Guest Blogger: Meet Susan.
Susan has a degree in Baking and Pastry Arts from the Culinary Institute of America and her peers bestowed an honorary award for merit in wine and beer. She is an accomplished pastry chef in DC and someone I go to for baking advice. Susan is my twin and I am constantly telling her that she should move to Vermont.
Perhaps the only thing better than the smell of baking bread is the taste of that bread while it is still warm from the oven. That soft chewiness, yeasty and golden and spread thick with butter and jelly; it is the ultimate reward for learning to master the relatively simple processes of making bread. I am sure some will scoff at my use of the word simple, but I mean it. I made my first loaves of bread at the tender age of 12, more than a decade before I embarked on my career as a pastry chef. Currently I’m in the biz of cake-dreams and sweet-things but nothing makes memories like a warm loaf of bread.
In my years of training and travel I have made more types of bread than I can count. From free form rustic loaves of ciabatta and intricately breaded challah, to wild fermented sour doughs and butter rich sweet doughs. I have made over 100 pounds of dough in a day and manned 5 leveled steam injected deck ovens, but still in my off time the bread I want to make (and eat) is Grandma Bread.
Our grandmother was an indomitable women, all 4′ 11” of her. She used to knead the dough in a huge Rubbermaid dish bin perched on a stool. This bread graced her table every Thanksgiving, Christmas, and Easter. Easy to master, this recipe is very forgiving and turns out beautiful white loaves with a golden crusts and a light, tender crumb. It is almost as good several days old as toast as it is fresh from the oven.
Please note that I specify rapid rise yeast as opposed to active dry. Rapid rise yeast has several advantages but most noticeable is that it does not need to be proofed in water. It can be mixed straight into the dry ingredients. I prefer to use bread flour but all purpose flour can be used. It will yield a slightly heavier, less chewy loaf. Also, my grandma always used water but I like the extra bit of richness milk give this bread, either will work.
- 1 egg
- 1 stick butter (soft)
- ¼ c sugar
- 1 ¾ c milk (warm but not hot)
- 1 pkg rapid rise yeast
- 1 tbls salt
- 6-7 c bread flour.
Mix all the ingredients together holding back 1 cup of flour. Let the dough rest about 5 minutes before you start kneading it. This allows the flour to absorb the liquid making it easier to knead. Add flour only if needed to to make the dough knead-able. The dough should be just slightly sticky. Too much flour added will make for denser bread. Knead until the dough feels and looks smooth. Place in a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap.
Let rise until doubled. This can take anywhere from 45 min to 1 ½ hours depending on the temperature of your room and your ingredients.
When the dough is doubled it needs to be punched down. Though it is referred to as punching down what you will really be doing is folding the dough. Leaving the dough in the bowl, grab one side of the dough and pull it up and over to the center of the dough. Fold the opposite side into the center. Repeat with the other two sides so that all four sides have been folded into the center. Now turn the whole thing over. This sounds complicated but is not really. The purpose of this maneuver is to redistribute the yeast and gasses in the dough and to further stretch the gluten strands (think of it as a continuation of the kneading process).
Let the dough rise again till slightly less than doubled. This rise should be shorter than the first. Divide the dough in half. Press each half into a rough rectangle almost as long as the loaf pans. Roll each rectangle into a tight cylinder. Place each log of dough into a greased loaf pan, seam side down. Tuck ends in as needed. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise till the dough fills the pan.
Bake at 325 for 30 min or until evenly browned. Turn out of pans immediately and cool on racks. As tempting as it is, wait at least 10 minutes before you try to slice a loaf. The bread needs time for the proteins in the flour to cool and coalesce. Let the loaf “firm up.” If you cut too soon the bread becomes “mashy.”
Once you have waited those 10 minutes, cut off a thick slice, slather it with butter and jam …. and inhale. This recipe makes two loaves, one to eat warm one to eat later.