By Julie Packham
Once Upon A Time, I got a Kitchen-Aid mixer for Christmas. I’d always wanted one. I was sure it was going to make me a genius in the kitchen. Like POW! Instant Suzy Homemaker. Sadly, I used it twice and then it collected dust for a really long time. After some big life changes the cooking bug had found me again and I began cooking up a storm, experimenting with some tasty successes and some profound failures. However, two things frightened me more than anything: Bread, and pastry. We’ll get to pastry some other time. Today I want to talk about soft, chewy, pillowy white bread. I use this recipe for other things I make and will refer back to it.
It’s an art you know. Bread. Successful bread can make you feel like the queen of your domestic castle. Sad bread can make a really great door stop. The first loaf of bread I ever made was like eating bread that had been squashed under a brick and left out to dry in the sun. It took me about 5 tries to have something that I would feed to other people. Now this recipe is my staple, everyday bread. If you have acute bread-fear, like I did, this recipe is for you. Practice will teach you what your bread dough should feel like for yummy results.
It’s been one of my missions this year to reduce or eliminate the amount of processed food we eat. Now I’m not an idiot, I don’t pretend to think I can eliminate ALL processed crap, but I try. Really Hard. Like – making my own bread twice a week hard. My Grandmother made bread every Wednesday without fail, (my grandfather refused to eat store bought bread), and usually made scones with some of the leftover dough. It was heaven. Beyond heaven. And I have personal assurance from my mother that this bread is as good or, gasp, BETTER than Ma’s bread. Of course… she could be saying this to be nice.
If you’ve never tried it, and you have a kitchen aid mixer, I highly recommend starting with their basic white bread. The book is a little sketchy on the details, so I’m going to break it down a bit and show you some pictures and a few modifications that worked for me.
You Will Need:
- 1/2 cup milk
- 3 tbsp, plus 2 tsp sugar
- 2 tsp salt
- 3 tbsp butter
- 4 1/2 tsp of active dry yeast (or 2 packages)
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 5 or 6 cups of all purpose flour
- Butter or cooking spray to grease bowl and pans
Prepare The Dough:
Fill your kitchen-aid mixer bowl with warm water to pre-heat it. This is important because if you put your warm water in a cold bowl, your yeast will be sad and not activate properly. Dump the water and add the 1 1/2 cups warm water to the bowl. Use a digital thermometer to ensure that the temperature of the water (after it is in your kitchen-aid mixer bowl), is between 105 – 115F. This is the ideal temperature for yeast activation. Add 2 tsp of sugar, (I can and have omitted this with successful results should you so desire). and the yeast and stir gently with the thermometer. Put aside and allow yeast to activate for 10min. No shortcuts here. After 10 min it will be foamy and nearly doubled.
In a small saucepan, combine butter, milk, salt and remaining sugar and put over low heat. Stir until butter is melted and sugar is dissolved. Remove from heat and check the temperature with your thermometer. As soon as it has cooled to 115F you can add it to your activated yeast mixture (don’t add before the 10 minutes is up). Add 4 and 1/2 cups of flour to start and place on your kitchen aid mixer stand. Make sure to use the dough hook attachment, not the paddle. Turn the mixer on to mix and watch the dough come together. Turn it up to speed 2 and add flour, 1/2 a cup at a time, waiting a minute between each addition, until the dough begins to clean off the sides of the bowl and stick to the hook. You want the dough to be sticky and super stretchy. If you can rip a piece off like playdough, there’s too much flour. You can try saving it by adding some warm water and some extra kneading, but it is better to be super careful with your flour additions and stop before you get to that point. Flour your hands and pull the dough out. You can either use a separate greased bowl, but I just spray the kitchen aid bowl with canola spray and put the dough back in.
Cover your dough with a cotton towel and place in a warm, draft-free place. I like to use the oven and turn the light on for heat. If my oven is otherwise occupied or will be in the next 3 hours, I shove it in the microwave with a small dish of hot water. Let it sit for an hour to rise. No peeking.
Shaping The Loaves:
Grease your two 4×8 bread pans and remove the towel from your dough. Your bread dough should have doubled in size. Punch it down and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in two, and put half back into the greased bowl. Roll your dough out to a rough rectangle, as wide as your bread pans. I use 4 x 8 pans here. Starting at the short end of your dough, roll lengthwise into a tube. Pinch the seam together. Pinch the ends together and tuck under. Place seam side down in your greased bread pans.
Put loaf pans back into your cold oven or microwave and allow to rest and rise for another hour. No Peeking.
Choose Your Own Adventure:
For a more aggressive crust, preheat oven to 400F and cook for 25-30min. This bread will stand up to pretty much anything you want to put on it while still being soft and moist. I pull mine out at 25 when using this method. A little less if you like softer crust. In my oven this is 23 min.
For soft, pillowy, chewy goodness. Don’t preheat your oven. Put the bread in cold and set the oven for 400F. Your bread will continue to rise as the oven heats and you will end up with a light, soft crust. It won’t stand up to wet sandwhich ingredients without being toasted and is more like a wonderbread texture. Bake 25 min or until golden brown. Your bread may sink a little after it cools, This is a sign that it could have used a little more baking time. This method is entirely dependent on how well you know your oven and may need a couple of tries to perfect.
I used all purpose flour here because i wanted a tender bread. The kitchen-aid blog has a really good description for when to use what kind of flour. Check it out here.