen shears, cut the biscuits into 6 evenly-sized pieces each. Roll the dough in the sugar and cinnamon mixture and toss into the prepared baking dish. Between adding each cut biscuit step, add some sliced bananas to the dish as well. Continue with this process until all of the biscuit dough and slices of banana are used.

Miix the caramel sauce, rum (if using), and salt in a dish. Pour generously and evenly over the top of the baking dish.

Bake until the top of the dessert is golden brown, 25-35 minutes. Serve warm over vanilla ice cream.

  • Yields: 4 servings
  • Preparation Time: 50 minutes

Garlic-Cheese Muffins

  • 2 c. all-purpose flour
  • 1½ tsp. baking powder
  • ½ tsp. baking soda
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • 1 egg, lightly beaten
  • ¾ c. milk
  • 1 tsp. plain vinegar
  • 1/4 c. plain yogurt
  • 1/4 c. canola oil
  • 2 T. dried herbs of your choice
  • 1 garlic clove, crushed
  • 2 c. grated cheese of your choice

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Line a standard muffin tin with paper liners.

Sift together the flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt in a bowl. Make a well in the center; add the egg, milk, vinegar, yogurt, oil, herbs, and crushed garlic clove. Mix until just combined (it should be a lumpy thick batter), then stir in the grated cheese.

Dollop about 1 ice cream scoop into each paper liner.

Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the muffins are golden on top and spring back when touched lightly. Best served warm so the cheese in the middle is gooey!

  • Yields: 12 servings
  • Preparation Time: 35 minutes

Cinnamon-Raisin Bread Pudding with Orange-Bourbon Caramel Sauce

For Pudding:
  • 4 eggs
  • 2 c. milk
  • 1/2 c. + 2 T. brown sugar, divided
  • 1 tsp. ground cinnamon
  • 2 T. grated orange zest
  • 5 c. cinnamon-raisin bread cubes — you can also use store-bought bread
  • Cooking spray (for baking dish)
For Caramel Sauce:
  • 1 c. white sugar
  • 1/4 c. heavy cream
  • 1/4 c. freshly-squeezed orange juice
  • 1 T. orange zest
  • 1 T. bourbon

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs and milk together. Add the brown sugar (reserving 2 tablespoons for later), cinnamon, and orange zest. Mix well.

Cut the bread into 1-inch pieces. Gently stir the bread pieces into the egg mixture. Let stand for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally.

While the pudding soaks, preheat the oven to 350° F and coat an 8-inch square baking dish with cooking spray.

Pour the pudding mixture into the baking dish. Sprinkle the top with the reserved brown sugar.

Bake the pudding for 45-50 minutes, or when a knife inserted into the middle comes out clean.

While the pudding is baking, make the caramel sauce. Combine the white sugar, heavy cream, and orange juice in a heavy-bottomed small saucepan. Heat over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until the mixture begins to bubble. Reduce the heat to medium-low and continue stirring until the mixture thickens and caramelizes. Be careful to not over-cook the sauce, as it can burn easily. Remove the sauce from the heat and, still stirring, add the zest and bourbon and stir to combine well.

Serve the bread pudding in small bowls drizzled with the caramel sauce.

  • Yields: 8 servings
  • Preparation Time: 1 hour and 20 minutes

Cheesy Pull-Apart Bread

  • 1 large Artisan bread loaf (I chose sourdough because my family adores it)
  • 1/4 c. butter, softened
  • 1 T. extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 tsp. granulated garlic
  • 3/4 tsp. red pepper flakes (optional)
  • 8 oz. shredded cheese (choose your favorite variety or choose a blend)
  • 1 tsp. Italian seasoning

Preheat the oven to 350° F.

Slice the bread horizontally and vertically into 1-inch cubes, leaving the bottom of the loaf intact with the bread pieces still attached. The top of the loaf should look like it has a criss-cross pattern to it.

Mix the butter, olive oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes (if desired) together to form a spread.

Lay the bread on a piece of foil. (The foil should be large enough the wrap the bread.) Using a butter knife, slather the spread in the spaces between the bread cubes. Use all of the spread. Sprinkle the shredded cheese and Italian seasoning into the spaces between the bread cubes and over the top of the loaf of bread. Wrap the bread in the foil.

Bake the loaf in the foil in the preheated oven for 15 minutes. Unwrap the top of the loaf and bake for an additional 10 minutes or until the cheese is completely melted and the top of the bread is crispy. Serve hot!

  • Yields: 4-6 servings
  • Preparation Time: 30 minutes