Wouldn’t it be neat, I thought to myself, if I could bake all the bread I needed? Baking dinner rolls and delicious crusty bread to go with soup is one thing. But to bake a loaf of bread that works for toast with eggs in the morning, for the perfect PB&J, for the ideal grilled cheese or french toast…that would be a huge achievement. (spoiler: I DID IT!!!)
- 6 cups or 800 grams of bread flour
- 2 tablespoons or 30 grams of sugar
- 3/4 cup or 170 grams room temperature water
- 3 teaspoons or 10 grams of yeast
- 1 cup or 225 grams of whole milk, scalded and cooled
- 3 large eggs at room temperature
- 4 tablespoons or 60 grams of butter, cut into 8 pieces and softened
- 1 tablespoon, 18 grams of fine sea salt
- Two 9 x 5 x 3 pans, buttered and the bottoms lined with parchment paper
You’ll notice there is no whole milk in this photo of ingredients. All I happened to have was 2% and heavy cream. So I used a cup of 2% and mixed in 1 tablespoon of heavy cream. I didn’t do this arbitrarily, I consulted several pretty legit looking message boards first. And then just mixed it together and went on my way. It seemed to work well enough.
The first step is to scald and cool your home-concocted whole milk mixture.
Now, this is actually quite interesting, and I had to do some reading on it before I started. I found this super helpful article on Cook’s Illustrated about it. Now I know that not everyone can access Cook’s Illustrated to read this, so this article was also helpful. I learned that scalding milk means to heat it in a pot until it is almost boiling, and starts to get a little foamy, with small bubbles around the side. It’s not done all the commonly anymore, because milk is pasteurized nowadays (unless you are baking this bread with milk fresh from your own cows. in which case you probably know more about milk than I do, so ignore this.). But there is a protein in the whey of milk that slightly reduces the volume of a loaf of bread as it rises and bakes. So the scalding step denatures this protein to prevent this from happening.
Cook’s Illustrated recommended scalding the milk by putting a very thin layer of water in the bottom of your pot, just enough to cover it, and allowing that to begin to boil, and then adding the milk. This allows the milk to scald without scorching, and prevents you from almost destroying your boyfriend’s best/favorite/only Dutch oven 2 weeks in a row.
Combine the flour and sugar in a large bowl and set aside.
Pour the water into a bowl and whisk in the yeast. Wait 5 minutes and whisk again. Whisk in the cooled milk and eggs.
I had a double yolker this day! I got super excited.
Then I had to spend some time looking up whether a double yolk counted as 1 egg or 2. The most reasonable answer I found pointed out that, an egg is an egg, and only so much yolk and white can fit inside. So even though there seem to be 2 yolks, it’s really just one that is split into two separate parts, and it’s all the same size, unless you are dealing with some kind of freakishly large egg. I thought to myself, duh, that’s pretty obvious and wow do I feel dumb for even asking the internet that question.
Next, use a large rubber spatula to stir the the flour mixture into the liquid a little at a time.
Then, get out your butter. Is there anything more simple and yet wildly convenient than labeled butter wrappers? I sure don’t think so.
I thought the directions of cutting it into 8 pieces seemed unnecessarily specific, but I realized that I’m not the authority here. So:
Then, scatter the pieces of butter on the surface of the dough and mix for 1 minute. (Mixing for one minute usually equals about 3 – 5 minutes of hand kneading for me.)
This is when Evan came home from work, and found me aggressively mixing dough by hand with chunks of butter sitting in it. There was also flour all over the kitchen and it was not the most reassuring scene. But no worries. I kneaded the dough for about 3 – 5 minutes until I felt that the butter chunks dissipate and really mix into the dough.
Then I let the dough rest for 15 minutes. Boooooring!
Then sprinkle in the salt:
Okay. Now this was the dumbest thing I did in this recipe, hands down. Almost immediately after taking this picture, I thought to myself, “Well, that was a dumb choice.” Here’s why.
