Classic White Bread – recipe – from scratch

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What’s to do on a cold winter’s day?  Warm up the house.  Bake some bread.

This recipe is good for two loaves.  Nice things to have for this recipe (but not exactly required) are:  two loaf pans, a meat thermometer (huh?), a bread knife, a masseuse/masseur, and a boxer.

Ingredients

about 8 cups all-purpose flour

2 packages active dry yeast (1/4 oz each)

2/3 cup whole milk

3/8 cup sugar

2 teaspoons salt

1/2 stick margarine

2 cups water

Mix 1/2 the flour (about 4 cups) and yeast together in a large bowl.   Combine milk, water, sugar, salt and margarine in a small pot.  Gently heat and stir the liquids until the margarine is melted.  Heat the liquids to between 120 and 130 degrees.  Checking with a thermometer is best (see notes below).  Stir the warm liquids into the flour.  Mix the wet flour with a small hand mixer for about 3 minutes until smooth.   By hand, gradually stir in additional flour until a stiff dough is formed.  You’ll know it’s stiff because it won’t stir any longer.  At that point use your hands to mix in additional flour.  Mix in enough flour until the dough is no longer very sticky.  Remove the ball of dough and place on a lightly floured counter or board.  Knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes, or until your hands and wrists hurt so much you can’t knead any longer.  If that point is less than 8 minutes, get some kneading help.  Knowing a massage therapist is a good thing when it comes to making bread by hand.

Okay, when the dough is kneaded, place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl rolling the dough to also coat it with oil.  Both the bowl and the ball are bathed in oil.  Cover the bowl with a loose cloth and let the dough rise in a warm place (about 80 degrees, see notes below).  Rising takes about 30 to 45 minutes (just like getting out of bed in the morning), or until the dough about doubles in size.  Remove the dough from the bowl.  “Punch” down the dough in preparation for rolling.  Divide the dough in half.  Place one half  back in the covered bowl for later.  Roll the first half of the dough out into about a 9 inch by 14 inch rectangle.  Since this will go into a 9 inch loaf pan, try to keep the width very close to 9 inches.  For an evenly formed loaf after baking, do your best to roll to an even thickness and to a rectangular shape.  Starting at a 9 inch edge, roll the dough up into a cylinder.  Seal the far 9 inch edge to the cylinder by pinching the dough together.  Place the seam side down on your counter.  Seal the ends of the roll by using the sides of your hands (say karate chop) to flatten out about a 1/2 inch of the sides of the dough cylinder.  Fold the flatten ends under the dough cylinder.  This is where you also have a second chance to “adjust” the length of the loaf so it fits nicely in your loaf pan.  What you should see now, is a nice smooth cylinder of dough all around, except on the bottom.  Since the bottom won’t look very good, don’t even look there.  The baking will take care of any ugliness on the bottom.

Place the dough cylinder in a lightly oiled 3 inch wide, by 5 inch deep, by 9 inch long loaf pan, seam side down.  Loosely cover and let rise in a warm (80 degree) place until doubled.  Use the pinky test (see notes below).  

When doubled, bake in a 400 degree pre-heated oven for about 30 minutes until done.  Remove from oven.  Carefully remove the  loaf from the pan and let cool on a rack or other surface that allows air to circulate around the loaf.  If you use a ceramic or glass loaf pan, as pictured, bake at 375 degrees.

Notes

See Italian bread recipe for additional notes referred to above.  If you only have one loaf pan, like me (you can tell this is no professional), either bake the second loaf after the first, or save the dough for the next day.  If you have two loaf pans, do the obvious.  If you have more than two loaf pans, you know more than I do or you have potential for being an avid junk collector.

I improvised on the next day approach by wrapping the second half of the dough in a couple of layers of tight plastic wrap, to keep it from drying out, and refrigerated until the next day.  When you’re ready to bake. remove the refrigerated dough, let it warm for about 15 minutes, punch down, roll out, form in a cylinder, place in the oiled loaf pan and let rise in a warm place.  Since the dough is still cool, it will take longer to double in size – about 1.5 hours.  Bake as above.

This bread will not keep as long as a commercial loaf of white bread.  To keep the loaf from drying out, wrap it in plastic wrap, and place in a one gallon zip lock type plastic storage bag.  The whole loaf will just about fit in there if you take your time.  To freeze an extra loaf for later, wrap the loaf tightly in aluminum foil, place in the zip lock type plastic bag and freeze.

If you’ve gotten this far and don’t own a thermometer,  you have enough interest in cooking to go out and treat yourself to a thermometer some day.  I used a nearly instant read meat thermometer to measure the temperature of the liquids here.  Who says we can’t do that.

Since the baking process won’t slice the bread for you, you’ll need to make your own bread slices.  A bread knife is an aptly named tool for slicing bread.  It’s nice to have one.  Bread knives have a serrated edge, so the bread is more sawed than sliced.  Even the sharpest smooth edge knife won’t make good bread slices.  If you don’t have a bread knife of other serrated blade, try a steak knife.  But do put a bread knife on your long-term wish list.

Since this is scratch cooking, when in doubt,  feel free to reach up at any time to the back of your head and have a scratch.  Just remember to have someone check for flour in your hair before going out in public.

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