Sorry, folks, but I gotta say it...ain't NOTHING says home like the smell of freshly baking bread wafting through the air. And, since this will be my first post about bread, it's appropriate that it's the old fashioned, melt in your mouth, white bread that we all know and love. No, I'm NOT talking about the funky stuff they sell at grocery stores, either. I'm talking healthy, all natural, and to DIE for!!
There are probably thousands of recipes for bread on the internet. The recipe I'm going to hand you today, however, is one that I've made MANY times. It's fairly easy, too...even if you knead it a little too much, it still comes out yummy. The other nice thing is this...if you don't have a big mixer to make the dough in, that's ok...this one can be mixed by hand!! Yes, it will take a little longer that way, but once you get a taste of this homemade goodness, you won't ever want to go back to store-bought!!
Now, remember...this isn't general cooking. When you bake, you MUST be accurate with your measurements!! No eyeballing, no cheating...trust me on this. If you've never cooked that way before, then let me suggest that you take a few minutes to read my posts under Instructional called Baking 101. They will explain exactly why measuring is SOOO important. Also, please read the ENTIRE recipe before starting, including instructions. Believe me, you don't wanna get halfway done and realize you are missing something!!
Ready, folks? Here we go!!
OLD FASHIONED WHITE BREAD
5 3/4 to 6 1/4 c all purpose flour
1 pkg active dry yeast (this equals 2 1/4 tsps, in case you bought a jar of yeast)
2 1/4 c milk OR buttermilk (according to your preference)
2 tbsp sugar
1 tbsp butter
1 1/2 tsp salt
In a large mixing bowl, stir together 2 1/2 cups of the flour with the yeast; set aside. In a saucepan, heat the milk, sugar, butter, and salt just until warm (120 degrees, if you have a thermometer...otherwise, about like comfie bathwater) and butter almost melts. Add the milk mixture to the flour mixture. Beat with an electric mixer on low speed for 30 seconds, scraping sides of bowl constantly (if mixing by hand, stir until fully mixed, scraping sides of bowl). Beat for an additional 3 minutes on high (5-7 minutes by hand). Changing to a wooden spoon, start adding as much of the remaining flour as you can, until it's almost impossible to get the spoon through.
Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface (I like to take 2 pieces of foil, join them along the long edge, and do this on top of that...makes for SUPER easy cleanup afterward). Now it's time to knead the dough. Quick explanation...kneading is the process of working air bubbles OUT of the dough, and distributing the moisture evenly through the dough. To knead, sprinkle a little flour on top of the ball of dough, then using the heel of your bare hands, push down and away from you. Turn dough, and do it again...and again...and again...adding flour a little at a time until you have a moderately stiff dough that is smooth and elastic (you WILL get the feel for this as time passes, but it usually takes 6-8 minutes to get it where you want it). Form the dough into a ball, and place in a lightly greased bowl (I use butter cooking spray to coat the bowl, then spray a little on top of the dough), making sure to coat the surface of the dough with the grease. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a small tea towel, and allow to rise in a warm place until it doubles in size (45-60 minutes).
After the first rise, punch the dough down (just give it a light whack with a balled-up fist). Remove from the bowl onto a floured surface; divide in half. Let rest for 10 minutes, covered with wrap or the towel.
While you're waiting, it's time to prep your pans. For this recipe, you'll need 2 pans, both 8 x 4 loaf style pans. Using a pastry brush (or simply a paper towel dipped in oil) coat the bottom of each pan lightly, then coat about halfway up the sides of the pan (if you coat all the way up, the bread won't rise properly during baking). Once your pans are ready, place half the dough in each pan. Make it fit, but don't form it to the pan. Cover the pans again, and allow the dough to rise for a second time til almost doubled in size (about 30 minutes, but don't let the bread rise above the edges of the pan, please...you'll have MEGA loaf if you do).
Preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Place both loaf pans on a cookie sheet (much easier to put in and take out of the oven), and bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes, or until the bread sounds almost hollow when you lightly tap it (if you think it's getting too brown, cover it loosely with foil for the last 5-10 minutes of baking). When done, immediately remove the bread from the pans, and place on a wire rack to cool completely.
That's it folks...you're done!! I know, it seems like alot of trouble, but I'm telling you, when you take that first bite, you will be SOOOOOOO proud of yourselves!!! Oh, and for the record...I think it took me longer to type this out than it does to actually do the work of mixing and kneading!! At least, my hands seem to think so, at any rate...HAHAHA!! ENJOY!!!!