I have recently begun to bake bread on a regular basis again. I stopped for a bit as my writing schedule took over my life and we all missed it. I did so for a couple of reasons. The first was getting a hand grain mill that is a pleasure to use. The second reason was my general cheapness…err-I mean frugality. We go through 1-2 loves of bread a day. Each loaf costs $4.99 at our little co-operative market. That adds up to some serious dough. The third reason is because I found a recipe that requires very little hands-on time and produces a reliable loaf that is easy to slice and has a good texture for sandwiches. I will say that it gets stale quickly, in spite of the added milk but as we go through it in a day, that isn’t a problem unless I double the recipe. Even then, all that is usually left over are the heels and we use them up in French toast, bread pudding or stuffing. I have a dedicated bag in the freezer just for bread heals.
I think everyone needs at least one solid cookbook. I have perhaps 100 but I really only use five of them most of the time. If pressed, I could get my with The Best Recipe by the editors of COOK’S ILLUSTRATED magazine. It covers everything most of us make along with the food science behind the recipes and all of the reasons rejected recipes failed their extensive tests. I can pass an afternoon just reading about food. They offer only a single recipe for a sandwich bread but it’s a keeper.
Master Recipe for American Sandwich Bread
Mix together in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook:
31/2 cups bread flour-I use half whole wheat flour and half all-purpose flour. The extra gluten in bread flour makes it rise too high in my opinion.
2 teaspoons salt
Warm together to 110 degrees:
1 cup milk
1/2 cup water
2 tablespoons melted butter
3 tablespoons honey
21/4 teaspoons rapid rise yeast
Mix the rest of the ingredients in a I quart Pyrex measuring cup. I let this sit for a few minutes to get the yeast working, then slowly add it to the flour/salt in the mixing bowl. When the mixture comes together, turn the speed to medium and let the dough work for a least 10 minutes. You will be tempted to add more flour at this stage as the dough looks very wet. Resist. I don’t add more than another 1/4 cup flour. If you get carried away, your bread will be heavy and dense. When the dough reaches the shaggy but cohesive ball stage push it into a greased bowl, cover and set it in a warm spot to rise. It will take about an hour. Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and punch down. The flour on the surface will make the dough look more like you expect. I knead for a few minutes, shape into a loaf and place it in a greased, 9″x5″ bread pan. Let it rise, covered and out of drafts for another 30 minutes or so, depending on how warm your kitchen is. Again. Don’t try to rush it. Slash the top of your dough with a sharp knife. This lets the dough rise nicely. If the slash is too deep, the dough will get too wide a spread. It won’t hurt the finished bread but you won’t win a blue ribbon at the fair either. This matters to some of us. Preheat your oven to 350 degrees and bake your bread for 40-50 minutes. Tossing a tray of ice cubes on the floor of your oven will give you a better crust. I have come to rely on an instant-read thermometer to determine when my bread is done as I hate gummy bread. The internal temperature should read 190 degrees accord to the recipe but I have gone to 205 degrees and been happy with results. It is far better to cook it a bit too long than not long enough.
It is possible to make this bread without the stand mixer but be sure not to add too much extra flour.
The most important part of creating a resilient, prepared lifestyle is acquiring the skills to manage your daily tasks in the absence of power or a supply chain. Having the ability to grind grain and bake bread is a good place to start. If you have a great bread recipe or tip, please share it in the comments. I want to learn too. I look forward to hearing from you.