Friday, February 17, 2012

The easiest, most perfect bread you'll ever make

I love baking bread. In another life, I think I ran a boulangerie (fancy way of saying bread shop). I am the first to admit that my regular cooking experiments do not always turn out the way I originally envisioned – BUT, at the risk of sounding just a tad immodest, I am a damn good baker. Bread, cakes, and profiteroles – all tend to turn out exactly the way they should. I have absolutely no culinary training whatsoever. Instead, I think the key is understanding how baking works, and then just making sure you have the proper tools and techniques in place.
So, I thought I’d share a recipe for sandwich bread, adapted from King Arthur Flour. My mom and I have perfected this over the years, and it’s pretty much no-fail. Here it goes:

2 teaspoons yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1/3 cup hot water
2 cups bread flour (this is key – I’ve tried regular and it don’t work out as well)
1 cup whole wheat or white – and I do recommend King Arthur
2/3 cup milk
2 T sugar

2 T melted butter
Pinch salt

First, attend to the yeast – dissolve 1 t sugar into the hot water, and then add the yeast. Set aside for about five minutes, until it looks frothy, like a cappuccino. This step is skipped in a lot of recipes I’ve encountered, and instead they throw all the ingredients together (as did the original King Arthur recipe). However, this method, called proofing or blooming, allows the yeast to kind of “activate.” The sugar gives them something to eat.

While that’s hanging out, combine the flours, milk, remaining sugar, butter, and salt in a food processor with the kneading blade (or a stand mixer with the paddle attachment – but both mom and I prefer the food processor method). Give it a pulse. Once the yeast mixture is ready, add that in as well. Continue to mix until the dough forms a ball and scrapes the sides of the mixer clean. This does all the kneading for you, too. Nice!
Lightly grease a bowl and add dough. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm place for about an hour. Next, grease your loaf pan. Form dough into a log to fit the pan, and cover with a lightly greased piece of saran wrap. Let rise for about another hour, or until puffy.
Finally, bake in a 350 degree over for 30-35 minutes. Top will be golden – to tell if the bread is done, remove from the loaf pan and tap – it should sound hollow. I recommend removing from the pan right away anyway – otherwise the bottom can get kind of soggy.
Enjoy warm with butter, toasted and dipped in a runny egg yolk, or in any sandwich. This also makes excellent French toast.  Wrapped in wax paper or parchment paper, the ends won’t get stale and it should last several days – not that you’ll want it to!

For an innovative take on bread, check out this method: