Basic Yeasted White Bread
As you might guess from the title, this is not a sourdough recipe.
This recipe is here to help people learn fundamental baking
skills so they can go on and learn about sourdough without having to fight
fundamental bread making problems.
It's been a while since I made this bread, and I had forgotten just how good it
is. It's a white bread, which - despite what the whole grain fanatics tell you
- really isn't the end of the world. It has a
firm, tight crumb; a nicely browned crust, and a rich wheaty taste. It toasts
well, and that's always a plus at breakfast time. Or even at BLT time, for
This recipe is from
James Beard's "Beard On Bread,"
which remains one of my favorite books on bread. I have changed some
quantities, and changed the instructions considerably (and probably for the
This recipe is for 1 large or 2 smaller loaves.
1 package active dry yeast (1)
at room temperature(2)
2 teaspoons granulated sugar (table sugar)
unbleached all-purpose flour
1 1/4 tsp salt
a splash of olive
(1) If you buy yeast in bulk, a package is about a tablespoon. If you use
instant yeast, instead of active dry yeast, use about 1/2 as much. We are at
7,703 feet above sea level, and at this altitude, we cut the yeast down by
about 1/3. Or, we use about 2 tsp of active dry yeast or 1 tsp of instant
(2) Many books tell you to use water as hot as 110 to 115F, which is hot enough
to hurt the yeast. So, use room temperature water. If you're comfortable,
your yeast will be comfortable also.
(3) I usually use Olive
for anything I can. The recipe called for butter,
but I feel that Olive
is healthier - at least there are less people
screaming about it.
Put the 1 1/4
of room temperature water in a mixing bowl. Stir in the 2
tsp of sugar. (Note - I don't think the sugar is needed, but I
left it in this time.) Now pour in 2 of the
of flour called for in this
by the yeast. I used
Safeway's Unbleached Flour
because it's good, it's cheap, and it's widely available. Now sprinkle the
yeast on top of the flour. Stir the salt and sugar water, the flour, and the
yeast together. It should form a batter pretty quickly. Stir until you see
strands of gluten forming. Now add another 1/2
of flour and keep stirring.
It should thicken up, and should get harder to stir. If not, add another 1/2
of flour and keep stirring.
Now use some of the remaining flour to lightly flour a clean work surface.
What kind of work surface? Well, let's start with clean. Formica, smooth
wood, and stainless steel counter tops are good. Some people use large cutting
boards because they are easy to clean by putting them into the sink. You want
to be able to easily clean the surface, before and after you work on it. So,
a cutting board with a juice catching gutter, or other dust catching
irregularities, would be a bad idea. I usually use a
because that helps contain the mess of kneading. In any case, put the dough
onto the clean and lightly floured work surface. Now... it's kneading time.
There are as many ways to knead as there are bakers. Some pick up the dough
and slam it onto the counter repeatedly. Others tell you that you must be
gentle with the dough - it's a living thing, after all. Amusingly enough,
there isn't that much difference in their results, though the dough slammer
probably knocks more stuff off her shelves. My approach is pretty simple. You
can do it with
one hand or two. Using two hands makes things go a bit faster,
but it also means both of your hands are gloppy. If you use one hand, the
other hand is always clean which is handy when the phone rings, when you need
to add another ingredient, or whatever.
Why do we knead the dough? We do it to develop and structure the gluten in the
dough. Gluten is a protein in the flour, and it is what traps the gas created
by the yeast to let the bread rise. One cookbook author wrote (and I sure wish
I remembered who, so I could give credit where credit is due...) that in flour,
the gluten is like a pile of bricks dropped loosely off the back of a truck.
The bricks are lying every which way. Kneading the dough stretches and aligns
the gluten, making it more useful, much as a mason aligns the bricks when he
builds a wall.
Yeah, but what about that pile of dough? Well, start by picking it up and
turning it over so both sides are lightly covered with flour. This makes it
easier to handle. However, don't over do it. The biggest mistake beginning
bakers make is to add too much flour to their dough. This makes the bread
dense and heavy. Dough, as
writes would rather be a bit too wet than a bit too dry. When I make a new
recipe for the first time, I use about 3/4 of the flour the recipe calls for,
then I add more a tablespoon at a time. I pretend I'm Ebenezer
that the flour I'm adding costs as much as Saffron (which is often called "the
most expensive spice in the world", and at 30 dollars an ounce and up, it
probably really is the most expensive spice in the world).
Now that the dough has been turned over, pull it toward you. Put the heel of
your hand on the dough and press the dough down and away from you. The dough
will stretch a bit. When you have stretched it as far as you can, fold the top
back over the bottom, and then turn the dough 90 degrees. Repeat the
kneading. After a few minutes, the dough will become much smoother. If the
dough feels very sticky add a bit more flour, putting it on your hands. Some
baking books tell you the dough will stop being sticky. No, not unless you've
added way, Way, WAY!!! too much flour. You are want to create a dough that is
more interested in sticking to itself than to you or to your work surface.
After 5 minutes or so, the dough should be quite smooth. The lumps in the
dough should look like a mild case of cellulite... or be even smaller. Stop
kneading for a second and poke the dough gently with a finger. When you pull
your finger back, the dough should spring back quickly. If it doesn't spring
back, knead some more.
