Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Simply Divine Sandwich Bread

Well, after a fantastic Valentine's weekend full of terrific gifts (He loved the picture, btw! :D And I got the most beautiful lilies and new measuring cups<- so excited!), and most importantly quality time, I'm ready to share with you that awesome bread recipe I mentioned last week.

It is adapted from one of the old handwritten recipes that my grandma left me years ago. It is perfect for toast or sandwiches. It is perfect for eating warm with butter. It is, in short, just all around awesome.

You're going to need:
Ten minutes to make the sponge, at least an hour of unattended rising
Ten minutes of kneading, at least an hour of unattended rising
Five minutes of punching and separating, at least an hour of unattended rising
30-45 minutes to bake
An oven
Greased loaf pans (two metal throwaway, or more if you use smaller glass pans, or a cookie sheet if you want to roll this into balls and make hamburger buns)
A large bowl
Plastic wrap
4 TBS Olive oil, plus more for drizzling
3 1/2 TBS Yeast
8+/- Cups Flour
3 Cups Warm water
3 TSP Salt
2/3 Cup Honey (I even had super old honey that had dried out and crystallized - it worked great!)
or 1/2 Cup white sugar

I personally use honey rather than sugar. Yes, it takes more flour. Yes, it is still delicious. If you want to play it safe and use sugar be my guest, but for what it is worth Captain America says the honey tastes better and I tend to agree with him. It also seems to help keep the bread moist - which with the lack of preservatives is a good thing to me.

Dissolve the yeast in the warm water for about five minutes. Add four cups of the flour, 4TBS olive oil, 3TSP salt, and whatever sweetener you're using. I generally add the honey first so that I can swivel the spoon around in the warm water to get it all off, but that is personal preference. Mix all of those ingredients up and cover with the plastic wrap. Let it rise until it is doubled.

Mm, spongey?

This mixture is what is referred to as a sponge. It generally only takes an hour to rise, but the longer you let the yeast sit and do its thing the better your bread is going to taste. Plus, the longer you let things sit the easier it is to work bread baking into your routine. I frequently begin the process on my lunch break and then bake in the evening or even in the morning before work.

They grow up so quickly!

I'm getting ahead of myself. After your sponge has doubled in size you need to add more flour. I generally add three cups and begin incorporating it with one hand (the texture is silky and a pleasure to touch). I then add the next cup (and maybe a little more) a little bit at a time until the dough all sticks together and you can touch it with your clean hand without giant clumps of dough sticking to you.

Punch that dough down. Have stress? Knead that bread. Here is the secret to our grandmother's not killing their husbands (not documented - but pretty sure).

As you can see above, I have taken to kneading the bread in my giant bowl and just drizzling the whole thing in olive oil and tossing it a few times to make sure it is covered, but you can easily knead it on any flat surface and place it in a separate oil coated bowl to rise again.

But why make more dishes? Hmm?

Cover that baby in plastic wrap, you can use the same stuff as before, and let it rise until doubled. It generally takes about an hour, but the temperature of your room has a lot to do with it. Generally 70-80 degrees makes all the little yeasties happy. But if it is colder than that and it takes a while to rise, or if you just ignore it for an extra two hours worry not! You aren't a bad baker. You're imparting more flavor into your bread. Now it isn't just bread, it is ARTISANAL sandwich bread. You're welcome.

KiYai! Bread punch!

Punch the dough down and let it rest for a minute or five before you divvy it up into your greased loaf pans. This recipe makes two loaves if your using the standard metal throwaway pans from a local super center, or three smaller loaves. Or a bunch of  hamburger buns. It's pretty flexible. Just remember that whatever you put it in it will double in size. You're warned. If you throw the whole thing in one loaf pan be prepared for Breadzilla overtaking your oven. Cover those pans with plastic wrap and let it rise until doubled. An hour on the counter, overnight in the fridge, again you're not ignoring it, you're imparting flavor.

When you're ready to bake, PREHEAT your oven to 350 degrees. I mean it. This is not a take and bake pizza that can be thrown in cold and bake as you go. Bread needs the oven to be piping hot to bake correctly. After your oven is properly preheated throw those loaves in and don't open it for at least 30 minutes. It will take 30-45 minutes of active baking time depending on your oven and your pans.

You can tell they are done when the top is golden brown and they ring hollow when tapped. Make sure to let them cool on the top of the stove or counter before you cut into them. The insides are still baking and you don't want to let that heat and moisture out too soon.

These loaves freeze VERY well in gallon freezer bags. Thaw them overnight in the fridge and toss them in the oven to warm up and you have a dinner addition that is sure to wow guests. Or just yourself. Just be warned it is really easy to eat a whole loaf!

This bread stores very well in gallon freezer or storage bags, I would strongly recommend using them. As it is a preservative free product it will dry out and become unappetizing rather quickly if you just leave it on the counter. It is great for bread pudding then, but it gets a little crumbly for anything else.

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