I recently took a day off from work and as I was enjoying my morning of reading on the couch in a quiet house, I felt a craving for soft, yeasty bread like my Grandma Smith used to make. So, I fired up the internet and within seconds found a picture of a bread recipe that looked like it fit my specifications. With relative ease I baked that loaf of bread, slathered butter on a still-warm piece, and (mostly) enjoyed eating it. The problem was that it was not as soft as I would have liked and it did not have much flavor. Foregoing the internet this time, I pulled out my trusty “Better Homes and Gardens New Cook Book” that my grandma gave me when I went off to college in 1998. I am rarely inspired by the recipes found in there but I will say that it is a great resource for basic, staple recipes such as the one below. The main difference between the 2 recipes I tried is that the first was made with water and the second was made with milk; milk makes all the difference when it comes to texture and taste.
If you are someone who has never made bread before because it seemed intimidating, I invite you to try this recipe. Having a stand mixer makes it even easier but you could make this recipe by kneading the dough with your hands if you do not have one. The hardest part is waiting for the dough to finally finish rising, baking, and cooling enough so that you can slice into it and eat a piece.
6 cups flour
¼ oz. active dry yeast
2 ¼ cups milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 ½ teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon butter
Measure 2 ½ cups of the flour into the bowl of a stand mixer, or a large bowl. Add the yeast and set aside. Fit the mixer with the paddle attachment. Dampen a tea towel or other thin kitchen towel and set aside. Lightly oil a large bowl and set aside.
In a medium saucepan stir together the milk, sugar, and salt. Turn on the heat to medium and add the butter. When the mixture warms up and starts to melt the butter (120 to 130 degrees), remove from heat and add to the flour/yeast mixture. Place the damp towel over the bowl of the stand mixer and turn it on to low speed for 30 seconds. (The towel prevents flour from flying out all over your kitchen.) Scrape down the bowl then beat the mixture on high for 3 minutes. Using a spatula or wooden spoon, stir in the remaining flour a cup or so at a time. Switch the paddle attachment for the dough hook attachment on the mixer. Knead the dough in the mixer on medium-high for 4 minutes, or knead the dough by hand on your countertop for 8 minutes. The dough should be stiff, smooth, and elastic. Form it into a ball and place it in the oiled bowl, turning it until the whole ball is oiled. Cover the bowl of dough with a clean, dry towel and let rise for 1 hour; the dough should double in size.
Remove the towel, punch down the dough, divide it into 2 pieces, place these pieces back in the bowl, and cover again with the towel. Let the dough rest for 10 minutes and during that time, lightly oil 2 loaf pans. Shape each half into a loaf that will fit into the pans, cover with the towel, and let rise for another 30 minutes; the dough should nearly double in size.
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Remove the towel and bake the loaves for 40 minutes, turning each pan 180 degrees after 20 minutes. If, as you approach the last 10 minutes of baking, your crust is darkening too quickly, you can cover the loaves with foil to prevent further browning. The bread is done when you hear a hollow sound when you rap the top of it with your fingers. After removing the loaves from the oven, immediately take them out of their pans (careful – they’re hot!) and cool them on wire racks.