Wonder(ful) Bread

 

I grew up in Oklahoma, where it was easy to find “Texas Toast” in any grocery store. This thickly sliced soft white bread makes, in my humble opinion, the best french toast. I’ve never seen Texas Toast in Colorado, so I embarked on a quest to make my own, because french toast made with wimpy skinny slices of bread just depresses me. I found this recipe by Tyler Florence, and made a few tweaks to better serve my purposes.

Making bread is one of my favorite things to do. It seems so simple: flour, water, yeast, salt. But these four basic ingredients (sometimes with different fats and sweeteners added) can create a rather astounding variety of breads. In my experience, the fewer ingredients, the more finicky the recipe is. The outcome can be affected by the humidity, the ambient temperature in your home, the natural variance in the size of eggs, etc.. Herein lies the real complexity of bread-making. You have to know what the dough should feel like, how it should behave, in order to get it right. Odds are if you follow a recipe to a ‘T’, you’ll end up with bread. But odds also are that you won’t have achieved the full potential of the recipe.

What to do? Play. Experiment. Get your hands dirty. I mean with the dough…please wash your hands 😉 .

You’ll start by melting butter in some milk. Gather your remaining ingredients in the meantime. The temperature you’re going for is 100-110 degrees F. This temperature range will activate your yeast. Too cold and the yeast won’t wake up, too hot and the yeast will die. This TERRIFIED me when I first started making bread. I was so worried about the temperature, and would use a thermometer to make sure my temperature was perfect. In culinary school, I learned a lovely little trick that set me free. Ready? Here it is: the liquid should feel just slightly warm to the touch. Your body runs at about 98 degrees, so liquid that feels just slightly warm will get you where you need to be. Keep calm and put the thermometer down.

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Combine the yeast and milk mixture, and add the honey. These little plunger things are awesome for measuring viscous ingredients, like honey (or mustard, molasses, etc.). Sugar is food for yeast (booze, anyone?), and will make your yeast nice and happy. Once the yeast is nice and bubbly/foamy (you don’t have to wait 5 minutes if it is), start adding the flour, one cup at a time. After 2 cups have been added, add your egg. Then add the third cup a bit at a time. You may need a bit more than 3 cups, or a bit less. Once the flour has been added, knead the dough for about 10 minutes, or until it is no longer super sticky. This is a soft dough, so it won’t pull away from the mixing bowl the way a french bread dough would. When you lightly touch the dough, it shouldn’t stick to your finger. That’s what you’re looking for. In the last few minutes of kneading, add the salt.

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Turn the dough out onto a floured surface, and knead it a few times by hand. Use the heels of your hands to push the dough away from you, fold it in half (top half back towards you), give it a quarter turn, and repeat. Once the dough has tightened up (it will give a bit of resistance to kneading), put it in an oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Place the bowl in a warm area and let rise until doubled, about 45 minutes. Again, use your discretion here. If you keep your house toasty warm it will rise more quickly, if your house is an icebox it will take longer.

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Turn the dough out and gently form into a loaf shape. Place the loaf into a prepared loaf pan. Let rise again, until the dough has expanded to almost fill the pan, about 20 minutes. Preheat the oven to 350 during this rise.

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Brush the top of the loaf with a lightly beaten egg, and score the top (this means to make a cut, lengthwise in this case, about 1/4″ deep to allow steam to escape and thereby prevent the crust from cracking). Bake the loaf until golden brown, about 30-40 minutes.

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For the love of Pete, let your bread cool before you slice it. I know it’s hard. Your house smells divine by this point, and you want that hot fluffy carbohydrate goodness in your gob. But wait. If you cut into it while fresh from the oven, you will release all the moisture from the bread (just like cutting into a piece of meat before letting it cool), and end up with dry croutons instead of pillowy goodness. The cooling process is important for setting the gluten structure. So let it rest. Okie dokie? Good.

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Ingredients

  • 1 cup milk
  • 3 Tbsp butter (unsalted)
  • 1 Tbsp dry yeast
  • 2 Tbsp honey
  • 3 cups all-purpose flour
  • 2 large eggs, divided
  • 2 tsp kosher salt

Instructions

  1. Combine milk and butter in a small sauce pot and heat gently until butter melts. The resulting temperature should be approximately 100 degrees.
  2. Pour milk mixture into bowl of your mixer. Add yeast and honey.
  3. Proof yeast in milk mixture until foamy.
  4. Turn mixer on to low speed with the paddle attached. Add 2 cups of flour, one cup at a time.
  5. Add one egg.
  6. Add the third cup of flour slowly.
  7. Switch to dough hook attachment and knead on low speed for about 10 minutes, or until the dough is no longer sticky. Add salt during the last few minutes of kneading.
  8. Turn dough out onto a floured surface and knead a few times by hand.
  9. Place dough in oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let dough rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
  10. Turn dough out of bowl, and gently  shape into a loaf.
  11. Place dough in loaf pan sprayed with cooking spray, cover, and let rise until it fills the pan, about 20 minutes.
  12. Preheat oven to 350 degrees F.
  13. Lightly beat egg (you can add a little splash of milk or water to loosen the egg) and brush the top of the loaf with the egg wash. Score bread lengthwise down the middle.
  14. Bake until golden brown, about 30-40 minutes.
Author

3 comments

  1. This looks wonderful! Bet it tastes even better! I might even try this! I’d much rather play with dough than raw chicken! LOL (See Simple Chicken recipe.)

    Back in the old days (as in 40 years ago), I made bread like it was my job. I relied on the recipe for results and didn’t think much about other factors that might affect the outcome. Good to know what other things to consider to insure a perfect bread!

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