Well hello, friends!

Once again, I chose a recipe from Bread Illustrated by America’s Test Kitchen. This time, having acquired a loaf pan, I decided to make some sandwich bread of the American variety. 

  • 2.5 cups (13.75 oz) bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast (or rapid rise)
  • 1.5 teaspoons salt
  • .75 cup (6 oz) whole milk, room temperature
  • 1/3 cup (2 2/3 oz) water, room temperature
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
  • 2 tablespoons honey

Ingredients:

–  A big difference between this loaf and last week’s is the fat content. The Italian loaf had some fat, to be sure—olive oil is not just a pretty taste—but for this proudly-American sandwich loaf, there’s whole milk and butter (not that whole stick though, save it for the Fried Butter Balls).

–  When bread includes fat, it has earned the title enriched. I’m not sure what title those butter balls have earned, maybe redundant? For the life of me, I did not expect to find a Fried Butter Balls recipe when I searched “paula deen butter”, but let’s be real, I should have known better.

–  Honey is also a fun new addition, providing a hint of sweetness. Bread clearly wasn’t already fantastic enough. As a person who has now consumed almost an entire loaf of this bread on their own, I can say the sweetness is not overpowering but is, in fact, delightful.

–  You might have noticed my water there. I do not drink bottled water, but I like to keep a few bottles around because 1) Most recipes call for room temperature water so I like to always have some ready, and 2) While I have always prided myself on consuming tap water—because for some reason drinking tap water seems edgy—it contains a lot of chemicals that are harmful to yeast. Gloria gets fancier water than I do on the reg, don’t even worry about it.

–  The spray oil there isn’t an ingredient, really, but having a can of it around is always a good idea, in my experience. You’ll use it a lot to grease pans, like the loaf pan I’m using today, and to grease the plastic wrap that is also helpful to have around so that, should your dough expand so much it touches the plastic, the dough will not get too attached. You can also use regularly packaged canola/vegetable oil. It’s just harder to be lazy.

Here’s a rundown of my set of tools for this rodeo, check out the page Toolkit for more detail.

 

 

 

 

 

–  OXO 5-pound Digital Scale

–  8½” × 4½” loaf pan

–  Bowl scraper (the blindingly white thing)

–  Bench scraper

–  Instant-read thermometer

 

 

 

 

 

Again, I mixed by hand and not with a standing mixer because I had the time and I love to knead by hand.

Newly mixed together

 

The first thing I noticed while making this dough was how tight and smooth it was from the very beginning, as opposed to many other doughs which are super shaggy for a while.

 

3 minutes of kneading

 

By now you might have a rhythm going, perhaps from that song stuck in your head, and you’re putting your whole body behind the kneading. I’ll get a video of me kneading sometime in the near future. Because obviously that’s necessary.

 

7 minutes of kneading

 

Ooooooooh look at that, dang, oooooooooh, daaaamn, Daniel.

 

~9 minutes of kneading

 

Okay. This looks weird as fudge, but I did the windowpane test which proved the gluten was happy and relaxed. I wasn’t too sure about moving forward because ATK said this dough takes about 8 minutes of kneading in a mixer.

To knead, or not to knead?

Today, I picked not to knead. Everything looked great except for the time, and at some point, you gotta let the dough go on its own, helicopter baking helps nobody. Oh, and spoiler alert, this loaf turned out great.

What would have happened if I kept kneading? Probably nothing terrible unless I continued to knead for another 10 minutes. I actually don’t know. Plan: make this dough again with the objective to over-knead and time how long it takes.

Ok. You know the drill. Or not, this is perhaps only your first foray into the bread baking world. In any case…

TIME FOR THE FIRST RISE!

I greased this dark bowl with that handy-dandy spray oil I mentioned earlier, sprayed more oil on some plastic wrap, covered the bowl tightly, and walked away after setting a timer for 1.5 hours.

Before I forget, the dough is once again seam side down. This makes the rise look nicer. And other stuff too, I’m sure.

Okay, I come back after an hour and fifteen minutes, the dough looks like this. Which is great. A little surprising. And actually not entirely wonderful since dough that rises too quickly can result in bread that tastes a little off, a little boozy, and not in a good way, and ATK said this rise should last from 1.5 to 2 hours. But I’m a goddamn individual, so forward I went.

