White Bread, Three Ways: Part I

If you’ve ever made bread from scratch, you know the feeling of accomplishment as you pull golden loaves from the oven and the house fills with steamy sweetness. It is incredibly gratifying, particularly if the loaf is functional versus fanciful, i.e. a sandwich loaf that can be used first thing in the morning and at lunch versus a free-form work of art that you pull apart and dip into olive oil.

It feels like such an accomplishment, what with all the rising, kneading and praying that the bread goddesses will watch over your loaves that if you find a recipe that works, you stick to it FOR LIFE. Why fix it if it ain’t broke, right?

Until recently, this was the tune to my modus operandi, and honestly, that only applied when I actually got off my duff to make bread. Within a few weeks, I received review copies for three new bread books, all offering dramatically different methods at birthing a yeasty loaf. The first to arrive, “Betty Crocker Baking Basics,” is an old-school American text, using traditional (but not European) methods that include kneading, and in most cases, two rises. This is how I learned to make bread in cooking school, and in my head, this is the method that makes sense to me.

But there are other ways to get a rise out of bread, and neither requires a stitch of kneading. Enter “Kneadlessly Simple by Nancy Baggett and “Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day” by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, two new books devoted to long, cold rises in lieu of folding and turning dough.

Each book offers a recipe for good ole fashioned white sandwich bread, but with a uniquely different way of getting there. In the spirit of yeasty diversity, I've decided to embark on a white bread blitz, baking it up three ways. Today, I’m slicing up Betty Crocker’s knead-centric dough, and next Tuesday, you’ll get one of the no-knead methods. By next Friday, you will have three new bread recipes in your repertoire, with highs, lows and kitchen notes.

As I’ve mentioned, I really dig kneading bread, so the no-knead recipes are going to be emotionally challenging for me. The recipe below is straight forward and uncomplicated, yielding a basic, homey loaf that tastes a zillion times better than anything in a bag on the supermarket shelf. Once we master the white bread, we’ll progress to whole wheat and other stuff, I promise. For now, let’s do this thing -- and get it right.

Classic White Bread
From “Betty Crocker Baking Basics” with some KOD adjustments

6-7 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons granulated sugar
1 tablespoon salt
2 tablespoons room temperature butter, margarine or shorteninig
2 packages regular dry yeast (4 ½ teaspoons)
2 ¼ cups water
Cooking spray to grease bowl and pans
2 tablespoons butter or margarine, melted

In a large bowl, stir 3 ½ cups of the flour, sugar, salt, fat and yeast until well mixed.

In a small saucepan, heat water over medium heat until very warm (about 100 degrees). Add water to flour mixture. Beat with an electric beater on low speed, stopping frequently to scrape batter from side and bottom of bowl with a rubber spatula, until flour mixture is moistened. Beat on medium speed, one minute, stopping frequently to scrape bowl. (I used a food processor, using “pulse” function.)

With a wooden spoon, stir in enough remaining flour, 1 cup at a time, until dough is soft, leaves side of bowl and is easy to handle (dough may be slightly sticky).

On a lightly floured work surface, place dough. Knead by folding dough toward you, then with the heels of your hands, pushing dough away from you with a short rocking motion. Move dough a quarter turn and repeat.

Continue kneading about 10 minutes, sprinkling surface with more flour if dough starts to stick, until dough is smooth and springy.

Spray a large bowl with cooking spray. Place dough in bowl, turning to grease all sides. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap; allow to rise in a warm place 40-60 minutes or until dough has doubled in size. Dough is ready if an indentation remains when you press your fingertips about ½ inch into the dough.

Spray bottoms and sides of two 8x4-inch or 9x5-inch loaf pans with cooking spray. Sprinkle flour lightly onto work surface. Gently push your fist into the dough to deflate it. Pull dough away from side of the bowl and place on floured surface.

Divide dough in half. Using your hands or a rolling pin, flatten each half into an 18x9-inch rectangle. Beginning at a 9-inch side, roll dough up tightly, pressing with thumbs to seal after each turn. Pinch edge of dough into the roll to seal edge. Pinch each end of roll to seal ends, then fold ends under the loaf.

Place each loaf, seam side down, in a pan. Brush loaves lightly with melted butter. Cover loosely with plastic wrap; allow to rise in a warm place 35-50 minutes or until dough has doubled in size.

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Move oven rack to a low position so that tops of the pans will be in center of oven.

Bake 25-30 minutes or until tops of loaves are deep golden brown and loaves sound hollow when tapped with a finger.

