Heavenly (and Easy) Homemade White Sandwich Bread
Homemade White Sandwich Bread
Easy Homemade White Sandwich Bread
The legendary James Beard once said, "Good bread is the most fundamentally satisfying of all foods; and good bread with fresh butter, the greatest of all feasts." That being said, eating good bread, and making good bread are two completely different things! For whatever reason, the thought of making my own bread was a scary proposition. I like to think of myself as a fairly decent cook and I have yet to come across an entree that I was afraid to try to make myself. But baking? I haven't been so successful in that endeavour.
Cooking in my opinion is very forgiving, unless you get particularly heavy-handed with the salt or some other overpowering seasoning. But in baking, 1/2 tsp too much or too little of something and the entire end product could be ruined. Baking is an exact science and cooking is more laissez-faire.
On a particularly cold, rainy Saturday morning, I would have given anything for some homemade bread to make toast for breakfast. My brain was overwhelmed with memories of the aroma of homemade bread baking in the oven and the taste of a still-warm slice of bread with butter melted into it. Could I possibly be successful at baking my own homemade bread? Surely, it would require more baking skill than I possess.
Homemade White Sandwich Bread
I decided to do a little google search to see if I could find an easy, foolproof, minimal-ingredient recipe for homemade white bread when what to my wandering eyes should appear, but a youtube video of The French Chef with Julia Child, making what else but homemade white sandwich bread. Julia Child has always been one of my biggest mentor. I can totally relate to her refreshing, pragmatic and, often times, clumsy, approach to cooking. With that, one of my favourite Julia Child quotes came to mind: "The only real stumbling block is fear of failure. In cooking, you've got to have a what-the-hell attitude".
Darn right, Julia! What the heck? What did I have to lose? It was a miserable cold day and I had NO intentions of stepping my gentille tootsies outside the door, I had all the necessary ingredients at my fingertips and, worse case scenario, the bread wouldn't rise, but I would have spent a few hours in my warm kitchen that, rise or not, would most likely smell heavenly from the aroma of baking bread. I decided to give it a shot!
I perused recipe after recipe for homemade white bread and just when I was about to abandon the notion for that day, I stumbled on a recipe for 'Julia Child's White Sandwich Bread' in a blog by 'Dinner With Julie'. I have no idea if this Julie is the same Julie as the Julie/Julia Project and I've never met or spoken to the author. But her recipe for Homemade White Sandwich Bread seemed simple enough, required only active dry yeast, warm water, sugar, flour, salt and butter and made a small enough batch of bread that, even if I failed, it wouldn't be too too terrible of a waste.
Encouraged and determined, I pressed onward! Here are the ingredients you'll need to make this Homemade White Sandwich Bread:
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
2 and 1/2 cups warm (tepid) water
1 Tbsp sugar
6 to 6 1/2 cups bread flour (or all purpose if that's what you have)
2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 cup softened unsalted butter
Perhaps the most important step in the making of homemade bread is the activation of the yeast. Yeast is a living thing, as creepy as that sounds, and it needs to be treated kindly. If the water isnt warm enough, it simply won't 'wake up'. If the water is too hot, it will die. My thoughts were that one person's warm water are another person's cool or hot. So just what is 'warm or tepid' water? Well, turns out, according to the experts, tepid water is water that is approximately 105 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit, (approximately 40 degrees Celsius). I let the tap water run until it felt hottish-warm, (now there's a term for you), to my fingers, measured up 1/2 cup and inserted my meat thermometer in to check the temperature. Sure enough, hottish-warm to my fingers is 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
I added 1 Tbsp active dry yeast to the hottish-warm water, gave it a little stir, and then sat and waited for 5 minutes for the yeast to 'activate', as was suggested in all recipes. Surely you've heard the term, 'a watched pot never boils'? Well, let me tell you, a watched 1/2 cup of hottish-warm water with active dry yeast in it seems like it's never going to bubble of change either! Some things are just not meant to be watched...maybe the yeast is shy or something. Anyway, my daughter came into the kitchen at that moment with an urgent question as to whether or not she could go to a movie with her friend that afternoon, I eagerly said yes, (one less obstacle to my foul weather Saturday lazy day), and returned to the yeast in the hottish-warm water, clapping my hands in joy to see bubbles and foaming. This is the point at which you move forward with your bread or start all over again.
If your yeast has not started to bubble and foam in 1/2 cup of hottish-warm water after 5 minutes or so, throw it out, get some new yeast and start again. It's the yeast that makes the bread, well, bread! No bubbles, no foam, no rise.
There are a couple of little things I did differently when making my bread than one or both of Julia or Julie did with their bread and adding the sugar in with the yeast to the hottish-warm water was one of them. However, when the yeast had bubbled and foamed, I did stir in the 1 Tbsp sugar, so it was in there, just not at the initial activation of the yeast stage. Would it have woke up faster? I dunno I can only tell you what worked for me.
In a large bowl, I added 3 cups flour and stirred in 1 tsp kosher salt. You can use table salt or ground sea salt, entirely up to you, but I will note, kosher salt is actually fairly substantially lower in sodium than both table salt and sea salt. A 1/4 tsp portion of kosher salt contains 440mg sodium, as opposed to 570mg and 510 mg for table salt and sea salt respectively, according to the nutritional information on the commercial packaging.
Another little tidbit of information I found out when researching bread recipes is this: whether you scoop the flour out of the bag of flour or a flour canister, or pour the flour into your measuring cups, changes how much flour you'll need. Who knew, right? I'm guessing it has to do with incorporating air into the flour when you pour it out, but I'm not certain. For the purposes of this recipe, dip your measuring cup into the bag of flour, fill it, and use a knife to swipe across the top to get rid of any excess, don't our into your measuring cup.
