Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Bread Snobs

This year in an effort to save money I started the school year telling my kids they would have to take a home lunch at least a couple times a week.  Little did I know that they would discover that they LOVE home lunch way better than school lunch and now the fight has reversed--they want home lunch every single day.
This desire for home lunch created a whole new problem for me--the problem of the disappearing bread.  With everyone packing a lunch every day I'm going through a loaf every couple of days... which leads to my OTHER problem...
We are bread snobs.  It's Grandma Sycamore bread or bust for us... I have found a couple of noteworthy substitutions (Farm Bread runs a close second, with Dunford bread pulling up the rear) but other than that, we hate all other kinds of bread.  And with the price of that bread going up and up and up...well, let's just say we've been weeping over cheap imitation bread a lot these days. (No matter how much I like it, I refuse to pay $3 for a loaf of bread...)
So for the past couple of months I have been experimenting with making good sandwich bread.  All of the bread was good, but not necessarily good for sandwiches.  I have tried at least a dozen recipes and none have been exactly right.  So this last week I took the best parts of each recipe and combined them to try a recipe of my own... I'd hate to jinx it, but I think I've actually DONE IT!  (With 4 bread critics in my house, it's pretty easy to distinguish the success from the failure.)  Everyone has voted, and this is definitely the winner...It takes a little more time and patience than the other breads I have made, but it was definitely worth it.


 5-6 cups all-purpose flour
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 Tablespoon yeast
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
2 cups HOT water (about 125 degrees)
3 Tablespoons shortening

In a large mixing bowl or stand mixer measure 2 cups flour, the sugar, salt, yeast, and dry milk.  Mix it well, then add the hot water and beat just until blended.  Add the shortening and beat until it has mixed in well, then add one cup of flour and beat for 3 minutes at medium speed.  Your mixture should be smooth and creamy looking.

Continue to add flour 1/4 cup at a time.  Take your time, letting the flour completely mix in before adding more.  The dough should form a soft, elastic ball that can be stretched without being sticky.  If the dough is too hard it will be hard to work with and dry when it's finished. (The perfect amount of flour for me was 5 1/4 cups each time with a sprinkle of flour added during kneading.)  Knead the dough for 10 minutes, adding sprinklings of flour if it starts to stick to the sides of the bowl.  When it's done, if you feel the dough is too hard, mix in a teaspoon of water.  If it's too wet or sticks to your hands, add a little flour.

 Grease a bowl and place your dough in it, turning to coat the top.   It should look smooth and soft.  Cover it tightly with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature to rise for one hour (dough should double in size)
Punch down the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead for a few minutes to work out any air bubbles, then slice it into two equal pieces with a sharp knife.  Shape each piece into a ball and allow it to rest for 3-4 minutes while you prepare your pans.

Spray or grease two 8x4 inch loaf pans.  Form each ball of dough into a loaf by pressing the ball into a flat oval.  Place it in the pans and gently press the dough into the corners of the pan with your fingers, making it as flat in the pan as possible for a more even loaf.
Cover the pans with wax paper and let rise again at room temperature until the dough is about an inch over the top of the pans--about 45 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees--don't put the bread in until it has reached the right temperature!  Bake for 10 minutes, then lower the temperature to 350 and continue to bake for an additional 25 minutes.  The loaves should be golden brown and sound hollow when you thump on them.

When the loaves are done baking, remove them from the oven but not from the pan.  Place the pans on a cooling rack close together and cover them with a heavy kitchen towel.  Wrap the pans, towel and all, in foil and allow to cool.  This makes the bread "sweat" so the crust (top and bottom) will be soft.  (NOTE: the towel is important because it will absorb any condensation that forms instead of leaving it sitting on the bread making it soggy.)  You can also choose to brush the tops with melted butter for a soft crust instead, but that leaves the bottom crust to get crunchy--not so great if you're making bread for sandwiches.

When the loaves are almost cool, you may want to remove them from the pans, wrap them completely in the towel and foil and let them finish cooling.  Store in bread bags or wrap them tightly in plastic wrap to keep them fresh.



Ooh, I am right there with ya on loving the grandma sycamore's! But alas I can only buy it when it's on sale for less than $2.00. I will happily try making any recipe that compares!

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