Bread: Sandwich Loaves

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Aren’t those the prettiest loaves of bread you’ve ever seen? That may be a little dramatic, but for real, you guys. They are very pretty. Since I’ve changed my job title to Tiny Human Herder Stay-At-Home-Mom, I’m finding that I have both the need and the desire to make for myself some of the things that I was in the habit of buying.  I’ve made bread many times, but it’s only recently that I’ve gotten in the habit of doing it regularly.  We eat a lot of sandwiches around here, and toast, and I like to make croutons for salads, and we usually have a bit of bread with our dinner if we’re not having carb-heavy sides… see where I’m going with this?  I was spending quite a bit on bread at the store, especially since I preferred to buy the bakery loaves, which tend to cost a bit more than the stuff off the shelf.  And since I own no less than four cookbooks that are devoted entirely to the art of bread baking, and cookbooks are really just the physical manifestation of knowledge that you’ve purchased (and not cheaply) from an expert, my bill was really starting to get out of hand.

So I cracked open The Bread Baker’s Apprentice looking for a basic loaf bread recipe.  I wanted a loaf of mostly white bread, that had good flavor and chew, but didn’t require three days to rise and/or ferment.  The one I chose was appropriately entitled Basic White Bread.  There are several variations given for this recipe in the book, the first of which calls for powdered milk, which I never use and don’t keep.  The second variation called for either whole milk or buttermilk, so I went with that one.  I have been using this recipe for almost 5 months, making bread every 10-12 days, tweaking it as I went along trying to find the perfect loaf for us.  I wanted to add some whole wheat flour, as I like that it adds some extra nutritional value, but my husband does not care for the taste.  So I added just a bit here and there until I got to what I think is the exact right amount for us.  I’ll put that in my notes below if you care to try it, but I definitely recommend experimenting until you come up with your own perfect formula.  I’ve added some notes at the bottom of the recipe with my mix, as well as a few tips, so be sure to read it through before you begin.

Our bread is a bit more sturdy than typical store loaf bread, but still has a very light crumb and I think it has a much better flavor.  The little bit of whole wheat flour I add really gives it more depth without being too tough or “grainy”.  It’s perfect for sandwiches or toasting and since the recipe yields two loaves, it lasts my little family of two adults (and one pint-size person) for about a week and a half.  This is no quick bread.  There are several hours of rising here, but the hands on time is only about 30-40 minutes or so, and less if you are practiced.  Enjoy!

 

Basic White Bread,
from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
makes two loaves

INGREDIENTS:
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, room temp**
1½ cups (12 ounces) buttermilk or whole milk, at room temperature

DIRECTIONS:

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 so 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.  Shape the pieces into boules by gathering the dough into a rough ball.  Create surface tension by stretching the outside of the dough into an oblong shape, being careful not to squeeze out too much of the gas trapped in the dough.  Repeat this stretching motion, bringing  the opposite ends together to form a ball.  Pinch to seal the bottom.  Mist the dough lightly with spray oil and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Allow to rest for about 20 minutes.

Shape into loaves:  Begin by patting out the dough into a  rectangle about 5” wide and 6-8” long.  Working with the short side, begin rolling the dough, a little at a time, pinching the crease as you go.  Make sure to maintain the surface tension of the dough, as that helps in the rising.  Pinch the final seam close and do not taper the ends.

Lightly oil two 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pans and place the loaves in the 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°.

I like to score my loaves down the center with a very sharp knife and then spray with a bit of oil and sprinkle with sesame seeds, but that is optional.

Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, rotating 180 degrees halfway through for even baking. 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.

Notes:
I do use the weight measurements given here for the flour.  I think it’s the best way to be consistent since everyone measures flour differently.  I don’t bother with the wet ingredients or the smaller amounts like the salt and yeast, but with the flour I do feel like it’s a good idea.  That being said, if you don’t have a scale, then go ahead and use your regular measuring cups and you’ll be fine, you just may need to add a bit more flour/water when you’re kneading to get to the right consistency.

*I use 16 oz white unbleached bread flour and 3 oz whole wheat flour, both King Arthur brand.
**I use melted butter.  I did that by mistake the first time and find that it mixes in easier than just room temp butter.
I’m a visual learner and really appreciated how Mr. Reinhart used plenty of photos in the book to show how to shape the loaves.  Here are the links to some YouTube videos with the shaping techniques used in this recipe:

Shaping into boules
Shaping into loaves

 

 

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Fig Focaccia with Maple Balsamic Onions

You guys.  I am fascinated by bread.  It’s like magic.  Really!  Flour (essentially ground up grass, people), water, salt, and yeast magically combine and transform each other into the most basic food there is.  I mean, think about it.  There are as many recipes, flavor profiles, and add-ins as there are people on the planet.  You can go in any direction you want and it’ll still probably turn out delicious.  And yet,  it’s one of the most terrifying things to make… at least the first time.  Yeast is intimidating to a lot of people.  I think it’s fear that you’ll kill it off in the beginning and then do all that work just to pull a dense, flat, flavorless loaf from the oven.

