Friday, June 7, 2013

Good White Bread

I wouldn’t say this is exactly cheap, but it’s not that expensive; and it is nutritious, especially compared to the crap that gets sold as “bread” in the supermarkets today.  You can make it less expensive by cutting down on the amount of milk and eggs used in the recipe and it will still taste nearly as good.  I do that when we’re really broke.

  • 3 cups milk (you can use one cup milk & two cups water, or powdered milk)
  • Six eggs (or two eggs if you’re broke)
  • Six tablespoons butter (or any oil, or two tablespoons butter if you’re broke) softened very soft
  • Two tablespoons of any sort sweetener – I use brown sugar, but whatever you want to use.  You can cut this down to one tablespoon if you like, but don’t leave the sugar out.  And it needs to be actual sugar, not fake sugar – not Splenda or whatever, I mean. The yeast needs sugar.
  • One tablespoon yeast.  I buy yeast in bulk, on line – it’s much cheaper than buying it in those little packets.  But if you’re using the packets, use two packets.  You can also keep a starter going, which is even cheaper.
  • One tablespoon salt
  • One cup (or more) of cooked oatmeal (I use whatever I have leftover from the kid’s breakfast, but you can also cook up some special – if you do this, cook it with some of the 3 cups of milk listed above)
  • Six or eight (or more) cups of King Arthur Bread flour.  You can use other kinds of bread flour.  I won’t stop you.  But seriously, you should try King Arthur bread flour.  It’s a little more pricey, but it’s absolutely worth it.  In the Fort Smith area, Harp’s has it and also the Wal-Mart over on Zero Street.  Or you can get it online.

If you have a stand mixer, you can do the early steps of this in that.  Otherwise, get out your biggest bowl. Get out your butter so it can start getting soft. (I should warn you, from start to finish this bread takes about six hours to make. Make it when you don't have anything else planned for the day.)

Oatmeal first: If you don’t have leftover oatmeal, cook about a cup of oatmeal in about two cups of your milk.  You can do this on the stove or the microwave.  Heat it just to simmering, stir it, and let it cool to lukewarm.

Once it’s lukewarm (this will take about an hour, so do something else while you wait), dump it in your big bowl (or the mixing bowl of your stand mixer if you have a stand mixer) and stir in the other cup of milk.

Add a cup of bread flour, the six eggs, the yeast, the sugar, the salt, and the soft butter. Mix it all together really thoroughly.

Mix in the rest of the flour a cup at a time, mixing thoroughly between each cup.  By thoroughly, we mean very, very thoroughly.  Eventually this mixing is going to start resembling kneading, that’s how thoroughly we’re talking.  Mix it with a wooden spoon as long as you can, and then after that with your bare hands.

When the dough gets too stiff for the mixing to keep happening in the bowl, dump it out onto the floured surface of a counter and continue mixing in flour (in handfuls now, not cups) as you knead.

Knead and knead and knead until the dough is smooth and just stiff enough.  It’ll take maybe 10 minutes from the time you dump it out until it’s done.

What is stiff enough?

Good dough is smooth and silky and just not-quite sticky.  You know it when you feel it, but you won’t know it until you’ve made bread about 30 times.  So this is a thing you have to do to know how to do.

Once you’ve kneaded the dough enough, wash out your bowl, grease it with a bit of oil, and put the dough back in it.  Cover with a clean dish cloth and set it in a warm place to rise.  It needs to rise until doubled in size, which will take – probably – and hour and a half.]

When it’s doubled in size, smack it down.  Really beat it up.  Punch it and yank it around and fold it over and smush it.  Then cover it up and let it rise until doubled in size again – another hour or so.

Then shape it into two loaves, or three if your loaf pans are small ones.  Grease your loaf pans really good and put the loaves in them.  Cover and let rise while your oven heats up to 375 F.

Bake for 30 minutes or so – less time if your loaves are small, more if they’re big.  The loaves are done when they’re nice & brown and when they sound hollow when you thump on them.

This bread freezes well – I freeze it in big ziplock bags – and makes wonderful sandwiches and bread pudding.

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