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Basic Yeasted White Bread
Introduction to Baking

Basic White Bread, sliced This recipe has been with us for a long, long time.  It's an old favorite.  So it shocked me when I found somewhere between the old web site and the new I managed to mess up the recipe.  Yeah, the mangled version worked, but it just wasn't as good.  The recipe really NEEDS milk, and that was just left out.  So, after several test bakes, here is a corrected - and correct - version of this recipe.  If you tried this before, you might want to try it again.  It really IS a great recipe.  This recipe is part of our "Introduction to Bread Baking" series of posts, which are a great way to get your feet wet in the fun world of bread baking.

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 had been a while since I made this bread, and I had forgotten just how good it is. As you can see in the picture it is truly a WHITE bread!  And despite what the whole grain crusaders tell you that 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 that matter.

Basic White BreadBasic White Bread, toastedThis recipe is adapted 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 worse).  Also, the pictures are from a bake where we used water and instant milk rather than fresh milk.

This recipe is for two 1 3/4 pound loaves.  It seems like a lot, but it gets eaten very quickly around here!

Ingredients:

Volumetric Measure (Cups)IngredientGramsBaker's Percentage (4)
1 3/8 CupsWhole milk at room temperature (1) (2)320 Grams60.92%
2 1/2 TBSPButter (3)35 Grams 6.67%
4 CupsUnbleached All-Purpose Flour530 Grams100%
2 1/2 tspSugar22 Grams4.24%
1/2 + 1/6th tspInstant Dry Yeast1.8 Grams0.33%
1 3/4 tspSalt11 Grams2%

  1. Many books tell you to use milk or water as hot as 110 to 115F, which is hot enough to hurt the yeast.  Shoot for 90 to 100. For a better overview of water temperature, look at The Rule of 240.
  2. We didn't always keep fresh milk in the bakery, so we often used instant milk.  To replace 1 3/8 cups milk, use 1 3/8 cups milk plus 4 TBSP instant milk powder.  For people who weigh ingredients, to 320 grams of water plus 30 grams of instant milk powder.  As always, fresher is better.  Dry milk was a useful crutch.
  3. Solid oils, like butter, tend to build the structure of bread which liquid oils do not.  If you avoid animal fats, cocnut oil may used.  Dice the oil and knead in the solid butter or coconut oil.  Coconut oil will be solid if your kitchen is cool.  If not, just use the coconut oil as a liquid.
  4. The percentages above are accurate, the gram weights are rounded. Put another way, if you do the math, things may not quite add up.

Method:
Put the milk in a mixing bowl. Add the sugar and stir briefly. Add 1/2 of the flour called for in this recipe.  Sprinkle the yeast on top of the flour. Stir the salt, sugar, milk, flour, and yeast together. It should form a batter pretty quickly. Stir until you see strands of gluten forming. Now add another 1/4 of the flour and keep stirring. It should thicken up, and should get harder to stir. If not, add another 1/4 of the flour and keep stirring.

The reason for the uncertainty in the cup measurements is because cups of flour can weigh different amounts.  When using cups, we usually start with about 3/4 of the flour called for and sparingly adding more until the dough is where we want it.  I like to imagine I'm Ebeneezer Scrooge and that flour costs as much as saffron.  Dough would, in general, prefer to be a bit too wet than a bit too dry.  These games are not needed when you have a reliable recipe that uses weight measures.

Adding the water
Adding sugar
Stiring the sugar and water
Adding Flour

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, marble, granite, 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. In any case, put the dough onto the clean and lightly floured work surface.

A stirring experience
The dough comes together
Flour the cutting board
Ready to knead

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 their 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.  For a more detailed look at kneading, we have a page dedicated to the topic of kneading.

Starting the knead
And we start...
We push the dough
It comes together

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.

Repitiion is the key
It gets better
Mo kneading, mo betta
The poke test
The poke test

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 Beatrice Ojakangas 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 Scrooge and 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.

Break off a piece
A window pane
Rounded and rising

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 oil 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 oil. The oil keeps the 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 two to three 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 pans with Baker's Joy - or just use Olive oil or butter to lube it. Now, pour the dough out onto your clean and dry work surface. Divide into two equal sized chunks.  If you weigh, they should be around 890 grams.  (Yes, that is more than 1 3/4 pounds.  The dough loses weight in the oven.)  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 rise 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 dough.  Repeat with the other dough ball. .

The dough will double in about 1/2 the time it took the first time. When you loaf the dough and set it aside to rise, start preheating your oven to 400F/205C.  Once the dough has doubled, put your oven's rack in the lower third of the oven, make sure you have room to put a loaf in, and then 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 rise 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 rise 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 chef's 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.

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