Thursday, February 9, 2012

Classic White Bread

While I love baking anything and everything, there will always be a special place in my heart for a simple loaf of soft white bread. There is almost nothing better than a slice of fresh from the oven, still warm, homemade bread slathered in salted butter. The yeasty flavor mixes with the heavenly aroma still emanating from the oven to produce the bliss that is freshly baked bread. I've made several different white bread recipes over the past few years and while I don't vividly remember them all, I know this one is right up there at the top of the list. Buttery, light and tender, this bread is ready for anything: sandwiches, toast, or a simple afternoon snack with some almond butter, really whatever you can think of, it's up to you.

This recipe was straightforward without any unusual ingredients. The basic cast of flour, salt and yeast along with some milk, some butter, an egg, and a hint of sweetness via the addition of a little sugar. That's how I like my bread, simple but with a little enrichment to really take it over the top. To finish it all off I brushed the loaves with melted butter when they came out of the oven (instead of the egg wash suggested) to produce a soft and buttery crust, yum!

I didn't have the size bread pans the recipe calls for (something I've since remedied) but it didn't seem to matter one bit. The loaves didn't get as tall as they would have in a slightly smaller pan but they still turned out beautifully. I've been eating this bread daily in the days since making it and I absolutely love it. Last night it made the best Texas toast, and this morning it was perfect slathered in homemade jam. I can't wait to find out what it will be good for next; whatever that is I know it will be delicious.

Start mixing it all together

 When smooth and supple, place in an 
oiled bowl to rise

 Doubled and ready to shape

 Cut the dough in half

 Shape into two nice loaves

 Nicely risen and ready to hit the oven

 Straight from the oven, golden and beautiful

 Pull out of the loaf pans and let cool on wire racks

 Slice it up, making sure you have a nice snack
along the way

Ready for anything

Classic White Bread
From The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
  • 4¼ cups (19 ounces) unbleached bread flour
  • 1½ teaspoons (.38 ounces) salt
  • 3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) sugar
  • 2 teaspoons (.22 ounce) instant yeast
  • 1 large (1.65 ounces) egg, slightly beaten, at room temperature
  • ¼ cup (2 ounces) butter, margarine, or shortening, at room temperature, or vegetable oil
  • 1½ cups (12 ounces) buttermilk or whole milk, at room temperature
  • 1 egg, whisked with 1 teaspoon water until frothy, for egg wash (optional)
  • sesame or poppy seeds for garnish (optional)
Mix together the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Pour in the egg, butter, and milk and mix with a large metal spoon (or on low speed of the electric mixer with the paddle attachment) until all the flour is absorbed and the dough forms a ball. If the dough seems very stiff and dry, trickle in more milk until the dough is soft and supple.

Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook), adding more flour, if necessary, to create a dough that is soft, supple, and tacky but not sticky. Continue kneading (or mixing) for 6 to 8 minutes. (In the electric mixer, the dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick ever to slightly to the bottom.) The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 80° F. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

Ferment at room temperature for 1½ to 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size (the length of time will depend on the room temperature).

Remove the fermented dough from the bowl and divide it in half for sandwich loaves, into eighteen 2-ounce pieces for dinner rolls, or twelve 3-ounce pieces for burger or hot dog buns. Shape the pieces into boules for loaves or tight rounds for dinner rolls or buns. Mist the dough lightly with spray oil and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Allow to rest for about 20 minutes.

For loaves, shape as shown on page 81. Lightly oil two 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pans and place the loaves in the pans. For rolls and buns, line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment. Rolls require no further shaping. For hamburger buns, gently press down on the rolls to form the desired shape. For hot dog buns, shape as shown on page 80, although without tapering the ends. Transfer the rolls or buns to the sheet pans.

Mist the tops of the dough with spray oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Proof the dough at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until it nearly doubles in size.

Preheat the oven to 350° F for loaves or 400° F for roll and buns. Brush the rolls or buns with the egg wash and garnish with poppy or sesame seeds. Sandwich loaves also may be washed and garnished, or score them down the center and rub a little vegetable oil in the slit.

Bake the rolls or buns for approximately 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown and register just above 180° F in the center. Bake loaves for 35 to 45 minutes, rotating 180 degrees halfway through for even baking, if needed. The tops should be golden brown and the sides, when removed from the pan, should also be golden. The internal temperature of the loaves should be close to 190° F, and the loaves should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

When the loaves have finished baking, remove them immediately from the pans and cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving. Rolls should cool for at least 15 minutes on a rack before serving.

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