We learned quite a while ago that there is little served at restaurants, cafés and bakeries that we can’t make on our own. Ambience, service and exploring the city are things we also value, so we will continue to frequent certain dining establishments and check out new ones, but it’s kind of satisfying to see something delicious and know that yours taste just as good, or better. Among the items we’ve found we prefer homemade are wings (not breaded and baked to a crisp, much better than breaded and fried), scones, muffins, fruit breads, granola and cookies.
Now we are adding yeast breads to that list. As I shared recently, I’m pretty new to the world of yeast doughs. It’s the kneading process in which I lack confidence in my skills (and no, I do not have a bread maker or a table mixer, so mixing and kneading are standard parts of baking). Luckily I have a partner who is quite adept at kneading so he takes care of that for me. In fact, he pretty much spearheaded our first attempt at a yeast bread.
While walking home from Inkling on Broadway one day, we stopped at the used book store we always stop at when we’re walking on Broadway. We actually didn’t go in, just explored the sale cart on the sidewalk outside. There we found a $3 gem: a bread recipe and techniques book from 1976. I’m sure we could find 97% of the information in it online, but using a book with yellowed pages that explains how to shape bread is pretty charming, amirite? Either way, it is chock full of bread ideas that I would never have even thought to look up.
Our objective was to make a bread that was plain in flavor, that could be multipurpose—toasted with butter and cinnamon sugar, cold with tuna salad or baked into some sort of garlic cheese bread. We went with Basic White Bread I. Exciting, I know.
The recipe was suuuuuuuper easy. Super long, but super easy. Even though it was easy, when we bake, we tend to do a lot of sidestepping of recipes and ingredients and amounts of ingredients. Among the modifications this time around: the recipe calls for baking the dough in pans, but we did freeform loaves, so who knows if that altered the texture of the bread somehow. Also, due to our impatience to have garlic bread with our spaghetti dinner, I doubt we let it rise long enough, which may have made the bread denser than what it is supposed to be.
All in all, this bread is great. Easy, plain in flavor, and comes out with a crusty shell and soft interior that make trying it right out of the oven totally necessary.
Basic White Bread I
Makes two 8-inch loaves
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
3 cups warm water
1 ½ tablespoons coarse salt
6 ½ to 7 ½ cups unbleached white flour
Put yeast in a large bowl and pour ¼ cup of the warm water over it. Stir gently and let sit a few minutes until it is thoroughly dissolved and looks creamy.
Pour the rest of the warm water into the bowl along with the salt, stirring to dissolve. Now add the flour, cup by cup, stirring well after each. After the sixth cup or so, the dough should be getting hard to stir. Scrape it out of the bowl onto a well-floured working surface and let it rise while you wash out the bowl and butter or oil it.
Start kneading the dough, scraping it up from the working surface and slapping it around a bit to activate the gluten. Knead the dough for 8-10 minutes, adding more flour as necessary to keep it from sticking. When it is smooth and elastic, return it to the buttered bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise until double in volume. Because this dough has no sugar in it, it could take 1 ½ – 3 hours, depending on the warmth of the kitchen.
Turn the risen dough out again onto a lightly floured surface, punch it down, and divide it in half. Form each half into an 8-inch-ish long loaf and place onto a lightly oiled baking sheet. Cover lightly with a kitchen towel and let rise until dough doubles in volume again. This could take 45 minutes – over an hour. Don’t let it rise too high, however, or it will sink when it is baked.
Bake in preheated 350 F (convection 325 F) oven for 40 minutes. Remove loaves from pans and let them cool on racks.