I knead a gift bread recipe
February 7, 2010 6:35 AM   Subscribe

What is a good gift bread recipe? (other food as gift recipes appreciated as well)

So my professor wrote me a great letter of recommendation which I just found out got me into the school of my choice(!). I am going to go visit him with the news and a thank you card later this week, but I wanted to bring down a loaf of bread as a gift as well. Enter my dilemma: I am a complete baking noob and I have limited kitchen equipment (no standing mixer and no bread maker), but I do have lots of time and ingredients (including an assortment of fresh herbs).

My goal is to make some sort of smaller artisan loaf bread that is delicious, looks like I put some effort into it, and is worthy of a gift to a professor. Are there any fancy (but not too difficult) bread recipes out there that have proven themselves delicious? Bread was the first thing that came to mind when I thought of a gift, but I would also be up for baking something else, like cookies, if anyone has an awesome recipe for those.

Bonus points if you can give me any bread baking tips or suggest a way to wrap up the bread (currently the only big bag I can find around the house is a plastic shopping bag and that's not going to fly!). Thanks in advance :)
posted by karyotypical to Food & Drink (20 answers total) 21 users marked this as a favorite
You could make a beer bread, which is super easy and still delicious (and can be made in a variety of flavors, many of which are described in those links - it's pretty versatile). A Year In Bread is a good place to look for other recipes, too - look through their recipe index and see what catches your fancy.
posted by pemberkins at 6:48 AM on February 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: For the novice, try the approach from "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day".

You can see the basic recipe here.

You can see videos showing the process toward the bottom of this page (the top section is based on their newer book "Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day).

It is pretty easy to follow the recipe, it requires only the ingredients (flour, yeast, salt, water), a big bowl, some saran wrap to cover the bowl, a big spoon, a cookie tray or pizza stone, and a broiler pan.

It makes really good looking (and good tasting) artisan loaves (for example...).
posted by i love cheese at 7:00 AM on February 7, 2010

I'd recommend against making a loaf of bread if you aren't used to doing it. Bread of all types is easy to make and tasty for even novice bakers, however, it can take a while to learn to make bread that is presentation worthy. Getting good over spring and a nice slash (gringe) take some practice. Your bread won't taste the worse for not looking great, but it also might not convey what you want it to. Given the tone of your question, I think you're probably safer making something for which the presentation is less important than the taste, like cookies.

Here is a whole set of cookie recipes that appeared in Gourmet magazine over the years. There is some discussion of some of the recipes in this Metafilter post.
posted by OmieWise at 7:17 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

*oven spring*
posted by OmieWise at 7:18 AM on February 7, 2010

Best answer: The Pioneer Woman's Cinnamon Rolls are exactly what you're looking for. They are easy (not necessarily requiring a stand mixer), plentiful and OMG DELICIOUS.

Use brown sugar for the filling, and substitute maple syrup for maple flavor if you don't have any. She makes them in disposable tins, but you can make larger batches in a 9" x 13" pan. They're best day of baking, or the day after. Also, these can be shared with colleagues if he wants to share (though after tasting one, he might not!).

Congratulations! And what a thoughtful way to say thank you!
posted by MonkeyToes at 7:37 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

If you're intimidated by bread, but want a loaf, you could try making Orange Pound Cake. It's an Ina Garten (Barefoot Contessa) recipe, so it's fairly easy and incredibly delicious.

FYI, I've always found beer bread simple to make, and really, really good. Why not make a test loaf first? It doesn't take too long.

As for wrapping, I always use cellophane, sometimes clear, sometimes tinted a fun color. You can usually get it from Target. And then I use decorative wire (think the kind that comes with little stars attached) or ribbon.
posted by sallybrown at 7:41 AM on February 7, 2010

Best answer: Well this would be cheating, but it would work:

Buy a loaf of frozen bread dough. (Kingsford is available in my area, I'm sure there are others)
Roll dough balls in you hand about an inch across, not to big.

Dip in warm melted butter. Dip in Parmesan cheese. The cheap stuff works fine.

Throw into a bread pan. Let rise for a bit. Bake at 350 for about 45 min

This makes a delicious pull-apart cheese bread.
posted by SLC Mom at 7:43 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'll second the "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" suggestion, though I'd recommend this recipe. The multi-day ferment adds a lot of flavour, and the recipe is enough for several loaves, which will allow you to bake up one or two for practice first. If you don' t like what you see, you can keep all the bread for yourself and switch to cookies.

