Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Back to Basics - A Simple White Sandwich Bread

In the grand scheme of things, in that great cosmos that is the world of bread, there are really only a few divisions. Really. For example, there are breads that rise using yeast, and those that use some chemical agent, usually baking powder and/or baking soda. Conversely, you can divide the bread world into geographical groups, typically North American breads and European breads. Also, there are breads using only natural leavening, and, of course, all the flat breads (some using yeast some not). Ok. So the divisions are not exactly clear-cut but more or less all breads can be made to fit (forced?) into only a few categories. May I suggest some comprehensive cookbooks? Some of the best include: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day: The Discovery That Revolutionizes Home Baking and The Bread Bible by Rose Levy Beranbaum.

Today I want to go back to basics. I want to make a simple white sandwich bread that has enough structure to hold the filling without falling apart. A bread with a fairly soft crust but also not too absorbent so that it doesn't become a soggy mess when loaded up with all the goodies. This type of bread is typical of a North American bread, having some fat, sugar and enriching agent that makes for the perfect sandwich loaf. I am not talking about Wonder Bread, here, BTW. I mean, it's a wonder that it is still called bread. I mean, really!  I am looking for a loaf that will hold the goods and stay edible for a few days. Forget that it will disappear probably the same day. It should have 'shelf life' of a few days at least.

All bread needs a few basic ingredients. Flour, of course. And some liquid (water, milk, fruit juice). Salt. Yes, salt. Without salt the yeast will just run like crazy. Salt, aside from adding flavor is like nature's brake. It slows down the yeast. Oh, and of course yeast.

All other ingredients enhance the end result produced by these basics. In order to make bread softer we can add eggs, or sugar, or oil. The really great European breads with the thick, chewy crusts are often composed of only flour, water and salt. Sometime even without yeast instead using natural sourdough starters. These breads sometimes take three or four days to make and are truly wonderful. But they are not sandwich breads. Not what I'm looking for today.

Sandwich bread is something else entirely, and when it's done right it's a really satisfying experience. Here's a simple recipe for sandwich bread with a few explanations along the way and some possible variations. Yum!!

This is what you need:

Simple White Sandwich Bread

for 2 loaves

1 1/4 cups warm water
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup milk at room temperature*
2 Tablespoons honey**
2 teaspoons salt
3 Tablespoons soft butter***
6 cups bread flour****
* 1/4 cup dough enhancer (this will soften the bread, give it a little more structure and increase the 'shelf life'. It's optional, but if you use it just make sure you use a natural enhancer, with no after taste. King Arthur Flour markets a good enhancer.


Mix together the warm water and yeast then add milk, honey, salt, and butter. Stir. Add 4 cups of flour and mix well. Gradually add in enough remaining flour to make a dough that is tacky without being too sticky. Turn dough out onto lightly floured surface

 and knead for 10 minutes, adding more flour as needed until the dough is firm and smooth to the touch.

 Place dough in medium greased bowl.Make sure the dough is greased on all sides. Cover with clean cloth or plastic wrap and let rise in warm, draft-free place until doubled in size, about 1  to 1 1/2 hour.

Punch down the dough to remove the gas. Then turn it out onto a lightly floured board and knead for 5 minutes to be sure all the bubbles are out of the bread. Divide the dough into 2 equal parts, and shape each dough half into a loaf by pulling the dough over the top towards the bottom. This tightens the surface tension, and makes for a smoother crust.. Place each loaf in a greased, 9 X 5-inch bread pan. Cover and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes or until doubled in size.

Bake bread at 350 degrees F for 40 minutes or until bread top is golden brown and the bread sounds hollow when the top is tapped. Remove breads from pans and let cool on rack.

* Different liquids will yield different results. So, for instance, water will produce a slightly coarser bread that is still delicious but not quite as soft. Consider this for a non-dairy bread. You could substitute apple juice, which adds a distinct flavor, but sweet, so not necessarily the right taste for all purposes. Orange juice will make the bread more like cake. Soy milk is a good choice for extra protein. Make sure you use the plain soy milk because some people do not like the after-taste some brands have.
**Honey add a real richness to the bread but you can use any sweetener you like. White sugar works just as well, and leaves the bread whiter. Honey adds a slightly golden color. Brown sugar will color the bread a light brown. Molasses has a strong flavor and makes 'brown' bread. Corn syrup will color the bread, and personally I am not in favor, but...
*** The 'fat' in this bread is minimal but absolutely essential. It helps the bread brown and adds texture. Oil will slow down the rising so use sparingly if you try to adjust the recipe. You could use margarine for a non-dairy bread. Or regular vegetable oil. Olive oil is not appropriate here as it will flavor the bread and make it rather heavy. Olive oil is great in some European breads but not here.
**** Bread flour has the most gluten but will make the bread slightly heavier than all purpose flour. Use either interchangeably. If you want, substitute 2 cups whole wheat flour for the same amount or regular flour. The rise times will be slightly longer, and you might need to increase the amount of liquid and yeast slightly.  For a really great cookbook with lots of great tips and recipes you should try Bread: A Baker's Book of Techniques and Recipes. For a good book that concentrates on whole wheat breads you should really look at Peter Reinhart's Whole Grain Breads: New Techniques, Extraordinary Flavor. Both are highly recommended. Bye for now.

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