I punched down the dough just slightly to make that small indentation. And then put ALL THE SALT in it. Then I started to knead it by hand, and folded it over and created a pocket in the center of my dough that had all of the salt in it. It was almost impossible to get the salt out of that one small area and get it incorporated with the rest of the dough. I had to do some pulling and ripping of the dough to dig the salt mine I’d created back out, and mixed evenly. I was able to do it, and kneading by hand made it easier to tell where there was way too much salt and where there was none. But, if I had just sprinkled the salt in like the directions said, I would have avoided that all together. Lesson learned!
After kneading for about 10 – 15 more minutes (after about 10 I got tired and had to have Evan take over. I really need to start working out, because that is pitiful), place your dough into an oiled bowl and turn it over so the top is oiled. Cover and let rest for about 45 minutes, or until almost doubled in bulk.
Then it looks like this:
Invert the dough to a floured work surface, flatten the dough to a disc. Fold the two sides in to overlap at the middle, then roll towards you. Invert, flatten and repeat. Return the bowl to the bowl, cover, and let rise again until fully doubled, 30 – 45 minutes.
The rolled dough, waiting to rise again:
After waiting impatiently for that 45 minutes, scrape the dough out and shape into a rough square.
Then divide that (using your bench scraper!) into two rectangles. They should weigh about 715 grams each, if you are inclined to weigh them, which I was not.
This next part was the trickiest part of us. Here are the directions from the book: “Pull the narrow ends of 1 rectangle of dough outward to widen. From one of the wide ends fold the sides in about 1 inch or so, then roll down from the top as for turning the dough. Drop the roll into one of the pans, seam side down. Repeat with the second loaf.”
Email me if you have any idea what that really means.
Evan and I each tried to follow what we thought those directions meant. We even had the pictures from the book to follow, but it didn’t quite work out. Evan’s attempt is on top, mine is on the bottom.
Now, we don’t have any 9 x 5 x 3 loaf pans like the recipe calls for. We have one loaf pan that is a slightly different size, and I have one oddly sized casserole dish. We didn’t want to wait to bake them one at a time, because I hadn’t fully read the recipe, and thus had wildly underestimated the time it would take to bake these, and we were putting them in the oven at around 2am. Note: don’t start this recipe at 11pm. Not a good idea.
So, whatever, we put our weirdly shaped loaves into our oddly shaped mismatched pans to let them do their final rise for about 30 minutes. Preheat your oven to 400 degrees while you wait.
After the final rise:
Place the loaves in the oven and immediately lower the temperature to 375 degrees. Bake until well risen and deep golden, with an internal temperature of at least 200 degrees, about 30 to 45 minutes.
Unmold the loaves and cool on a rack on their sides. Done!
Here are our final products. We got a really impressive amount of oven spring! That is, the loaves both really continued to rise in the oven, which was really cool.
Here’s the loaf I shaped, looking quite perfect, if I do say so myself.
Here’s a comparison of the loaf I shaped, and baked in the regular loaf pan, and loaf that Evan shaped, and then that I made him bake in my weird small casserole dish:
Heh. I can’t help but giggle when I look at it.
But then we cut it open. And it looks perfect, and holy shit, it was delicious. I apologize for my language, but I mean really, this bread was good. Surprisingly good. I really didn’t have that much confidence going in to this week, but wow, it came out amazing.
Here’s a photo of the other loaf, sliced. It baked a lot more evenly.
We ate this bread as toast, we had it with eggs and we made more than a few incredible PB&J sandwiches. The crust was light and soft, the crumb was nice and even, it was easy to slice through, and it has this slightly sweet flavor to it – almost like challah. I am obsessed with this bread. Just going to say it. I’m obsessed with it and I can’t believe that Evan and I actually made it at home ourselves. I didn’t really think it would be something I could do, at least not on the first try. It’s a really versatile and tasty loaf of sandwich bread. It was also fun to make because it had different ingredients and steps from what I’ve gotten used to, and it was all around a welcome change!