I like using the preheated covered pot baking method from i love cheese's link myself. I haven't tried the stone and tray business.

For wrapping, maybe a nice tea towel tied with a ribbon?
posted by bethnull at 7:44 AM on February 7, 2010

Alternately, focaccia is a pretty foolproof style of bread. Incorporate herbs, olives, dried tomatoes, cheese, etc as you see fit.
posted by bethnull at 7:55 AM on February 7, 2010

Is the prof a crunchy granola type, a foodie, or a snack-lover? People on a post-holiday diet don't always welcome high calorie gifts, much as the thought is appreciated. Whole wheat fruit nut bread is a good all-around choice. Pumpkin pecan or cranberry orange walnut quick breads are pretty easy and delicious. Or try scones, like apricot pecan. Either way, mix some cream cheese with brown sugar to serve alongside.
posted by theora55 at 8:00 AM on February 7, 2010

Best answer: Your other option is to braid the dough - I've done a 7-braid loaf which looked amazing. To go extra fancy, brush with egg-wash and sprinkle with poppy or sesame seeds, herbs, salt, parmesan, etc just before baking. Here's a video of how to do it (though you can do all odd number braids the same way as he does the 3 braid).
posted by Anali at 8:07 AM on February 7, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Alton Brown's very basic bread was one of the first free-form (i.e. not in a loaf pan) loaves that I made. King Arthur Flour's oatmeal bread recipe also makes a very nice sandwich-type loaf, awesomely awesome toasted. Give with some jam or cheese or something. Don't worry about it being fancy, it will be delicious either way. And besides, the best "artisan" loaves are most often flour, salt, yeast (or sourdough starter) and water.
posted by sararah at 8:25 AM on February 7, 2010

Yeast breads are not difficult to make - I do it frequently without either a bread machine or a mixer- but it does take a little practice to get the feel of it, so I wouldn't recommend trying to make yeast bread as a gift your first time. That being said, if you want to try, I've had friends rave over a simple loaf of white bread. You might want to try something simple like that, baked in a loaf pan rather than go for an artisanal-type bread which can be a bit more complicated.
My recommendation would be a batter bread, like a beer bread, banana bread or a cranberry orange bread which are all pretty foolproof and definitely yummy.
For packaging, saran wrap, colored if you can find it, and a bow are great.
Happy Baking!
posted by lawhound at 11:29 AM on February 7, 2010

Best answer: Yeast breads have been made with nothing more than a big bowl and a spoon since forever, so no problem there; heck, you can even get by with just a bowl if you don't mind really getting into the dough. If you haven't made yeast bread before, the idea of a simple white bread with jam or cheese is good, but for the most lovely little round loaf of artisan bread try this:

Olive/Garlic/Parmesan/Rosemary Bread: 1/2 cup warm water, 1 Tablespoon dry yeast, 2 Tablespoons honey, 1 cup milk, 2 Tablespoons butter, 1 teaspoon salt, 3/4 cup whole wheat flour, white flour, 1/2 cup grated parmesan cheese (get a nice chunk and grate it yourself--you say you have time), 1/4 cup pitted & roughly chopped kalamata olives, 2 Tablespoons minced garlic, handful minced fresh rosemary.

Dissolve yeast in warm water in large bowl; wait around a bit until it starts to foam up and come after you--this lets you know the yeast is good. As soon as you can tell the yeast is lively, warm milk and butter together in microwave just until milk is warm and the butter is melted; add to dissolved yeast mixture. Add honey, salt, parmesan, olives, garlic and rosemary; stir in 1 cup white flour to get some serious gluten strands forming; stir in whole wheat flour; stir in enough more white flour to draw the dough up into a ball.

Turn dough out onto a floured work surface, scraping out all the little dough bits, and knead, adding more flour if needed to keep it from sticking; after a while, the dough ball will become very elastic and springy--when you push it down and move your hands away, it will spring back at you. If, as you're kneading (an activity I find quite cathartic), little bits of olive or cheese or garlic pop out of the dough, don't fret; just poke them back in and keep going.

