For some baking can be a bit of black art, indeed I was in the "I can't bake" camp for quite a while. Many feel that it is too tedious, or too hard. I grant you that it does take some practice and some patience but once you have mastered it you won't go back. Just to give you some extra incentive, next time you are in the super market picking up a loaf of sliced white (or even some of that wholewheat designer bread) take a look at the ingredients. Baked goods is one of main places where the food labs have been having a field day. Baked goods are full of all sorts of additives and chemicals. Bread is quite basic and has the following ingredients; Flour, Water, Yeast, Salt, and optionally some oil. If your loaf has more in it then you have some modified version of bread.
If you are dead against trying to bake your own It is worth searching around for a good baker who produces their own bread on site. Artisan bread can also be found at many farmers markets also but beware of baked good listed as artisan in supermarkets (even wholefoods) read the labels! Your other option is a bread machine, I started with one of these and you can pick one up at a reasonable price. They are simple to use and provide a great introduction to bread making. You still control what goes in your bread and I you will produce a much better loaf than you can buy.
On the other hand if you fancy trying some baking then below are my three go to recipes. I make these most weeks depending on schedule and need. I am going to start with a sweet recipe which in my opinion is fool proof and ultimately configurable to your tastes and provisions. Unlike most baking recipes it uses a measure of volume. I use a mug, but you could use a cup or something bigger depending on the size of loaf
I believe this recipe originates from Scotland. You need your Mug, a bowl and a baking tin (I used a medium loaf tin). Take your Mug and fill it with Bran (oat or wheat) and pour into the bowl, fill the same mug with Sugar (I use raw brown sugar but it doesn't matter) and pour into bowl. Fill the mug again with dried fruit, any combination you like or have available. Mix and match, experiment and have fun. Pour this into the bowl along with a Mug of milk. Give it a stir and leave to soak at least 4 hours. I sometimes leave over night, or put it together in the morning and complete when I come home from work.
After the mix has been soaking add a mug full of self rising flour. This might be hard to get hold of in the US but it really just a regular white flour and baking powder. I make my own (because I know it is fresh then) from stone ground white flour at a ratio of 4% baking powder to flour (100g of flour, means 4g of baking powder) in my mug this means about 1 teaspoon. Pour in your mug of self rising flour and stir to combine. Pour into your baking tin and place in a medium oven (350 deg F) a leave for at least 45 mins it can take well over an hour to cook, to test if it is cook simply press the top with your finger when it is firm (pushes back) you can pull the loaf out. Allow to cool then serve sliced with or without butter. This loaf will a week in a sealed container, but it problem will be gone quite quickly.
If you have no time to make yeast leavened bread then a great quick standby is Soda Bread. Soda bread is great with soups and stews or with a hunk of cheese and beer. It is simple to make and doesn't take much time.
Preheat your oven to 400 deg F
You will need the following ingredients
- 250g Flour (White or Wholewheat)
- 5g salt
- 2tsp baking powder
- 150ml of Buttermilk, Thin yogurt, milk or even water