I remember when I was first really learning to cook from scratch, I tried making bread a few times. Abject. Failure. Invariably, the bread would rise high and then crash in the oven, becoming brick-like and flat, even indented, on top. Eventually I learned how to make decent “rustic” breads, but making white bread kept eluding me. The kneading. The “doubling”. The fussiness of it all. But I decided a couple of years ago that it would not remain the one basic baking skill I lacked, so I learned to make it.
I started with a no-knead bread because it seemed pretty non-intimidating, and worked my way up from there, to finally tackling White Sandwich Bread, which for some reason I’ve always seen as the Master’s Level Course in Bread Baking. Turns out, it wasn’t that hard. Who knew?
First, I use my stand mixer. I have a Kitchen Aid, and I love it. LOVE it. Seriously, if my house were on fire and my kid and husband were already out, I’d have a hard time deciding between my photo albums and my Kitchen Aid. (Okay, not really, but I love it a lot.) The dough hook means no hand kneading, which is a bonus for me, since I have tendonitis in one wrist, and that kind of hard kneading motion leaves me in pain for days. It’s got a large bowl, and it serves well for rising as well as mixing.
And second, I use a good recipe and good ingredients, fresh yeast and good flour being the keys here. I find that recipes that call for “packages” of yeast are a little more prone to failure than recipes that actually call for a measured amount, but that may just be my experience with a particular recipe or particular brand of packaged yeast. (Plus, packaged yeast is MUCH more expensive per ounce than a jar of yeast. Keep it in the fridge, it will last months. Keep it in the freezer, it’ll last even longer, but if you don’t warm it up before you use it, it’ll take longer to “wake up.”)
I thought I’d share my favorite “sandwich bread” recipe. I don’t often use it for sandwiches, I admit; I tend to just slice and eat it. But it is SO good with fresh turkey, or as toast…
Stupidly Easy White Bread
(Adapted from King Arthur Flour)
- 3 cups all-purpose flour
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1 1/4 teaspoon salt
- 3 Tablespoons sugar
- 4 Tablespoons butter (room temperature is best)
- 1/4 cup dry milk
- 1/4 cup potato flour or instant mashed potato flakes
- 1 1/8 cups lukewarm water (give or take, start with a cup and add the rest if needed)
Attach the dough hook to your stand mixer, and put all of the ingredients in the bowl of your mixer. Don’t worry about making a well, or adding the sugar and yeast first, or whatever. Just glob them all in and turn on the machine. Mix until the dough is soft and smooth, about 5-7 minutes. Overmixing isn’t really a problem with this dough, so if you’re in doubt, keep mixing. You might need to add a little bit of water or a little bit of flour to achieve the right texture. I would err on the side of too little flour, as the more you add, the heavier the bread will be. Remove the bowl from the stand mixer, throw a tea towel over it and let it rise for an hour until it’s puffy. Don’t worry about letting it double, just let it get puffy. (I often rise mine in my top oven while cooking something in the lower oven. Just enough heat without too much.)
Grease an 8 1/2″ by 4 1/2″ loaf pan. Take the dough out of the bowl and shape into a log that will fit nicely in the pan. You can do it on a work surface, but I usually just manipulate it in midair and flop it in the pan. Cover with the tea towel or a proof cover and let rise again, about an hour. This time you want to wait until the dough has risen about an inch above the rim of the pan. I find the second rise goes faster than the first almost every time for me, but YMMV.
Preheat your oven to 350.
Remove the cover from your loaf pan and bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes. Err on the side of too long, or the interior may not be thoroughly cooked. If the loaf starts to get too brown, cover with tinfoil for the last 15 minutes.
Remove the bread from the oven, and it should turn out of the pan easily. Put it on a wire rack to cool. If you want a softer, “sandwich bread” type crust, brush the top with melted butter while the bread is still warm. Cool it completely before you cut. I know, it’s hard to wait with warm bread, but this type really does cut better if you wait until it’s completely cool.