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Well Fed Buff: Spice bread


Many players are familiar with Spice Bread as being the first cooking recipe they learn. Spice bread is the noob's way of quickly leveling their cooking skill up to 30 or 40, and it's always a little sad when the recipe turns gray. In honor of its iconic place in profession leveling on lowbie toons, today I'm going to make spice bread. Unfortunately, unlike in the game, it's a somewhat involved process. Breadmaking itself is simple in concept, but can often be finicky in execution.

A starting note: when making bread, you can either add yeast via yeast cakes or active dry yeast, or you can make a bread sponge (starter) and use that. Active dry yeast is the simplest way to do things, so that's what's in this recipe. However, bread made from a starter doesn't go stale as quickly for whatever reason, so I encourage you to try out a starter if you're interested in regular bread making.

A few notes on making bread:

Breadmaking differs somewhat from other types of cooking and baking so here's a few tips:

  • Use weight-based measurements for key ingredients, particularly flour.
If you're a beginner breadmaker you should always weigh your flour. Flour can have a variable volume depending on how it's been stored, how much you've shaken the container, what type of flour it is, etc. Weighing is more precise, and will help you to get a better sense of the proportions of water to flour that you'll need for your bread.
  • Be aware of the ambient temperature and humidity of your home and local climate; it will affect your dough.
Flour is very absorbent and sensitive to humidity, and the yeast does its work best at around 75-85 degrees Farenheit (24-30 Celsius). I live in a cold, wet place. Because of this, my flour is often saturated from natural humidity in the air, so I have to add more flour to bread recipes. Furthermore, the interior of my house is almost always below 75 degrees, so my dough needs more rising time. Someone who lives in a hot, dry place would likely need to add water to their bread recipe, and their dough would probably rise more quickly than mine.
Spice bread ingredients
Spice bread:

21g (3/4 oz) of dry active yeast (3 packets; you can buy them in the grocery store)
1 tbsp honey or sugar
625mL (a bit more than 1 pint) tepid water
500g (1 lb) all-purpose flour
500g (1 lb) bread flour
1 tbsp salt
1 tbsp ground cardamom
1 tbsp ground ginger
1/2 tbsp ground cloves
spice bread spices
I used cardamom, ginger, and cloves for this recipe because they are some of my favorite spices, and cardamom in particular is very aromatic, but doesn't have a very strong flavor. Your bread will definitely smell spiced, but the spices shouldn't interfere with the taste of anything you eat with the bread. Of course, if you want stronger flavor, you can always add more spices.Instructions:
Dissolve the yeast and honey/sugar in the tepid water. The water should feel neither hot nor cold when you put your finger in it. If the water is too cold, the yeast won't activate properly, and if it's too hot, it will kill them, so it's worth taking the time to get it right.

If you're more skilled or luckier than myself, you can do this next part directly on your (clean) kitchen counter, if you're unsure, use a bowl. Mix the salt and spices in with the flour and shape it into a mound. Make a well in the center, add the water + yeast mixture and begin to swirl in the rest of the flour until the water is soaked up and the dough is moist and sticky. Note that if necessary you can add more water or flour. If the dough feels too dry and won't stick together, add water. If it's really wet and gooey, add some flour. It will take some practice, but you'll get the hang of it.
Un-kneaded spice bread dough
Once you've got all the water incorporated into the flour mixture, it's time to knead. One of the toughest things for me to get used to in bread making was the fact that the dough actually requires quite a lot of kneading -- easily 7 to 10 minutes of it. This step can be physically difficult, especially if you've got problems with your wrists or elbows. There's a full kilo of flour in this recipe, so there is a lot of dough, and it's thick and heavy, so be careful. You'll know the dough has been kneaded enough when it gets a silky texture; it should be slightly sticky (but not enough for bits to stick to your hands) and look like this:
Kneaded spice bread dough
Now it's ready to rise. Lightly oil a large bowl and dump in the dough, then and cover with plastic wrap to help keep the moisture in. You can also cover it with the traditional damp towel, but the plastic wrap is more effective. Leave the dough somewhere warm until it doubles in size. Depending on the temperature of your house, this can take anywhere from 40 mins to 2 hours, so keep an eye on it.

After the dough has risen, take it out of the bowl and be really mean to it. Punch it, smack it, knead it and knock the air back out of it. At this point you can divide it in half if you like and make two smaller loaves instead of the one gigantic loaf this recipe makes. Then shape it however you want (round, flat, etc.) and put it on a baking tray or into a loaf tin to rise for a second time.
Spice bread pre-baking
Once it has again doubled in size, it's ready to be baked. Preheat the oven to 450 Farenheit (230 Celsius), and put a pan full of water on the bottom shelf. The water will evaporate as the oven heats, humidifying the air inside the oven -- the secret to giving the bread a nice crispy crust. Bake the bread for 30 minutes. You can tell it's ready by thumping the bottom of it with your finger -- if it sounds hollow, it's done!

Congratulations, you've now got a delicious loaf of spice bread to devour. I find that it's particularly good with butter and jam, but I really love jam. It works fine for sandwiches, peanut butter, and cheese, too. Om nom nom!

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