The first bread I ever made was the famous, Jim Lahey No Knead Bread.  You know, the one every food blogger alive has posted about.  It was so simple, and it’s a great way to sort of jump in to bread baking, but you know, only in the ankle deep part of the shallow end of the pool.  It was a great confidence booster when it turned out not just edible, but actually tasty.  So once I realized that I could totally handle this, I started to branch out a little.  I made white bread, and wheat bread, and dinner rolls… And then I discovered focaccia.  Focaccia is like that super fun friend you have that is up for anything.  The laid back one who goes along with whatever and who always has a great time.  Really!  It’s the most straightforward dough to make, but then you can add whatever you want to it, and I don’t think you could mess it up.

Um, Emily?  That kind of sounds like pizza…  I know, and it’s actually like pizza’s cousin.  You don’t usually add as many toppings to focaccia as you would to pizza, but the dough is very similar.  You’re just sort of seasoning focaccia, so you have a bread that will (hopefully) accent your meal, rather than be a meal, like pizza.  Focaccia should be fairly flat, and have a delightfully crispy, crusty outside with a tender, rustic inside.  It’ll usually rise a little more than a pizza-type dough since you’re not weighing it down with as many toppings;  and it’s a more substantial bread since most of the surface area will be exposed and will bake up crusty and golden, unlike with pizza where we cover it with sauce and cheese so the crust is only really crusty on the bottom and the edges.

If you have any inclination at all to get into bread baking, you should definitely try focaccia.  I most often make it very simply with just sliced olives, rosemary, salt and olive oil.   It makes a great appetizer, or addition to your meal – I’ve even sliced it and used it for sandwiches.   I found this particular recipe a couple of years ago when I was looking for something a little more creative for having guests over, and it has become my favorite thing to make to impress people.  The original recipe was for strawberries and maple balsamic onions (a divine combination, you guys.  Divine.), and I have made that several times with excellent results, but figs are in season right now so I substituted them in for the berries.  I actually like the strawberries a little better since they are a little more tart than figs, which I think balances out the sweet onions a little better, but it was still delicious.  I love cooking things like strawberries and figs, etc, in the oven – the flavors get a little deeper, a little more intense, and they get all crispy edges and soft insides… In other words, they get perfect.

So, go forth and knead!  If you’ve never tried a yeast bread before, I encourage you to give it a go.  It’s really pretty simple, and it’s very satisfying to turn that dough up above into this:

And don’t be afraid to get creative with your toppings – I’d love to hear about your favorite focaccia bread, so please share!

 

Strawberry Focaccia with Maple-Balsamic Onions

via Saveur.com

 

1¼ oz package dry yeast

1 cup warm water (100–110 degrees F)

1 teaspoon honey

2½ cups flour

1 teaspoons kosher salt

¼ cup plus 5 Tbs olive oil, divided

1 medium sweet onion, quartered and thinly sliced

2½ teaspoons balsamic vinegar

1½ teaspoons pure maple syrup

1 cup strawberries, hulled and sliced lengthwise into 1/8–inch pieces

8–10 fresh basil leaves, sliced chiffonade

Coarse sea salt

 

Combine yeast, water and honey in a medium bowl; let rest for about 5 minutes, until bubbles form on the top. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour and kosher salt; set aside. Add ¼ cup of olive oil to the yeast mixture and stir to combine. Make a well in the center of the flour mixture and pour wet ingredients into dry. Stir well to combine, then turn dough onto a lightly flour surface and knead until dough is smooth and supple, about 10 minutes. Form dough into a ball and place it in a bowl greased with ½ tablespoon olive oil. Cover with a kitchen towel or plastic wrap, and let rest until the dough approximately doubles in size, about 1 hour.

Brush a 9×13–inch baking sheet with ½ tablespoon olive oil. Remove dough from bowl and press it into the sheet with your fingers until it touches the edges. Using your fingers, gently press indentations into the dough, all over the surface. Gently brush the dough with 2 tablespoons of olive oil; let rest, lightly covered, until it puffs up slightly, about 30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat 1 tablespoon olive oil in a large skillet set over medium-low heat. Add the onion and cook, stirring occasionally, until browned and caramelized, 15–20 minutes. Stir in balsamic vinegar and maple syrup; let cook until liquid is evaporated, 2–3 minutes. Remove pan from heat and allow to cool slightly.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Lightly press figs into the top of the dough, then scatter onions and basil evenly across the top. Drizzle remaining 1 tablespoon of olive oil over the top and sprinkle with sea salt to taste. Bake until the focaccia is golden, about 20 minutes. Remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly before cutting into pieces. Serve drizzled with more olive oil or spread with fresh goat cheese.

*As I mentioned above, I have also used strawberries here.  I really think you could substitute any number of things with outstanding results, so if you don’t have/like figs use whatever you want.