Anyhoot, on with the bread! I combined 3 cups of bread flour with 2 tsp kosher salt in a large bowl, made a little 'well' in the middle and poured in the activated yeast/sugar/hottish-warm water and gave the works a stir. I then added the remaining 2 cups hottish-warm water, stirred and added the remaining 3 cups flour, one cup at a time. The result was this 'shaggy', for lack of a better word, ball of dough.
I then added about another 1/2 cup or so of bread flour to my work surface, turned the shaggy dough out onto it and gave the dough a little knead-about in the flour. Once it formed a more 'scruffy' than 'shaggy' ball, (I know...my vernacular is pretty darn professional!), I let the dough sit and rest for about 5 minutes before proceeding.
After about 5 minutes, using Julia Child's technique for 'pain de mie', I kneaded the ball of dough out with the heel of my hand to a rough rectangular shape, schmeared it, (there I go being all pro-sounding again), with about 1/3 of the softened butter, folded it up onto itself, gave it a knead and repeated this process twice more, until all of the butter was incorporated into the dough. And then I let the dough rest for another 5 minutes.
While the scruffy dough ball was resting, I cleaned out my bowl and greased it with a little olive oil. I added the ball of dough to the bowl, flipped it so that the top of the ball of dough with slightly greased, covered the bowl with plastic cling wrap and then wrapped it up with a towel and placed the bowl in a warm place to rise.
Most recipes suggest that the temperature for the dough to rise should be around 75 degres Fahrenheit. My kitchen is always the warmest place in our house so I just left the wrapped bowl on top of my stove. However, on top of the refrigerator is another good place.
After about an hour, the dough should have at least doubled in size. At this point, flour your work surface again, pour the dough out onto the flour surface. Form a loose ball of dough and divide in two. Using one half of the dough at a time, press it out using your hands into a rough rectangle shape approximately 8 inches by 11 inches.
Fold one third of the dough lengthwise into the middle, pinch where the dough meets. Repeat pulling the other one third of the dough to the middle, pinching to seal.
Next, fold ends up and pinch. Your 'log' of dough should roughly be the length of your greased bread pan. Place the log of dough into a greased bread pan, 9 x 5 inches. Repeat with other half of the dough.
Once dough has been placed in greased bread pans, cover bread pans loosely with plastic cling wrap and towel. Place in warm area of the kitchen and let rise for another hour to hour and a half. The dough should rise out over the top of the bread pans.
With rack in the middle of the oven, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake bread in preheated oven for 30-35 minutes, until golden brown. Immediately turn out onto cooling racks once removed from oven. For a softer crust, lightly brush tops of each loaf of bread with butter. For a crunchier crust, do nothing!
Allow bread to cool before slicing. I'm not sure how long that takes though...I can never seem to get past 15 minutes!
I can't even begin to describe the phenomenal aroma that filled my house while this bread was baking! It was just incredible! I was so pleased with how my bread smelled and looked, I was almost afraid to slice into it and see how it taste, the key word there being 'almost'.
Slicing into the bread, I did a little happy dance to see that the bread had a beautiful consistency without any gaping air-holes. Perhaps that's the purpose of Julia's flattening the dough, rolling it over onto itself in thirds and pinching to seal, I don't know. What I do know is that, having had the ultimate success in my first attempt at making this bread, I'm not changing a single, teeny weeny thing!
Homemade White Sandwich Bread Ingredients
- 1 Tbsp active dry yeast
- 1 Tbsp sugar
- 2 and 1/2 cups warm water, 105-110 degrees Fahrenheit
- 6 - 6 and 1/2 cups bread flour, (can substitute with all purpose flour)
- 2 tsp kosher salt, (can substitute with table salt or ground sea salt)
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, (softened)
Homemade White Sandwich Bread
- Add 1 Tbsp active dry yeast to 1/2 cup warm (tepid) water. Stir and let sit for 5 minutes to activate. If yeast doesn't bubble and/or foam after 5 minutes, start over.
- Stir in 1 Tbsp sugar to activated yeast in warm water.
- Add 3 cups flour to large bowl and stir in 2 tsp kosher salt to combine. Make well in center of flour and add activated yeast/sugar/warm water. Stir to combine.
- Add remaining 2 cups warm water to flour mixture - stir to combine. Add remaining 3 cups flour to mixture, one cup at a time. Using hands or wooden spoon, stir to combine until a 'shaggy' dough is formed.
- Turn shaggy dough out onto floured work surface and form into a loose ball. Let sit 5 minutes.
- Flatten dough out into a rough rectangular shape and spread 1/3 softened butter onto dough. Fold dough over onto itself and knead with the heel of your hand. Repeat this process until all of the softened butter is incorporated into the dough. Form a ball and let rest for 5 minutes.
- While dough is resting, clean out bowl and lightly grease with either butter, olive oil or vegetable oil. Place ball of dough into bowl and flip so that top of ball of dough is lightly greased. Cover bowl with plastic cling wrap and a towel. Place in warm area of kitchen and let rise until at least doubled in size, approximately 1 hour.
- Turn risen dough out onto floured work surface, knead lightly. Divide dough in half. Using one half at a time, press into a rectangular shape using fingers, about 8 x 11 inches in size. Fold one third dough lengthwise over into middle, pinch to seal. Repeat with other side. Folds ends up and pinch. Form dough to roughly the length of bread pans. Place dough into greased bread pans. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and towel and let rise a further hour and a half.
- With rack in middle position, preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. When bread dough has risen out over edges of bread pans, remove plastic wrap and towel and bake in preheated 375 degree oven for 30-35 minutes until golden in color.
- Remove golden bread from oven and immediately turn out onto cooling racks. For a softer crust, brush tops of each loaf with butter. Let bread cool approximately 30 minutes before slicing - enjoy!