Now that I’m looking at these pictures so much, I’m not convinced the dough had doubled yet. Argh! Self-doubt!! Whatever. Time moves forward like me. In time. No regrets, and whatnot. Again, spoiler: this loaf turned out just fine.

ATK had me press the dough out into a rectangle again. I swear I took geometry in high school, please believe me, I did not fail, but yes, that blob up there is a rectangle leave me alone.

I even tried to be less timid this time. Like I’ve said before, I worry about pressing out all the gas produced by happy yeast and totally ruining the fruit of the first rise’s labor.

This here is my shaped loaf, obtained by tightly rolling up the rectangle. Not great, but it did the job. Oh, and I pressed out that bubble on the far side because I didn’t want any blemishes on my finished loaf and that there bubble is just looking to make trouble.

I covered the pan with greased plastic wrap again (the same sheet from before because the world doesn’t need extra plastic floating around, guys, c’mon), and I set the timer for an hour. Also, I set the oven for 350°F

Aw, so pretty! So pretty! Bravo, bravo! This rise post-shaping is called proofing, in case you were wondering. ATK prescribed 1-1.5 hours, enough time for the loaf to rise above the lip of the pan by ~1 inch. If you’re making a boule (aka circle-blob), or some other free-form loaf, usually you want the loaf to double in size, and sometimes you want it to not quite double.

Here’s a picture from the side. I swear it turned out like this, I used no filter, absolutely not, I had no desire to cover up any undesirable characteristics of this photograph.

#nofilter

 

Okay! Time for baking! With the oven set to 350°, I flick a little water on the top of the shaped loaf which adds some steam to the equation and encourages the crust to become crisp. In the past, I’ve baked sandwich loaves with much more steam. Like, a pan of ice cubes shoved into the oven. That was years ago, and I can’t remember specifically how those loaves turned out, but I would not use that method now, I would pour hot water into a hot pan. I’ll get more into steam/professional-oven-simulation when I make a loaf that requires such acrobatics.

So, I slid that loaf up there into the oven and set a timer for 18 minutes. When that went off, I turned the loaf 180° as quickly as possible without burning myself. Then I set the timer for 18 more minutes.

Explanation:

  1. The recipe calls for a baking time of 35-40 minutes, rotating the loaf halfway through. I just think of it as halves.
  2. You want to be quick with anything requiring you to open the oven door since too much heat escaping the oven might mess up the bread. This isn’t some amateur hour, okay? There’s science happening in that loaf so just trust me. Be in awe.

Here is where my instant-read thermometer comes in handy. The interior of a sandwich loaf(/many other kinds of loaves) needs to be 205°F – 210°F before you call it quits. After 36 minutes, the temp was only 200°F, so I put the loaf back in for like, 4 minutes. When I checked again, it was up to 208°F.

Behold! What a beaut!

 

I let the bread cool in the pan for 15 minutes to help it keep its shape, and then I dumped it out and let it cool for a few hours. It’s super tempting to cut into warm bread, and you know, sometimes that’s definitely what I’ve needed to do for myself. Unfortunately, that can mess up the crumb. The bread continues to set as it cools, and premature slicing lets out some of that essential steam. So I waited, for your sake, in order to give you this beautiful picture of the beautiful crumb.

There you have it, America! Your sandwich loaf.

This loaf is sweet. I might describe it as “It’s not so sweet that I think it’s a dessert, but dang, it’s scrumptious.” The fat content made the loaf super tender and incredibly binge-worthy. I shouldn’t have cut the whole loaf into slices because that made devouring it that much easier.

My storage suggestion: Usually, I put the bread I make in a linen bag or wrap it in a linen dish-towel, but that’s not necessarily the way to go with this bread. Breads with thicker crusts don’t fare so well in plastic bags because the crusts get softer and it’s really sad. Since the crust is thin and not crunchy in the first place, you can put it in a plastic bag no problem. Just eat it within a day or two. Otherwise, freeze it.

My serving suggestion: Hold on to a few slices for a day or so, however long it takes for them to get a little drier, and then make french toast.

Give me a shout if you have any requests for my next recipe test! I’m thinking chocolate babka or challah or a sourdough loaf.