Oil or butter the bread bowl--if you've scraped out most of the bread bits, don't even bother to wash it--and drop the bread dough in; turn it over to bring an oiled surface to the top;wet down a non-fuzzy dish towel in nice warm water, wring it out and use it to cover the bowl; let stand in cozy place until dough doubles. You can check if its ready by poking the first joints of two fingers into it: If it's fully risen, it will begin to deflate. If it doesn't, cover it again and wait another ten minutes or so. If it does, punch it down (just what it sounds like: punch the dough with your fist so that it completely deflates, letting out all the yeast waste products that the little beasties would otherwise drown in; kind of like humanity right now . . .) Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and form into a perky round loaf; place prl on cookie sheet or pizza pan--one of those perforated pizza pans is ideal for making a crisp bottom crust. Re-wet and -wring the bread towel and cover the loaf.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. When the loaf has doubled (you'll just have to estimate here), brush the top with egg wash (egg white mixed with a bit of water). With a very sharp knife, cut a spiral pattern into the top of the loaf--not deep! Maybe an eighth to a quarter inch, and make sure the knife is very sharp so you don't have to press hard; it should just stroke over the surface of the dough--or you could go with slashes, but the same advice about the knife applies. Chuck that beauty into the oven for approximately 30 minutes until it is nicely browned and sounds hollow when you thunk the top (even better if you can roll it over and thunk the bottom, but that can be a challenge).

Cool completely before putting into an attractive cellophane bag.

Give gift.

Feel smug.
posted by miss patrish at 4:21 PM on February 7, 2010 [2 favorites]

Response by poster: Awesome comments everyone! I marked as best answers the links and recipes that I'm most likely to try. I think my plan of action will be to try a really gourmet bread like the one miss patrish suggested first, then braided bread, cinnamon rolls, and if all else fails, the frozen bread dough recipe (I'm not above cheating in the kitchen!). Thanks everyone! I'll try to update on the success of my culinary adventures later this week.
posted by karyotypical at 5:30 AM on February 8, 2010

Speaking of cheating in the kitchen and beer bread, I can't recommend Trader Joe's Beer Bread Mix enough. Things you need: a loaf pan, less than a stick of butter, a beer (I recommend brown ales) and a box of mix. (yes, and a bowl, a spoon, and an oven)

general baking comment - In all these recipes, be sure to grease the pan well! Nothing is more frustrating than pulling off the recipe beautifully, then wrecking the aesthetics trying to get your masterpiece out of the pan.
posted by aimedwander at 7:04 AM on February 8, 2010

If you have any questions about ingredients, technique, whatever, feel free to memail me. I've been making yeast breads since . . . geez, I guess I was probably about ten the first time I made Christmas stollen, and in a former life (so it seems now) baked hundreds of loaves of various sorts for a gourmet restaurant/catering operation, and well, I guess I have an affinity for it--I've had less-than-stellar loaves, but never abject failures--oh, I take that back; there was that one raisin bread that absolutely didn't rise, but that was because I decided to mix the raisins right in and they were sulfured, which the yeast does not like. When people say they can't make bread, it always puzzles me. I guess what I'm saying is that the process is so second nature to me that I may not be aware of what questions you might have--what might be puzzling to you or giving you problems. So let me know; work this week is a bit crazy, but I'll try to keep checking memail. Good luck and have fun!
posted by miss patrish at 7:50 AM on February 8, 2010

Best answer: You could also try the no-knead bread. Turns out wonderful from the first time.

See: http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=950DE7D6113FF93BA35752C1A9609C8B63

and the recipe: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html
posted by Arthur Dent at 11:07 AM on February 8, 2010

I love the no-knead recipe. I tried it for the first time two wereks ago (first time ever baking bread) and it came out amazing. It looked super professional, had a great crust and was delicious.
posted by vegetableagony at 3:12 PM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: Mmmm, the no-knead bread sounds both delicious and easy. The meeting got postponed due to weather until next week, so I figure I'll experiment this weekend. Thanks for offer miss patrish... I will definitely take you up on that if I run into any trouble :) I'll check again before my baking weekend if anyone has any other suggestions!
posted by karyotypical at 7:26 PM on February 10, 2010

« Older Please recommend a very simple online store.   |   Can I run a fantasy parimutuel? Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.