Bread-making is a tedious business; it takes four to six hours to knead, form, rise and bake homemade bread.
Use store-bought frozen bread dough, though, and you skip the kneading and first rising and go straight to the good part: Turning the dough into rolls, loaves, cakes, pizza, flat bread or sticks.
Think of it as play dough.
Thaw the dough overnight in the refrigerator, and within a couple of hours you'll have fresh, hot bread.
Frozen bread dough is ideal for novice cooks because it can stand a fair amount of handling.
* Follow thawing instructions on the package. If the dough becomes stiff or "tight" during kneading, allow it to rest for 10 minutes before going on. The dough will relax and become more malleable.
* After forming the dough into the shape of your choice, set it on or in a greased container (suitable for the oven). Large, thick shapes will tend to flatten out, so use a high-sided pan for them. Smaller shapes can be baked on a cookie sheet.
* Soak a clean kitchen towel in hot water, wring it out and use it to cover the dough.
* Let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot. I use a spot near my oven, or on the clothes dryer if it's turned on. Let the dough rise for 45 minutes to an hour and 15 minutes, depending on how large it should be. (The dough will rise more in the oven.)
* Bake the bread at 375 degrees for 20 to 40 minutes, depending on the size of the finished product. The bread is ready when it's puffed and light brown. A plain loaf will sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Take the bread out of the pan as soon as it comes out of the oven to keep it from becoming soggy.
* Rolls: Divide thawed loaf into 8 equal pieces. Roll each into a smooth ball. Bake in greased muffin tins. If baked on a cookie sheet, the rolls will flatten to resemble hamburger buns. Glaze or top as desired.
* French rolls: Pull the loaf to about 14 inches long. You may have to let the dough rest for 10 minutes before it will stretch that much. It will be very thin. Cut into desired lengths. Bake on greased cookie sheet.
* French loaf: For a long, French-type loaf, stretch to about 14 inches. You may have to let the dough rest for 10 minutes before it will stretch that much. Bake on a cookie sheet.
* Round loaf: Shape the dough into a ball and bake it in a cake pan.
* Bread sticks: Cut the loaf into 24 small balls. Rub each between your hands or twist dough to form a long strip, 6 to 8 inches long. Optional: Roll in grated cheese or sprinkle with coarse salt before baking. Bake on a cookie sheet.
* To braid: Prepare dough as for French loaf. Cut dough into 3 strips, leaving dough connected at one end; braid. Pinch dough together at the other end. Bake on a cookie sheet.
Glazes: Brush the shaped dough with an egg wash -- 1 egg whisked with 1 tablespoon of water -- to make it shiny, or with plain water for a crisp crust. Brush it with melted butter for a glossy top.
Toppings: Sprinkle the unbaked loaf with sugar, chopped herbs, chopped nuts, seeds or grains.
Flavored loaves: Roll or press the dough into an 8-by-8-inch flat sheet. Sprinkle on half of the filling; fold the dough over, then knead for 2 minutes. Allow the bread to rest for 10 minutes, then repeat, using remaining filling. Form into a log and set in a greased 8-by-4-inch loaf pan. Allow to rise, then follow general instructions for baking. Suggested fillings:
* 1/2 cup chopped pecans
* 1/2 cup raisins or currants
* 1/2 cup chopped fresh herbs: parsley, basil, cilantro
* 2 tablespoons fresh thyme
Swirled loaves: Roll or press the dough out to an 8-by-9-inch flat sheet. Spread the dough with 2 tablespoons butter or margarine; add filling. Roll up tightly into an 8-inch log and set in a greased 8-by-4-inch loaf pan. Proceed as in general instructions. Suggested fillings:
* 3 tablespoons cinnamon-sugar
* 1/4 cup grated cheese mixed with 2 tablespoons chutney
* 1/4 cup pesto sauce
Makes 8 servings.
1 loaf bread dough, thawed
2 tablespoons olive oil
3 cloves garlic, peeled and finely chopped
1/4 cup finely chopped onions
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons chopped rosemary or basil
Heat oven to 400 degrees.
Roll or press the dough out into a 14-inch circle. You may have to allow the dough to rest during the rolling to get it that diameter. Set on a greased cookie sheet or pizza pan. Brush on the oil, then sprinkle on the remaining ingredients. Allow to rise, uncovered, for 30 minutes.
Bake on the bottom rack for 15 to 20 minutes, or until the focaccia is brown.
To make pizza: Follow the same method as for focaccia. Add 1/2 cup prepared pizza sauce and toppings of your choice and bake on the bottom rack at 425 degrees for 15 to 20 minutes.
Makes 8 servings.
1/3 cup mayonnaise
3 tablespoons Russian dressing
1 loaf bread dough, thawed
4 ounces sliced Swiss cheese
1 cup sauerkraut, drained
1/2 pound pastrami slices
Heat oven to 375 degrees.
Blend the mayonnaise and Russian dressing. Set aside.