As I have been using this time of social distancing as an opportunity to expand on my baking skills, I decided it was time to have a showdown with plain old sandwich bread. I have a history with bread making that rivals my troubles with cakes. My cakes don’t rise very well, but my bread always does, it’s just the final result is a dense, heavy bread as my mom says, “you could knock a bull in the head with it.
So now is the time for all good men (and women) to come to the aid of their country. I am doing my part by becoming as self-reliant as possible. It is amazing how well off bakers are when it comes to tough times. Our skills shine brightest in adversity. I remember my mother whipping up a batch of cookies without sugar, she used Jello as a replacement. Of course the cookies were of a different color, but they were cookies nonetheless.
Getting back to my adventures in bread making, I have tried several recipes and all with similar results. I won’t claim to take full responsibility though as making a loaf of bread can be as fussy as brewing the perfect pot of tea. I have no control over kitchen temperatures, humidity levels, or if the bread making gods are up to ensuring a perfect dough rise. All I can do is follow orders and do my best, the rest is out of my hands.
I found a recipe for white sandwich bread in Phyllis Pelham Good’s, “Fresh From Central Market” Cookbook. And with its basic ingredients and simple instructions, I felt I could not go wrong. I also saved a page from an old copy of Cook’s Illustrated on making bread and referred to it many times through the process. I learned that room temperature does indeed affect the rise of the dough, and a longer proof can be beneficial to the quality of flavor that develops as the dough rises. I also learned the chefs at America’s Test Kitchen prove their dough in the refrigerator to allow a longer proof for better flavor!
So with all my ingredients at hand, tools at the ready, and enough written information to overwhelm the most solid chef, I began another journey into producing a loaf of bread I could actually eat!
My results were good. The texture was still rather dense, but the loaves came from the oven nicely browned on top and the crumb, though close, was still tasty to eat. I used the loaf for a turkey sandwich the next day and found it was as good as anything I could have bought from the grocery store.
So if you are like me and have found bread making intimidating, try this recipe for a first time attempt. I think it can work for anyone.
Homemade White Bread
1 ½ tbsp. Fleischmann’s yeast
1 tbsp. sugar (I used Dixie Crystals)
2 cups warm water, divided
½ cup cooking oil (I used canola)
5 ½ cups occident, or white bread flour (Pillsbury’s is my favorite)
- In a 2-cup glass measuring cup, sprinkle yeast and 1 tbsp. sugar into 1 cup warm water. Let stand for 10 minutes.
- Pour yeast mixture into a large mixing bowl. Gradually add oil, remaining cup of water, ⅓ cup sugar, salt, and flour, stirring constantly.
- When well mixed, pour dough onto lightly floured board. Knead well, until dough is no longer sticky.
- Cover with a tea towel. Let rise in a warm place. Check after 1 hour; dough should have doubled in size.
- Punch down. Cover and let rise another hour.
- Punch down. Divide dough in half. Shape into two loaves. Put into two greased loaf pans. Pierce tops with a fork.
- Let rise until dough comes a little above tops of pans, about 30-60 minutes.
- Bake at 350* for 25-30 minutes.
- Remove from pans and let cool on a wire rack.