When I was about 13 years old, I decided that I wanted to learn to bake my own bread. So I pulled out my trusty Better Homes and Gardens cookbook and decided to make the first recipe in the bread section, a simple white loaf. It took me a couple of tries before I got a decent loaf, but I had a lot of fun trying. The first ones I made were heavy and dense because I overworked the dough. Some didn’t rise because I overheated the yeast and killed it. I learned from my mistakes and eventually got wonderful bread. Bread can be intimidating, but it really isn’t that complicated. Just a few ingredients, some kneading, and time for rising. Give it a try and I’ll bet you’ll be just as excited, as I was when your beautiful loaf comes out of the oven!
Yeast is a living organism that is dormant in a dry state. When you add it to lukewarm water (too hot and you will kill the yeast) and add a little sugar for it to eat, the mixture will foam up. This fermentation is the sign that the yeast is alive and will create the gas needed for the bread to rise. If you don’t have a thermometer to check the temperature of the water, it should feel just barely warmer than the inside of your wrist.
Once you have kneaded the dough it is important to let it rise in a warm, draft-free location. My grandmother taught me to put the dough in an oiled bowl, turning the dough to coat it with the oil, then covered with a kitchen towel, and placed on top of the refrigerator. This has always worked beautifully for me. When the dough has doubled in size, recipes tell you to punch down the dough. This is actually a misnomer. You should gently press the dough down to deflate the large air pockets. This evenly distributes the yeast throughout the dough. Sometimes there is a second rise required and sometimes you will form the dough and place it into the loaf pans.
Try this recipe a couple of times and you’ll soon be turning out gorgeous loaves. I’ll be sharing more bread recipes with you that will have you baking like a pro in no time!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Starting with a simple loaf of white bread is the easiest to make and will give you confidence to try other more challenging recipes. When you bring flour home from the grocery store, place it in the freezer for a day or two to kill any critters that may be in the bag. I keep each bag of flour in the plastic bag from the grocery store as an extra precaution.
Kitchen Skill: Kneading Dough
Why: To develop the gluten (proteins) in dough which makes it elastic
How: Place dough on a floured surface. Using a rocking motion, press the heels of your hands into the dough, moving them away from your body. Pull the top of the dough toward you, folding it over. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat. Keep kneading until dough is smooth and elastic and less sticky. Use as much flour as you need to, to keep it from sticking to the board and your hands. Depending on how long you keep it in your mixer, it can take up to 10 minutes of kneading to sufficiently develop the gluten.
- 1 cup lukewarm water (110°F to 115°F)
- 1 cup buttermilk (at room temp)
- 1/4 cup oil
- 5 to 6 cups bread flour
- 1/2 cup sugar
- 2 large eggs (beaten)
- 1 tbsp salt
- 4 tsp instant yeast
- Egg wash
- 1 egg white
- 3 tbsp milk
- To make dough by hand: In a large bowl, mix together water, buttermilk and oil. Add 1-1/2 cups of flour and mix with a wooden spoon till smooth. Add sugar and eggs stir together till smooth. Mix in the salt. Then stir in yeast. Allow to sit uncovered for 15 minutes.
- Then add flour a 1/2 cup at a time. Stir until it becomes too hard to mix. Place some flour onto the counter and continue to slowly add remaining flour till the dough is just a little bit sticky (note you may not need all the flour).
- Knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes till smooth and elastic
- To make dough with a stand mixer: Proof your yeast in the metal bowl of the mixer using the standard paddle initially. Change to the dough hook. Add flour in 1/2 cup increments. Once all the flour has been added, increase the speed to second to the lowest speed and let the mixer knead the dough 5 to 6 minutes with a dough hook. The dough will feel smooth and elastic and it will clean the sides of the bowl. If it isn’t ready, keep kneading for a few more minutes.
- Place dough in a lightly oiled bowl and turn it several times so that it is covered with the oil. Cover bowl with plastic wrap (or a kitchen towel) and set aside in a warm place for about one hour or until doubled in bulk.
- Pour out onto a lightly floured surface. Cut dough in half and de-gas the dough (press down to deflate it). Shape dough into 2 rectangles about 9-inches long. Roll the dough from the long side, being sure to lightly press with each roll of the dough. Pinch the seam closed with your fingers.
- Place seam-side down into two greased 5x9-inch loaf pans. Cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise until doubled, about 45 to 60 minutes.
- Preheat oven to 375°F.
- After the dough has risen, make the egg wash by whisking the egg white and milk together in a small bowl. Brush egg wash over the tops of the loaves. Wait 5 minutes then brush again. This will help with browning and give the loaves a shiny surface. You can sprinkle the top with a little salt or herbs if you like.
- Bake in preheated oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until risen and golden brown. It is done, if you place a thermometer into the center of the loaf it should register about 180°F or if, when you tap lightly on the bottom of the loaf, it sounds hollow.
- Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack. Do not cut while still warm or it will collapse.
- Yield: 2 loaves