I’ve been baking a fair amount of bread lately with little success, they are just not quite right. Today, however, was NOT one of those days. I’ll start with a little background information. My husband and I went shopping on Sunday at a Le Creuset store because they were having a 25% off sale for military personnel and veterans. I’m a veteran and we’d been wanting a few more Le Creuset pieces so this seemed like the perfect time. Hey, I knew those years in the Navy would pay off someday! But I digrees. I acquired an earthenware loaf pan and yesterday I decided to put it to use and test it out.
I had been working mostly on rustic breads but the new loaf pan was perfect for…what else…if not a sandwich loaf! I looked up a recipe on The Bread Bible and got to it. The recipe was for a basic soft white sandwich loaf and it seemed pretty easy. I rarely eat sandwich bread because I just don’t like the taste of the stuff you get in plastic bags at the supermarket, even the more expensive ones but I wanted to give homemade a try just for kicks if nothing else. I am SO glad I did because this is the BEST sandwich bread I have EVER had and I do mean EVER. It’s just so tender and buttery and rich. The smell just out of the oven was amazing and the best part it is that it takes very little active time, especially if you knead by mixer.
I’ve already had almost half the loaf (I halved the recipe) and I want more! It’s awesome by itself and even better with strawberry jam. My husband hasn’t tried it yet but he’s the one that likes sandwich bread and I suspect he’s going to love it. It may just be that we never buy plastic bread at the supermarket again! Especially now that we bought a bread machine on sale. I can’t wait till that gets here!
Basic Soft White Sandwich Loaf
Dough starter (sponge): minimum 1 hour, maximum 24 hours
Minimum rising time: about 4 hours
Oven temperature: 350°F
Baking time: 50 minutes
Two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pans, lightly greased with cooking spray or oil
a baking sheet OR baking stone
Makes 2 8x4x4 1/2 inch high loaves 1 1/4 pounds/581 grams
12 oz (341 g) unbleached all purpose flour (use only Gold Medal, King Arthur or Pillsbury)
14.3 oz (405 g) water, at room temperature (70° to 90°F)
2 tbsp plus 1 tsp (1.5 oz / 45 g) honey
3/4 tsp (2.4 g) instant yeast
1. Make the sponge. In a mixer bowl or other large bowl, combine the flour, water, honey, and instant yeast. Whisk until very smooth, to incorporate air, about 2 minutes. The sponge will be the consistency of a thick batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
Flour mixture and dough:
11 oz (311 g) unbleached all purpose flour (use same brands as above)
1.5 oz (40 g) dry milk, preferably nonfat
3/4 tsp (2.4 g) instant yeast
4.5 oz (128 g) unsalted butter, softened
2 1/4 tsp (15 g) salt
optional: 1 tbsp (0.5 oz / 14 g) melted butter
2. Make the flour mixture and add to the sponge. In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour (reserve 1/4 cup if mixing by hand), dry milk, and instant yeast. Sprinkle this on top of the sponge and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Allow it to ferment for 1 to 4 hours at room temperature. During this time, the sponge will bubble through the flour blanket in places: this is fine.
3. Mix the dough.
Add the butter to the bowl and mix with the dough hook on low speed (#2 if using a KitchenAid) for 1 minute or until the flour is moistened enough to form a rough dough. Scrape down any bits of dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rest for 20 minutes.
Sprinkle on the salt and knead the dough on medium speed (#4 KitchenAid) for 7 to 10 minutes. It will not come away from the bowl until the last minute or so of kneading; it will be smooth and shiny and stick to your fingers. With an oiled spatula, scrap down any dough clinging to the sides of the bowl. If the dough is not stiff, knead in a little flour. If it’s not at all sticky, spray it with a little water and knead it in. The dough will weigh about 44.25 oz / 1258 grams.
Add the salt and butter to the bowl and, with a wooden spoon or your hand, stir until all the flour is moistened. Knead the dough in the bowl until it comes together, then scrape it into a lightly floured counter. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, enough to develop the gluten structure a little, adding as little of the reserved flour as possible to keep the dough from sticking. Use a bench scraper to scrape the dough and gather it together as you knead it. At this point, it will be very sticky. Cover it with the inverted bowl and allow it to rest for 20 minutes. This resting time will make the dough less sticky and easier to work with.
Knead the dough for about 5 minutes or until it is very smooth and elastic. It should still be tacky (sticky) enough for cling slightly to your fingers a little. If the dough is still very sticky, however, add some of the remaining flour, or a little extra. The dough will weigh about 44.25 oz / 1258 grams.
4. Let the dough rise. Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough into a 4 quart dough-rising container or bowl, lightly oiled with cooking spray or oil. Push down the dough and lightly spray the surface. Cover the container with a lid or plastic wrap. Allow the dough to rise (ideally at 75° to 80°F) until doubled, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Using an oiled spatula or dough scraper, scrape the dough onto a floured counter and press down on it gently to form a rectangle. It will be full of air and resilient. Try to maintain as many of the air bubbles as possible. Pull out and fold the dough over from all four sides into a tight package, or give it 2 business letter turns an set it back in the container. Again, oil the surface and cover. Allow to the dough to rise for 1 to 2 hours or until it doubles in size. It will fill the container fuller than before because it is puffier with air.
5. Shape the dough and let it rise. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and cut in half. Shape each piece into a loaf: begin by gently pressing the dough (or lightly rolling it with a rolling pin) into a wide rectangle; the exact size is not important ad this point. (A long side of the dough should be facing towards you.) Dimple the dough with your fingertips to deflate any large air bubbles. Fold over the right side of the dough to a little past the center. Fold over the left side to overlap it slightly. Press the center overlap section with the side of your hand to seal the dough. Starting at the top edge of the dough, roll it over three or four times, until it reaches the bottom edge of the dough: with each roll, press with your thumbs to seal it and at the same time push it away from you slightly to tighten the outer skin. As you roll and press, the dough will become wider. If it is not as long as the pan, place both hands close together on the top of the dough and, rolling back and forth, gradually work your way toward the ends, gently stretching the dough. For the most even shape, it is important to keep a tight skin on the surface of the dough and not tear it. If you want the edges of the loaf to be smooth, tuck the sides under.
Place the loaves in the prepared loaf pans; the dough will be about 1/2 inch from the top of the pans. Cover them with a large container, or cover them loosely with oiled plastic wrap, and allow to rise until the center is about 1 inch above the sides of the pan, 1 1/2 to 2 hours. When the dough is pressed with a fingertip, the depression will very slowly fill in.
6. Preheat the oven. Preheat the oven to 350°F for 45 minutes before baking. Have an oven shelf at the lowest level and place a baking stone or sheet on it before preheating.
7. Bake the bread. Quickly but gently set the pans on the hot baking stone or sheet. Toss 1/2 cup of ice cubes into the floor of the oven, beneath the baking sheet or stone and immediately shut the door. Bake for 50 minutes or until medium golden brown and a skewer inserted in the middle comes out clean. An instant read thermometer inserted in the center will read about 210°F. Halfway through baking, turn the pans around for even baking.
8. Glaze and cool the bread. Remove the bread from the oven and set it on a wire rack. Brush the top of the bread with the optional melted butter. Unmold and cool top side up on a wire rack until barely warm, about 1 hour.
Again, bread recipes are hardly ever short. Well, at least the good ones. This recipe has minor changes from the original, mostly in the steaming method but the ingredients are the same and the procedures are the same.
The bread has just been given the thumbs up by my husband!