Thursday, May 24, 2012

Everyday Bread

My "Everyday Bread," as I call it, comes from an old William Sonoma bread cookbook that my husband has had since before we met. It is such a simple recipe, and it produces 2 loaves that are just the right consistency for sandwiches. I've even used it to make buns for hamburgers! What I'm trying to say is that this recipe is versatile and great for the beginner baker.

1/4 cup warm water
2 cup warm whole milk 
4 tsp active dry yeast
2 Tbsp sugar or honey 
2 Tbsp butter, melted
1 Tbsp salt
6 cup (+ or -) bread flour (I always use all purpose)
Canola Oil for greasing the pans (I use "Pam" spray oil)

To warm the milk, I usually just "nuke" it in the microwave for a few seconds. Be careful, though, because it can get hot and if it is too hot it will KILL the yeast and your bread will fail. It's best to warm it a few second at a time and stir it to make sure there are no hot spots. 

Mix the water, 1/4 cup of the milk, and a pinch of sugar in a small bowl. Sprinkle the yeast on top and stir to mix. Set aside. When it is bubbly and starting to puff up, it's ready to use (see lower picture)

In a large bowl, mix remaining 1 3/4 cup milk, melted butter, sugar (or honey), salt, and 2 cups of flour. Mix until creamy. (You can use a stand mixer to make this dough, but I prefer to do it all by hand).

By this time, your yeast mixture should be bubbly and ready. Add your yeast mixture and another 1 cup flour to the large bowl and mix for a minute or two until combined.

Mix in the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. (I usually get about 5 cups of flour in to get to this point.... and I add the remaining 1 cup while I knead by hand. If you use a stand mixer to knead the dough, skip the next step, finish adding the flour and continue to mix it until it is smooth and elastic)

If you will be kneading by hand, like I do, prepare your surface with flour (Here is where I can add my last cup of flour). Turn out the dough onto the floured surface and sprinkle flour on top.

Knead in the remaining flour, and continue to knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Remember that the purpose of kneading is to stretch the gluten fibers, so don't tear your bread. Instead, pull up on side of the dough and fold it over the rest.

Using the heel of your hand, press down and away from you.  Turn the dough 1/4 turn and do it again. Continue in this way until the dough is smooth and elastic. That means that there are no lumps and when you press on the dough it springs back. 

When you are fininshed kneading, put the dough into a greased bowl. Spray a little oil on the top of the dough so it won't dry out. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap (DO NOT SEAL the edges. You want to plastic to move if the dough rises above the sides of your bowl).

When your dough has doubled (after about 1 1/2 hours at room temperature) it is time to prepare the loaves. Grease two 9 inch loaf pans and set aside.

Turn out the dough onto a floured counter. Divide in half. Press each half into a rectangular shape (does not have to be perfect).

Fold each rectangle like a letter: Starting from the short side of the rectangle, fold up the bottom edge 1/3 of the way up. Fold down the top edge 1/3 of the way down and press to seal (now you have a rectangle that is three layers thick..... see second picture). 

Turn the new rectangle so that the short edge is facing you. Starting with the short edge, roll up the dough into a log. Seal the edges and continue to roll until your log is the same length as your pan. Place you logs into the prepared loaf pans.

Cover the pans loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for about an hour. 

When the dough has risen about 1 inch above the edge of the pan, it is ready. Preheat your oven to 375.

Bake for about 40 minutes, until the loaves are golden brown and pull away from the pan sides.

Remove the loaves from the pans and cool on a rack. Cool completely. Enjoy!

I've made this recipe so many times that I can do it by memory. And now, I feel brave enough to experiment a little. The first change I made was to use 1-2 cups of whole wheat flour in place of some of the white flour. It didn't change the bread too much, but I found I need to add a little bit more milk to accommodate the extra absorbency of the whole wheat flour. I felt like it was a little "healthier" than the plain white bread, without going completely whole grain. My kids ate it, and that's the true test of a successful recipe!

The next change went kind of the opposite way. In term of healthiness, I mean. I had been hearing of people using coconut oil in their cooking. Recently I read about a friend who was using it in her bread. I really wanted to try it, but I didn't have any. I did, however, have a box of Coco-Pop. You know, the weird yellow sticks of oil that are made for popping popcorn? They are Coconut oil, Cottonseed oil, and Soybean oil (and colored with Beta Carotene). And I'm sure there is some artificial butter flavor in there somewhere too, even though it's not listed on the package. My husband picked this up recently because he was curious about whether or not it would REALLY make our popcorn taste better than using regular vegetable oil (which, by the way, it DOES!). My hesitation with it is that it is Hydrogenated oil, which really isn't good for you. I decided, though, that because I was using such a small amount, it wouldn't kill me. Or so I hoped.

The verdict? DELICIOUS! Replacing the butter with the coco-pop made the most moist and wonderful bread. Great texture, great flavor, and the beta carotene even made the bread a neat color! Total winner! (except for the hydrogenated part). I WILL be making this version again!

If you are a novice baker and this, or other bread recipes, doesn't work for you the first time. DON'T GIVE UP! Bread dough is a funny thing, and even the most experienced bakers make bread that flops! In fact, just the other day, I made this exact recipe (which I've made a hundred times). The temperature in my house was a little warmer than usual and I got distracted by  my kids. I ended up letting my loaves rise too much before getting them in the oven. The result? Edible bread that was a little too "holey" and that collapsed in the oven. It won't stop me from making it again, but I guess I need to set a timer so that I remember to check on my loaves. :-)

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