Bread! I could live on it. Actually, I kind of do. I really have to resist the temptation to eat bread at every single meal. We always had fresh Italian loaves from any number of local bakeries growing up, and it’s one of the foods I still consistently crave. Italian (French, or hearth) bread is a little tricky to make in a home oven, especially an electric oven (which is what we have in our current apartment), but I’m steadily improving and working out the kinks. Sandwich bread, though, is a little easier, partly because it’s enriched with eggs and milk, which immediately increases the probability it will taste good. The recipe below is a slight mix/modification of two bread recipes, Mark Bittman’s and Peter Reinhart’s.
With any bread recipe, it’s important to start slowly with the flour, and only use as much as you need. Too much flour will contribute to a dense, stiff bread, and once you’ve added too much, it’s a hassle to correct. The other majorly important thing is kneading: as in, don’t knead too much! I learned this the hard way for sure. My first loaf of sandwich bread was tasty, but boy was it dense (I made bread pudding with it: nothing like a little cream and egg to soften tough bread). After that first try, I reduced both kneading time and the amount of flour, and the results were much better – real sandwich bread!
Ingredients (2 loaves or many rolls)
5 – 6 scant cups bread flour, plus extra for dusting
1 tbls salt (sea or kosher – use less for fine table salt)
1 tbls instant active dry yeast (or equivalent in fresh)
2 – 3 tbls brown sugar or honey
4 tbls neutral oil, plus more for greasing
2 cups milk (preferably hand-warm; you can leave it out for a bit to take the chill off, or warm very slightly)
2 eggs (you can use 1, but I like to make it little richer)
1 cup hand-warm water
- Proof yeast with water and brown sugar or honey and set aside.
- Pour 4 cups of the flour and the salt into a bowl and prep the liquid ingredients.
- Once the yeast has bloomed, add it plus the wet ingredients to flour and salt.
- Mix gently until everything comes together. The dough will be very soft and sticky at this point. Let rest for 5 – 10 minutes.
- Add more flour slowly until the dough becomes more structured and can be formed into a ball (this should still be a fairly loose, soft dough).
- On a floured surface, knead gently for about 1 minute (trust me – the less I’ve kneaded this particular recipe, the fluffier the bread).
- Dough can be kept refrigerated for 3 – 4 days. You can separate the dough at this point into two bowls if you plan to make your bread on separate days. Place each dough ball into a lightly oiled bowl, covered with plastic wrap. If you are making the bread the same day, skip the refrigeration and let rise, covered, at room temperature.
- On baking day: Preheat oven to 350º.
- Remove dough from refrigerator, and gently punch down to deflate.
- Form dough into a loaf shape, and place into lightly oiled loaf pan. Cover with a towel and let rise about 2 hours.
- Split the top with a sharp knife, brush top of loaf with egg wash, and bake 45 – 60 minutes, until bread is golden and internal temperature is 200º.
This dough recipe can also be made into cinnamon bread (which we gobbled up for breakfast).
- Roll dough out into a rectangular shape on a floured surface.
- While dough is resting, make the filling: Mix 2 tbls cinnamon, 3/4 cup sugar, 1/4 – 1/2 cup chopped nuts (optional), and 2 tbls melted butter. You could add other spices and/or raisins or dates as well.
- Spread filling in a layer along dough, leaving the outside edges clear.
- Roll up the dough lengthwise, tucking in the ends. Fit into loaf pan, brush with egg wash, and bake at 350º. Because of the filling, this loaf will take longer to bake. In my oven it was close to 1 hour, 20 minutes.