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
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
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.
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: