Classic White Bread

After having owned Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice for over four months now, I finally got around to cracking it open and breaking it in with a classic recipe for white sandwich bread. I was amazed at how incredible the dough was to work with – soft, easy to shape, and behaved just as it should. And the resulting loaves? Pure heaven. I do love my rustic Italian and French breads, but for the most part I’m a minimalist when it comes to bread – hand me a loaf of simple white bread and I’m absolutely content. No grains, no seeds, no nuts, just a perfectly baked loaf of bread. And that’s exactly what this is.

Another recipe I have made from this book: Cinnamon Rolls, completed for my very first Daring Bakers challenge.

More about the bread, process photos, and the recipe after the break.

I didn’t run into any issues in making this bread recipe. I did have to add a bit more flour to the dough while kneading, approximately ¼ cup (of course this need will depend on the conditions of every individual kitchen), but everything else went exactly as directed in the recipe. This bread is the essence of what you would envision when you think of a loaf of white sandwich bread. The crumb is soft and light without feeling flimsy, and the crust has just enough firmness to hold the loaf together without being overly crisp and separating from the rest of the bread. I can’t wait to use this for what will undoubtedly be some awesome french toast!

I chose to garnish one loaf with an egg wash, and did a simple slit down the middle of the other. I’m fairly new to slashing bread, and am not sure if the slash I did actually came out right – it looks like it opened up more than it should have. Any insight from veteran bread bakers?

Classic White Bread

Yield: Two 1-pound loaves, 18 dinner rolls, or 12 burger or hot dog buns

Prep Time: 5 hours

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 5 hours 40 minutes

Ingredients:

4¼ cups (19 ounces) unbleached bread flour
1½ teaspoons (.38 ounces) salt
3 tablespoons (1.5 ounces) sugar
2 teaspoons (.22 ounce) instant yeast
1 large (1.65 ounces) egg, slightly beaten, at room temperature
¼ cup (2 ounces) butter, margarine, or shortening, at room temperature, or vegetable oil
1½ cups (12 ounces) buttermilk or whole milk, at room temperature
1 egg, whisked with 1 teaspoon water until frothy, for egg wash (optional)
sesame or poppy seeds for garnish (optional)

Directions:

1. Mix together the flour, salt, sugar, and yeast in a 4-quart bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Pour in the egg, butter, and milk and mix with a large metal spoon (or on low speed of the electric mixer with the paddle attachment) until all the flour is absorbed and the dough forms a ball. If the dough seems very stiff and dry, trickle in more milk until the dough is soft and supple.

2. Sprinkle flour on the counter, transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook), adding more flour, if necessary, to create a dough that is soft, supple, and tacky but not sticky. Continue kneading (or mixing) for 6 to 8 minutes. (In the electric mixer, the dough should clear the sides of the bowl but stick ever to slightly to the bottom.) The dough should pass the windowpane test and register 80° F. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

My high-tech method of gauging when the dough has doubled - I measure how high the dough is at the beginning, double that and mark the spot on a piece of tape. When it hits the spot, it's done fermenting!

3. Ferment at room temperature for 1½ to 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size (the length of time will depend on the room temperature).

4. Remove the fermented dough from the bowl and divide it in half for sandwich loaves, into eighteen 2-ounce pieces for dinner rolls, or twelve 3-ounce pieces for burger or hot dog buns. Shape the pieces into boules for loaves or tight rounds for dinner rolls or buns. Mist the dough lightly with spray oil and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Allow to rest for about 20 minutes.

5. For loaves, shape as shown on page 81. Lightly oil two 8½ by 4½-inch loaf pans and place the loaves in the pans. For rolls and buns, line 2 sheet pans with baking parchment. Rolls require no further shaping. For hamburger buns, gently press down on the rolls to form the desired shape. For hot dog buns, shape as shown on page 80, although without tapering the ends. Transfer the rolls or buns to the sheet pans.

6. Mist the tops of the dough with spray oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap or a towel. Proof the dough at room temperature for 60 to 90 minutes, or until it nearly doubles in size.

7. Preheat the oven to 350° F for loaves or 400° F for roll and buns. Brush the rolls or buns with the egg wash and garnish with poppy or sesame seeds. Sandwich loaves also may be washed and garnished, or score them down the center and rub a little vegetable oil in the slit.

8. Bake the rolls or buns for approximately 15 minutes, or until they are golden brown and register just above 180° F in the center. Bake loaves for 35 to 45 minutes, rotating 180 degrees halfway through for even baking, if needed. The tops should be golden brown and the sides, when removed from the pan, should also be golden. The internal temperature of the loaves should be close to 190° F, and the loaves should sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

9. When the loaves have finished baking, remove them immediately from the pans and cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before slicing or serving. Rolls should cool for at least 15 minutes on a rack before serving.

(Source: Peter Reinhart The Bread Baker's Apprentice pages 265-269)