Bread is the rock of my food base. The core of things. Comforting, warm and needed. There is something so rewarding about conquering bread. It has been crafted for thousands of years and yet every time I pull a perfect loaf out of the oven a warm feeling of accomplishment comes over me. It’s amazing how something so essential to my life can still bewilder and amaze me. And something so small as a loaf of bread can fill me with so much joy.
American Sandwich Bread
- 3 ¾ cups all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1 cup warm whole milk (about 110°)
- 1/3 cup warm water (about 110°)
- 2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
- 3 tbsp. honey
- 1 envelope (about 2 ¼ tsp.) instant yeast
Adjust an oven rack to the lowest position and heat the oven to 200°. Once the oven temperature reaches 200°, maintain the heat for 10 minutes, then turn off the oven.
Mix 3 ½ cups of the flour and the salt in the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Mix the milk, water, butter, honey and yeast in a 4-cup liquid measuring cup. Turn the machine to low and slowly add the liquid. When the dough comes together, increase the speed to medium and mix until the dough is smooth and satiny, stopping the machine two or three times to scrape dough from the hook, if necessary, about 10 minutes. (After 5 minutes of kneading, if the dough is still sticking to the sides of the bowl, add flour 1 tablespoon at a time and up to ¼ cup total, until the dough is no longer sticky.) Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface; knead to form a smooth, round ball, about 15 seconds.
Place the dough in a very lightly oiled large bowl, rubbing the dough around the bowl to coat lightly. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the warmed oven until the dough has doubled in size, about 40-50 minutes.
On a floured work surface, gently press the dough into a rectangle 1 inch thick and no longer than 9 inches. With a long side facing you, roll the dough firmly into a cylinder, pressing with your fingers to make sure the dough sticks to itself. Turn the dough seam-side up and pinch it closed. Place the dough seam-side down in a greased 9×5-inch loaf pan and press it gently so it touches all four sides of the pan. Cover with plastic wrap; set aside in a warm spot until the dough almost doubles in size, 20-30 minutes.
Keep one oven rack at the lowest position and place the other at the middle position and heat the oven to 350°. Place an empty baking pan on the bottom rack. Bring two cups of water to boil in a small saucepan. Pour the boiling water into the empty pan on the bottom rack and set the loaf onto the middle rack. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted at an angle from the short end just above the pan rim into the center of the loaf reads 195°, 40-50 minutes. Remove the bread from the pan, transfer to a wire rack and cool to room temperature. Slice and serve.
I hope I never lose the ability to smile at the simplicity and be amazed by the complexity of a single loaf of bread.