Aug 16, 2012

Baking ... American Loaf Bread

(In which we put ourselves out there, in more ways than one.)

It's been a surprisingly busy week with Jim being out of town. While he shoots two major jobs on the West Coast, I'm catching up on books and guilty pleasure tv, taking Virginia to Greenville to meet Lee for the start of their road trip, touring the Peace Center, having dinner with friends, doing yoga, cutting grass, gardening, scheduling, family reunion-ing, and BAKING BREAD.

Have you ever tried to make bread at home? I have before, and it's never turned out quite right -  too dense, too grainy, too crusty, too gooey - until now!

Let me set the scene for you:

  • A Cooks Illustrated recipe I've had bookmarked for weeks
  • Time enough to knead and rise and bake
  • A conversation I recently had on how even store-bought loaf bread isn't vegan due to the use of milk-based preservatives. It's not dairy I'm opposed to - it's how said bread doesn't get stale or moldy for weeks. 
  • Solo meals, where I've challenged myself to eat fresher, better, smarter (from the Farmer's Market and garden, primarily)

Here you have it, my go-to recipe for bread. Bake it and I promise you'll feel as crazy proud of yourself as I do :) It's easier than it seems.


American Loaf Bread, adapted from Cooks Illustrated

1 cup whole or 2% milk, heated to 110 degrees
1/3 cup water, heated to 110 degrees
3 tbsp honey
2 tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 1/2 cups bread flour (or all-purpose, if bread flour isn't available)
2 1/4 tsp instant or rapid-rise yeast
2 tsp salt

1. Adjust oven rack to lowest position and heat oven to 200 degrees. Once oven temp. reaches 200, maintain heat for 10 minutes, then turn off oven.
2. Whisk heated milk and water with honey and butter. Using stand mixer fitted with dough hook*, combine flour, yeast, and salt on low speed. Slowly add milk mixture and let dough come together, about 2 minutes. Then increase speed to medium and knead until dough is smooth and satiny, about 10 minutes. Scape as needed. Transfer dough to lighly floured counter and knead by hand to form smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds. Place dough in large, lightly greased bowl; cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise in warm oven until doubled in size, 40 to 50 minutes.
3. Grease 9x5 inch loaf pan. Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and press into a 1-inch thick rectangle, no longer than 9 inches. With long side facing you, roll dough toward you into firm cylinder, pressing dough into itself as you roll to keep taut. Turn loaf seam side up and pinch it closed (a few air bubbles should escape here). Place loaf seam side down in prepared pan, pressing gently into corners. Cover loaf loosely with greased plastic and let rise at room temperature until nearly doubled in size, 20 to 30 minutes. Dough should barely spring back when poked with knuckle.
4. Preheat oven to 350 degrees and place baking stone (if you have one) on lower rack. Place empty pie pan or other oven-safe pan on top of baking stone. If you don't have a stone, just place empty pan on lower rack. Bring 2 cups water to boil on stovetop. Working quickly, pour boiling water into empty pan in the oven, and set loaf either beside or on the rack above water. Bake until crust is golden brown and loaf registers 195 degrees, 35 - 50 minutes. Transfer pan to wire rack and let cool for 5 minutes. Remove loaf from pan, return to rack, and let cool to room temperature, about 2 hours, before slicing and serving.
5. To store, wrap in double layer of plastic wrap and store at room temp. To freeze, wrap with an additional layer of aluminum foil.

*If you don't have a stand mixer, you can mix the dough by hand following the same instructions.

Shazam! Now, enjoy warm with butter, cheese, tomatoes, or anything else your little heart desires.

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