Today I baked bread. It wasn’t planned, I just did. My inspiration? Not wanting to go out to the store. After 2 weeks of the plague, this being the third weekend, I’m the only one the flu is still clinging to. And with very little voice and a sore throat, I wasn’t in the mood to brave Sunday shoppers, or even take off my PJ pants to run to the bakery. But I really wanted bread. White bread. Good white bread. Anything grainy seemed too ambitious to chew, swallow and digest. I was berating myself for not stirring up a batch of no-knead bread yesterday, but flinched at the thought of its thick, crusty exterior anyway. And then it occurred to me while making coffee – If I’m going to be around the house all day, why not just stir up some old-fashioned white bread dough? Like people used to do when corner stores weren’t open 24 hours a day?
More importantly, it occurred to me that W will never ever remember one of us running to the store to pick up a bag of bread. But he will remember coming home from the dog park to a house filled with the smell of baking bread on a Sunday afternoon. There really is no comfort like it.
This loaf? Nailed it on the first try. It seems wordy at first, but is the sort of thing you can make once, and then every other time after that it could not be simpler. I can imagine easily scattering it with cinnamon or cheese before folding and tucking it into the loaf pans. (They’re just 4″x8″ pans, available anywhere that sells baking pans – and often at garage sales or Value Village for about a dollar.) If you’ve ever wanted to try your hand at a traditional loaf – give this one a go. I plopped everything in my stand mixer and let the dough hook do the work, then brought it out and kneaded it myself a few times, just for good measure, and because it felt so nice and smooth. If you do this, don’t flour the countertop – it should be nice and tacky, but won’t stick to the counter. Promise. Some people dump on the flour for extra insurance, but then your dough absorbs too much and can be heavy and dry. All these measurements were perfect. The resulting loaf has a divine crumb and golden, soft crust. Perfect for kids, or grown-ups with sore throats.
Also? It means we have bread for the week. (Or the next few days, anyway.) Homemade bread that’s perfect for sandwiches and toast in the morning.
Your yeast should get foamy – if it doesn’t, toss it.
Mix in half the flour. Just like making paper mache paste.
Then add the rest of the flour and the salt – it needs a buffer so it doesn’t kill the yeast.
Add some soft butter too. It’ll look shaggy.
Then cellulite-y. It needs to be nice and smooth. Don’t worry about it being sticky at this point – you want it to be tacky.
Let the dough hook – or your hands – go until it’s smooth and elastic. Knead it a few times on the countertop if you did it in the mixer – and don’t add any more flour (unless it’s really too wet).
Put the ball of dough back in the bowl (no need to wash it out and oil it – in fact I find the dough harder to work with when it’s all oily) and cover with a tea towel.
Walk away. Forget about it for an hour or so.
Divide the dough in half and pat each piece into a rectangle a bit bigger than a standard piece of paper. No need to be exact here.
Fold it in thirds like a letter, then place seam-side down in the pan, tucking in the ends. Not sure why Julia does it this way, but I can’t argue with the shape of that loaf.
Cover with the tea towel again and leave for another hour or so.
And then bake. Really, it’s not a whole lot of effort, all told. Especially for the reward of two beautiful, freshly baked loaves, that probably cost under a dollar to make.
This may just be my new Sunday thang.
Julia Child’s White Sandwich Bread
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp. active dry yeast
1 Tbsp. sugar
7 cups all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
1/4 cup butter, softened
Pour 1/2 cup of the water into a bowl (preferably that of a stand mixer) and stir in the yeast and sugar. Let sit for 5 minutes, unit foamy. (If the yeast doesn’t do anything, toss it out and buy fresh yeast.)
Add the rest of the water and 3 1/2 cups of the flour. Stir until well blended. Add the rest of the flour, the salt and butter and stir with the dough hook (or by hand) until well combined and shaggy. Continue to knead (I let the dough hook go for about 8 minutes, poking it down once in awhile) until it’s smooth and elastic. You could do this by hand, too. If you used the dough hook, turn the dough out onto the countertop and knead a few times to make sure it’s evenly smooth. Doesn’t it feel great?
Shape it into a ball and put it back into the bowl. Cover with a tea towel and let it sit for 1 – 1 1/2 hours, until it’s doubled in size.
Butter two 4″x8″ loaf pans. Punch the dough down (love that part!) and pat each piece into a rectangle that’s about 9″x12″ – or a bit bigger than a standard piece of paper.
Starting at a short end, fold it in thirds, like a letter. Place seam side down in the loaf pans, tucking the ends in. Cover with the tea towel again and leave them for an hour, until they puff right up out of the pan.
Preheat the oven to 375°F and put the rack in the middle of the oven. Bake for 30-35 minutes, until the loaves are honey brown. Immediately turn the loaves out of their pans and onto a rack to cool.
Makes 2 loaves.