Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Sometimes, simple is the best

I make all kinds of stuff that is full of lots of ingredients, different flavors, whatever.  And it's usually very good.  But sometimes, you need something simple.  Something like....white sandwich bread.

I have always bought sandwich bread.  It was just easier that way.  But last week, in an effort to avoid yet another trip to the store for one stupid thing that I ran out of, I decided to make my own sandwich bread.  I had a day off from work, with nowhere to go (and my car was in the shop, so I had no way to get anywhere anyway), and all of the ingredients I needed on hand.  Seemed like a no-brainer to me.

I have to say that one of the things I love about baking is the smell that fills my house when something is in the oven.  The smell of bread is just so amazingly homey.  It always makes me hungry.  It's especially torturous when you have to let the loaf cool before you can cut it and try a slice.  In addition to the smell, I find the waiting stressful, because you put in all this work, and hours of your day, and you have no way to tell if the loaf turned out okay. 

This bread was A-M-A-Z-I-N-G.  Really.  I had to seriously restrain myself from eating the entire thing in one sitting.  As it was, it only lasted a few days, and I ate probably 90% of it.  About 6 days after I made it, the Hubster went looking for it, couldn't find it, and assumed I had frozen the rest of the loaf.  Um, yeah, no. It was all consumed.  And now, I have been ruined to all store bought breads.  I am back to my regular stuff from the store, and it tastes and feels like styrofoam.  No good.  I think I will be going back to making my own.  So worth it.

This recipe is pretty simple and easy to follow.  It's from America's Test Kitchen "Family Baking Book", which is sort of my baking bible.  I knew they wouldn't let me down. 

American Sandwich Bread
Source: America's Test Kitchen "Family Baking Book"
Makes one 9-inch loaf

Note: If you don't have bread flour, all-purpose flour can be substituted, but the resulting loaf will be a little shorter, which a slightly denser crumb. You will need about 1 tablespoon of melted butter to brush over the loaf before baking.

1 cup warm milk (110 degrees)
1/3 cup warm water (110 degrees)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and cooled, plus extra for brushing
3 tablespoons honey
3 1/2-4 cups bread flour
1 envelope instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 teaspoons salt

  1. Whisk the milk, water, butter, and honey together in a large liquid measuring cup. Combine 3 1/2 cups of the flour, yeast, and salt in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the milk mixture and mix until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes.
  2. Increase the mixer speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes.  If after 4 minutes more flour is needed (if the dough feels sticky), add the remaining 1/2 cup of flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom (fp note: i think i added about 1/4 cup of the 1/2 cup of extra flour.  just take it slowly and see what works for you).
  3. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover with greased plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours. (fp note: my house is generally on the cold and breezy side, so when i need a warm place for bread, here is what i do: when i start mixing the dough, i turn the oven on to about 200.  when i put the dough into the bowl, i turn off the oven, and put the bowl in the oven.  keep the door closed as long as you can -- i check around 1 hour. that warmth lets the dough rise.)
  4. Grease a 9 by 5-inch loaf pan. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and gently press it into a 9-inch square.  Roll the dough into a tight cylinder and pinch the seam closed. Place the loaf, seam side down, in the prepared pan. Mist the loaf with vegetable oil spray, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place (i put it back in the oven, but don't turn it on or anything) until nearly doubled in size and the dough barely springs back when poked with a knuckle, 45 to 75 minutes. (i got distracted and let mine rise for longer than it should have, so the dough had kind of blossomed over the side of the pan on one side. i just tucked it in and went on. made the top a little funny looking, but still tasted great.)
  5. Adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees. (if you use my oven trick for letting the dough rise, make sure you take out the bread before you preheat the oven!!) Brush the loaf lightly with melted butter, then spray lightly with water. Bake until golden and the center of the bread registers 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, 40 to 50 minutes, rotating the loaf halfway through baking (when i went to rotate the loaf after 20 minutes i thought it looked like it was going to get too brown. so i loosely covered it in aluminum foil. the loaf ended up coming out slightly pale, but i'm okay with that.). Cool the loaf in the pan for 15 minutes, then flip out onto a wire rack and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours, before serving.  Just try to wait that long. I dare you.

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