I have put together some movies of me kneading dough, and they are in a page
featuring a recipe for
Mexican Anise Bread.
Once the dough is springy and lively, it's time for what bakers call "the
windowpane test". Start by pulling off a piece of dough about the size of a
walnut. Roll it between your hands for a few seconds to smooth the damage done
when you pulled the dough away from the larger chunk of dough. Now, using both
hands, pull the dough between your hands. The idea is to tease the dough into
a sheet or film. From time to time, rotate the dough 90 degrees so you will be
pulling on different sides. As you pull on the dough, it should form a sheet,
or film, that is thin enough that light can pass through it. No, you won't be
able to see things through it, like you could with a real window. The dough
shouldn't tear when you do this.
If you can form a windowpane, the dough is fully developed. If you can't,
then knead another 5 minutes or so. When I made this bread, I formed a
windowpane after about 10 minutes of kneading. I should have kneaded it a bit
more. This will not work with breads that have lots of stuff - like nuts,
seeds, raisins and so on - in them. But after you do this a few times, you'll
know how your dough should feel.
Now that you have developed your dough, it's time to let it rise. Form it into
a ball. I prefer
to do this by holding the dough in my cupped hands, and then
I stretch the dough from the top to the bottom, tucking the dough under and
into the lump of dough. The top surface will smooth out a bit more. I turn
the loaf as I work in it, so I form a ball pretty quickly. When the dough is a
ball, it's time for the first rise. Set down the dough, clean and dry your
mixing bowl, and pour a tablespoon of olive
into the bowl. Put the dough
into the bowl, smooth side down. Then turn the dough over, and move it around
a bit so the whole surface of the dough is covered in
surface of the dough from drying out, so the dough can rise. Now put some
saran wrap or a Quick Cover over the bowl and set it aside. In as little as an
hour, or as much as two hours, depending on the temperature of the dough and
your room, the dough will have doubled in size.
While the dough is rising, clean and dry your work surface. Once the dough has
doubled, spray your baking pan with Baker's Joy - or just use Olive
or butter to lube it. Now, pour
the dough out onto your clean and dry work surface. Knead it briefly. Now
roll the dough out so it is a bit wider than your baking pan. Roll the dough,
as your would a jelly roll, pinching the seam that forms as you roll the dough
to seal it. Once the dough is rolled, pinch the bottom seal shut. If it won't
seal, you probably added too much flour and the dough is too dry. Try to add
less next time.
Now roll the dough over so the seam is down. Put the baking pan next to the
dough, and press down
on the dough with your hands to create a loaf about the
length of the pan. Tuck the rest of the dough under the loaf, flip the loaf
over and pinch the seams. Roll the dough a bit to smooth it. Dough is pretty
plastic stuff, so you can stretch or compress the
dough a bit to make it fit
the pan better. Drop the dough into the pan, and cover the pan. Set the pan
in a warm, draft-free place and let it
again. You should have sized the
dough and the pan so that the dough can double in size as it rises. If the
dough is too large, next time use two pans, a larger pan, or make somewhat less
The dough will double in about 1/2 the time it took the first time. Once it's
your oven's rack in the lower third of the oven, make sure you
have room to put a loaf in, and then heat your oven to 400F. Once the oven is
hot, brush the top of the loaf with some cold water. You may want to slash the
loaf with a serrated knife or with a (clean) razor blade. When the loaf is put
in the oven, chances are good that it will
in the oven. This is called
oven spring. Oven spring can tear up a loaf. Slashing the loaf helps the
loaf's expansion occur where you want it to, instead of tearing up the loaf.
With some loaves that have been allowed to
too long, slashing them can
cause them to collapse. If this happens to you, you can slash the dough as it
begins its final rise. Now, put loaf on the center of the oven rack. In about
20 minutes, open the oven door, and -
using oven mitts! -
turn the loaf around. Most ovens aren't very even, so moving the bread helps
insure even browning. About 15 minutes later, the bread may well be done. Put
a wire cooling rack on a counter top, remove the bread from the oven
- using oven mitts! -
and turn the baking pan over a few inches above the cooling rack. The loaf
should fall out easily. If not, using a table knife can help loosen the loaf.
Tap the bottom of the loaf with a finger. All the cookbooks say the loaf
should sound hollow. However, I don't trust that notion - so stick an instant
reading dial thermometer's probe into the bottom of the bread. It should read
about 205F at sea level. At 7,703 feet above sea level, I usually shoot for
195F. If it's not quite done, put the loaf back in the oven. There's no
reason to put the loaf back in the pan... just slide it back into the oven and
give the loaf another 5 to 10 minutes. Check the loaf again. Once it's done,
turn the oven off, put the bread on a cooling rack, and let the loaf cool for
30 minutes to an hour. While
there's nothing wrong with eating warm bread fresh from the oven, most of us
don't have knives that can cut the soft bread without mangling the loaf. (And
the bread really does taste better once it's cooled a bit.)
I hope your first loaf of kneaded yeasted bread delights you. If it isn't
quite what you wanted it to be, you might check the
bread troubleshooting tips
in another part of this web page. You might give this recipe a
few more tries, and then move on to sourdough.