A timeless skill: Don’t be afraid to bake your own bread

Margaret Maples

These loaves are great for sandwiches, French toast and toast points.

White Bread

2 cups skim milk

1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter

1/4 cup plus 1 tablespoon granulated sugar, divided

2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup warm water (98 to 110 degrees Fahrenheit)

2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon active dry yeast (or 1 1/2 ounces fresh yeast)

7 1/2 cups bread flour

2 egg yolks

Oil or butter to coat loaf pans

Melted butter for brushing loaves

1 egg (for optional egg wash)

1. Place milk in a saucepan and bring it to a simmer; don’t let it boil. Remove from heat. Stir in butter, 1/4 cup plus 1 teaspoon sugar. Add salt. Set the mixture aside to cool.

Pour warm water into a separate bowl. Stir in remaining 2 teaspoons of sugar. Use an instant-read thermometer to confirm that the temperature is between 98 and 110 degrees. Sprinkle yeast onto the surface of the water; stir gently. Set in a warm corner for about 10 minutes. Yeast should soften and expand.

When milk is near room temperature, stir the yeast into it and pour into the bowl of an electric mixer. Using the paddle attachment on low speed, stir in flour 1/2 cup at a time. After all but about a cup of flour has been added, switch to the dough hook and knead for about 5 minutes.

2. Flour a work surface and turn the dough out onto it. Shape the dough into a ball. Flatten it into a disc. Fold the farthest edge toward you and push it back into the mass of dough with the heel of your hand. Give the mass a quarter turn, bring the top edge down and push into it with the heel of your hand. Continue. Knead in the final bit of flour. Everyone develops their own kneading style and rhythm. When the dough feels elastic and springy, it’s ready for its first rise.

3. Use oil or butter to grease a bowl large enough to hold twice the amount of dough you’re kneading. Put the dough in the bowl and roll it around gently, coating the dough surface with oil or butter. This prevents a crust from forming. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap; set the bowl in a warm area for about 1 1/4 hours, until the dough doubles in volume. To test the risen dough, use two fingers to make indentions in the mass. If the dough expands to fill the holes, more rising time is required. If the dimples remain, it’s time for the next stage.

This step is called punching down, but no violence, please. Just remove the dough from the bowl. You’ll feel it deflate as you lift it. Place the dough on a floured surface and knead it again. This redistributes the yeast and works out air bubbles that have developed during the first rise.

4. Divide the dough into three parts. Shape them into balls, place them on a baking sheet and cover lightly with plastic wrap. Set the baking sheet in a warm area and let the dough rise again for about 45 minutes. Repeat the indention test you used earlier to make sure the dough has risen adequately.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit and butter three 5-by-9-inch loaf pans.

5. Flatten the balls of dough into rough rectangles. Shape these into thick cylinders. Tuck the ends under and place a dough cylinder in each pan. Let the dough rise again, covered and in a warm place, until each loaf reaches the top edge of the pan.

For a decorative finish, slash the tops of the loaves with a serrated knife or a single-edge razor blade. For a softer, golden crust, brush the loaves with melted butter. For crustier bread, omit the butter. If egg wash is desired, whisk 1 egg with 1 tablespoon water and brush onto the surface of the dough.

Bake the loaves for 20 to 25 minutes. If the bread seems to be browning too quickly, cover the loaves loosely with foil. To test for doneness, listen for a hollow thump when you tap the bottom of the loaf. Another test: An instant-read thermometer thrust into the bottom of the loaf should read 190 degrees F.

For a softer crust, remove the loaves from the pans and let the bread cool on a rack. For crustier loaves, let them cool in the pans. Allow bread to cool thoroughly before slicing. Makes 3 loaves.

GateHouse News Service