There was a time, before kids, before I started a business, when my main focus for two sweet years was being a homemaker. I left my corporate job and supported Jeff as he served full time as a youth pastor. Leaving my job with a demanding schedule and limited time off meant that I could go on all of the youth trips and participate in all of the activities. It also meant that I had a lot of free time during the day, which I used to throw myself into decorating, keeping house, and becoming a better cook and baker. I had Food Network shows like Good Eats and Sara’s Secrets running in the background most days and I would jot down notes about searing meat, making the perfect roux, and developing deep flavor in a sauce.
I started making everything from scratch – pasta, dressings, sauces, and bread. We ate really well! Bread became a mission as I tried different recipes, tools, and gadgets. I babied a sourdough starter and experimented with different washes and loaf shapes and creating a steam oven. It was such a sweet time of unhurried learning and nurtured creativity. I’m so thankful that I had those two years out of the rat race. I haven’t baked as much bread in recent years, mostly because I will eat a lot of it, but I’ve enjoyed making homemade bread while we’re hunkered at home (fresh bread and butter are so comforting) and the experience I gained during that time has served me well.
So today, I’m sharing a classic white bread recipe that I’ve made many times. It’s a crowd-pleaser and pretty simple to make. The keys to bread-baking are precision and experience. You have to be precise with measurements and temperatures or something will likely go wrong. And experience will teach you when the dough is at just the right consistency, when it’s been kneaded enough, and if it has risen properly.
So, let’s dive into baking bread! This is the recipe I used…
It’s from the Kitchen Aid cookbook that came with my mixer. It has several great bread recipes that I’ve made over the years. On a separate page, I have notes that I made about the weight of the flour, the precise measurement of the yeast, and things I learned about the loaf pans I used. For this recipe, 2 packets of yeast = 4.5 tsp of yeast out of a jar.
I heat up the milk, butter, and sugar an hour or two before I’m ready to make the bread, so it has plenty of time to cool.
I’ll pour it into a measuring glass, cover it with plastic wrap, so the kitties don’t think it’s a snack, and let it sit on the counter to cool.
One of the best tools to have when making bread, other than a mixer with a dough hook, is an instant-read kitchen thermometer. You don’t have to guess when the milk has cooled enough or guess if the water temperature is right. You know it is!
The reason why temperature is so important is that adding water or milk that is too hot to yeast can kill it. Salt can kill yeast, too, so it’s important to add things in the proper order. I’m generally a wing-it kind of person when it comes to cooking, but I learned years ago that I have to slow down and actually read and follow the directions when it comes to baking. Salt should always be added after the flour.
With the yeast bloomed and everything added in the right order, you’re ready to knead. You can certainly knead by hand, but it is so much easier in a stand mixer equipped with a dough hook. You have a nice, elastic ball of dough in just a couple of minutes. The dough is ready when it retains a nice ball shape and the sides of the bowl are clean. If the dough is sticking to the bowl or is a sticky mess on your fingers when you try to remove it, it needs more flour. It’s too wet. If there is flour or bits of dry dough around the bottom of the bowl, the dough is too dry and needs a little more water.
When the dough is done, I’ll pour a little olive oil directly on the dough and turn it around in the bowl to coat. I don’t see the need to dirty another bowl.
I’ll cover the bowl and put it in my oven on “bread proof” for 1 hour. This is the first time I’ve ever had that setting on an oven, so I used to preheat the oven to 350 while I made the bread and then I would turn the oven off and let the dough rise on the back of the cooktop. It would be nice and warm there and the bread would rise better.
If the dough doesn’t double in size, then something wasn’t right. A few things to ask would be – Was the water too hot? Was the yeast expired? Was the dough not covered? Was the place where the dough was rising not warm enough?
Don’t get panicked at this point. We’re not making a soufflé and I’ve rarely had the dough not rise. You need to be as precise as you can, but baking bread isn’t entirely unforgiving.
Dump the dough onto a clean, floured surface, gently roll out with a rolling pin (you don’t want to completely deflate it), and then cut it in half…
Roll each half into a loaf. Tuck in the ends, shape it, and put it in a loaf pan seam-side-down. I like to line my baking tins with parchment paper, so I can pull them out right after baking and they’ll cool better. If the bread cools in the pan, the sides can steam and get soggy.
My loaves ended up being a little uneven, but that’s okay…
Cover and let rise for another hour. Preheat oven to 400 degrees and bake for 30 minutes.
Remove the bread from the tins immediately and leave them to cool on a wire rack. If you don’t have a wire rack, you can use the grate from a toaster oven, a broiler grate, etc. The key is to let air get to all sides.
And this bread is so yummy. It’s perfect for sandwiches and toast.
Once cooled, I put the loaves in large ziplock bags. One goes directly to the fridge and the other goes in the freezer until we’re ready to use it.
I hope this helps if you’re learning to make bread for the first time!
If you’re not able to find yeast locally, I was able to buy a 2lb bag on eBay. I can’t believe I bought yeast on eBay, but that happened. My favorite is the Red Star Dry Active Yeast, but just use whatever you can find.
Happy bread baking!
PS – Just a reminder that our color chart class on Friday at 2:00 CST LIVE on my Facebook page. I’ll be using oils, but you can use any paints you have on hand. I’ll give lots of options for variations!