Embrace childhood comfort with homemade white bread
Famous food writer M.F.K. Fisher once said, “There is no chiropractic treatment, no yoga exercise, no hour of meditation in a music-throbbing chapel, that will leave you emptier of bad thoughts than this homely ceremony of making bread.”
I heartily agree. With all due respect to friends who are resurrecting their bread machines, no machine-made loaf can compare to one made by hand.
My husband is the usual bread baker in the family. Every week he turns out an Instagram-worthy loaf of no-knead sourdough bread. Very crusty, slightly sour and filled with the characteristic holes, it is the perfect accompaniment to a hearty soup or stew. It is the quintessential artisanal loaf.
Sometimes, though, I want a loaf that harkens back to the days of my childhood. I want a slice of bread that will turn golden in the toaster. I want bread for my grilled cheese sandwich that goes down easy without a lot of chewing. I want bread with the perfect flavor to top with peanut butter and jelly. I want the perfect white bread.
With a slightly sweet crumb and buttery crust, homemade white bread bears no resemblance to the pre-sliced loaves from the supermarket. In commercial bakeries, time is money. Dough conditioner is added to speed up rising time, and flavor is sacrificed. The home baker faces no such constraints.
Classic white bread is a straightforward preparation. Honey, butter and milk ensure a tender crumb and a bronzed exterior. The texture is firm enough to stand up to whatever sandwich filling you choose. The addition of a sweetener ensures that there will be no problem with the dough rising.
Unlike baking a cake, the times given for bread are always approximate, depending on the temperature of your kitchen. The only error you can make in bread baking is to rush the process.
The recipe below makes two loaves. You might want to turn one into a cinnamon raisin loaf. The bread freezes well, so another option is to put one away for later.
Classic White Bread
1 envelope active dry yeast (21/4 teaspoons)
1/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees)
2 cups warm milk (105-115 degrees)
3 tablespoons melted butter
21/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons honey
5-6 cups all-purpose or bread flour
In a large mixing bowl, dissolve the yeast in water. Let stand for 5 minutes. Stir in the warm milk, then add the melted butter, salt and honey. Add half the flour and mix well.
Add the rest of the flour a cup at a time and mix until the dough comes away from the surface of the bowl. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand, adding flour if necessary, until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes.
Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Turn so the top is also oiled. Cover and let rise in warm place for about 1 hour or until the dough has almost doubled.
Gently punch the dough down. Cut in half and let the dough rest for 15 minutes. To shape, roll out each half in a 10-by-8-inch rectangle. Starting at the narrow edge, roll in a jelly roll fashion.
To make a cinnamon raisin loaf, sprinkle the rolled-out dough with raisins, brown sugar and cinnamon. Roll up as for a plain loaf.
Seal the ends and seam by pinching with your fingers. Place each roll seam-side down in a greased 81/2-by-41/2-inch loaf pan. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Bake in a pre-heated 375-degree oven for 25-30 minutes or until the loaves sound hollow when tapped.
— Julie Falsetti, a York native, comes from a long line of good cooks. Her column, From Scratch, runs twice monthly in The York Dispatch food section. Reach her with questions and comments at email@example.com.