Immediately remove the loaves from pans to a cooling rack, placing loaves top sides up. For a softer crust, brush tops of loaves with room-temperature butter, using a pastry brush.

Cool 30 minutes before slicing; cut with a serrated knife.

Makes 2 loaves.

By Kim ODonnel |  February 27, 2009; 7:45 AM ET Bread
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Currently, I am using a bread machine to mix my bread doughs, through the first rise. Then I urn out the dough, roll/shape it by hand, and put it into two loaf pans for the second rise and baking. "Semi-homemade," I suppose, but I prefer the smaller loaf pan breads to the big, bread machine cube.

One day, I'll do it all by hand when I''ve got the time!

Posted by: CentreOfNowhere1 | February 27, 2009 9:05 AM

Thanks, Kim! This doesn't look intimidating at all to me. I'm going to make my first foray into bread making on Sunday. I'll let you know how it goes.

Posted by: earlysun | February 27, 2009 9:18 AM

Love your column, but live in the mile high city of Denver. Any advice on how to bake bread up here? Am eager to do it for non-free form bread! My last attempt, a baguette, was ridiculously chewy. Thanks!

Posted by: laurenbeau | February 27, 2009 10:04 AM

Hey Denver -- you get to enjoy quicker rising times. My grandmother makes bread a couple times a week in the high desert of CA at 3400' (high & dry, she calls it) and finds that her bread rises quickly and she's not had any problems -- she doesn't do baguettes, I'll grant you, but I bake mine at sea level and they're either chewy or crunchy anyways -- i think Paris is the only place to get that right!

Posted by: capecodner424 | February 27, 2009 10:12 AM

What do you think of halving this recipe? Or would it be better to plan to give an extra loaf to a neighbor?

Posted by: Agathist | February 27, 2009 11:05 AM

Bread is easy and it's extremely forgiving. I tried the no-knead bread from the NY Times. In fact it became a sensation in the little Illinois town I was living in when I brought a loaf to the food editor of the local paper. Very crusty. So crusty, in fact, I broke a tooth. Now I'm back to kneading. I use one pack of yeast regardless of the recipe size. You just have to know that the amount of liquid will directly correlate to the amount of bread you're baking. Roughly one cup of liquid equals one medium loaf. So you've got your proofed yeast. Add three of four cups of water, milk or some combination (maybe buttermilk, maybe some beer). About a tablespoon of salt. Instead of butter, I've been using peanut oil. Then you add enough flour to the point at which you can't stir any more. Turn out onto floured surface. Work in enough flour to form kneadable dough. Kneed for six to 10 minutes. If you had wanted to make oatmeal bread, back when it was in the bowel, add about a cup of cooked, cooled oatmeal. Cool the oatmeal quickly by adding cold milk--a portion of your liquid. Add about a third cup of brown sugar. After it's kneaded to, as they say, a silky satiny surface, put in covered bowel and let rise until doubled. It takes as long as it takes. Although, you can speed things up. Punch down. If there's a kid around, that his/her job. Form into loaves. Spray pans with cooking oil spray. Let rise until doubled. Bake 350 about 50 minutes. Cool on racks. Voila!

Posted by: davemarks | February 27, 2009 2:46 PM

Kim - I have arthritis in my hands and kneading can be tough. Do you think some of this could be done in my mixer with a dough hook? My son with the strong kneading hands is away at college so I can't tap him like I used to do. Your column is great, by the way.

Posted by: ipayattention | February 27, 2009 3:27 PM

A dough hook or hooks does an excellent job, every bit as good, if not better, than hands. I used a dough hook in my Hobart 10-quart mixer for years, but I'm separated from it and it's back to the hands.

Posted by: davemarks | February 27, 2009 4:04 PM

Hi Kim,

Don't know if this is the appropriate place for the comment. I just read last week's Tuesday chat -- I am 15 hours off of DC time so I can not read it live.

I have made the Liberty Tavern Dutch Crumb Cake three times, and it has always been a hit. Each time I added 1 cup of walnuts to the topping. The first time I used 2 diced apples. The 2d time I used a cup and a half of frozen blueberries, thawed. The 3d time I used 3 mashed ripe bananas. I think I liked the one with apple the best -- it was very moist and all the guests asked for the recipe. The one with the blueberries was very good, too, and the prettiest. My co-workers loved the one with bananas, but it changes the color and it was kind of heavy.

I also love the muhmarra. With the muhmarra and the crumb cake, it was pretty much a KOD dinner party.

I hear there is a great Pow Wow in Seattle July 17-19. Maybe I will see you there.


Posted by: chcattorney | March 2, 2009 2:49 AM

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