[61] Sandwich Bread, Five Ways, Version 1

How to Cook Everything, Revised Edition by Mark Bittman

Well, we’ve discussed this bread a couple of times previously. First because the dough seemed to utterly fail to rise. Time took care of that. Then, since time took care of that, Bill and I decided to give it a go. This was despite the fact that the top of the dough had dried out quite a bit during the rise.

So, with all of that in mind, I’m going to launch straight into the recipe, and skip over the typically longer pre-recipe banter. Of course, there will still be cooking and consumption notes after the recipe. Also, as a note, I have and use a stand mixer for this, so those are the directions I’ll give. Looking at it, it appears Bittman prefers a food processor for this, but I <3 my stand mixer.

Ingredients

3 1/2 c all-purpose flour, more if needed
2 tsp salt
1 1/2 tsp instant yeast (I used active dry yeast)
1 tbsp sugar or honey, more to taste (I used sugar. Honey next time.)
2 + “some” tbsp neutral oil, such as corn or grapeseed; butter’s also okay (I used oil. Yes, Angelique, I know.)
Scant 1 1/2 c cool milk

Instructions

Put half the flour and all of the salt, yeast, sweetener and liquid in the bowl of the mixer, then blend with the paddle attachment on low speed until everything’s combined and smooth. Slowly add the rest of the flour until the mix becomes a ball that pulls away from the sides of the bowl. Feel free to switch to the dough hook if necessary. Once it all holds together in a ball, knead it by hand for one minute, then grease a large bowl with the “some” oil or butter, put the dough in the bowl, cover it with a damp towel and allow it to rise for two hours; roughly doubled in size. Deflate the ball and allow 15 more minutes of rise before shaping it into a loaf shape and placing it in a greased 9″ × 5″ loaf pan. Leave the dough to rise for 1 hour; until the top is nearly level with the top of the pan.

Then, and this is the fun part, preheat the oven to 350F and brush the top of the bread lightly with water. Bake in the preheated oven for about 45 minutes, or until the bread sounds hollow when you tap it. Try not to let the smell of baking bread drive you to eat everything in your pantry.

Once the bread’s done, cool completely on a wire rack before serving. If you’re like me, do something a little dodgy with it and be hesitant to try it until your partner comes home and beats you to it.

Cooking and Consumption Notes

Cooking

Well, man. This is actually not all that hard, especially if you have machinery that can do the kneading for you. Speaking of which, I am bad at following directions I don’t like, so I didn’t do any kneading by hand before the first rise.

Using my stand mixer, I did switch to the dough hook. I’m not convinced I actually had to, but I thought it might do a better job of mixing things up and allowing the dough to form a pretty ball. In the end, I think it was a toss up.

I had to add a great deal more flour than the recipe called for to make it all less sticky enough to form a ball. I don’t know if this is a function of using a stand mixer or the humidity of the air or the phase of the moon or all of those or none.

Now, as I mentioned, I substituted active dry yeast for the instant yeast. According to some random people on the internet you can do this at either a 1:1 ratio or a 1.25:1 ratio (active:instant). I did 1:1, and I also followed the advice of someone in there that I probably didn’t need to proof the little guys because I’d just used the yeast recently and knew it was still good. So, I dissolved the yeast in the cool milk, then added it all in. As you all know, my bread didn’t even consider rising in two hours, but I don’t think it was due to the lack of waiting to proof or even the temperature of the milk. No, I suspect my house was just too damn cold to encourage maximal yeast growth. I should have heated the oven to 170F and put the dough in a glass or metal bowl (instead of the plastic I used) and popped the dough in there.

The reason I say this is that we’ve all seen yeast cause dough to rise in the fridge, so cold isn’t really an impediment to yeast growth, it’s merely non-optimal conditions. My house was certainly warmer than your average fridge, but it was certainly also chilly (I was wearing a sweatshirt and jeans that day vs. yoga pants and a t-shirt), so slower growth was really the ticket there.

Furthermore, the next day, when I let the dough rise for 15 minutes, I tucked that sucker in tight and put it in with my running dryer. I figured more heat and humidity could only help. Sure enough, there was a touch of rise there. When I put it in the loaf pan, I definitely tossed it in a 170F oven for that hour rise. At that point, it rose beautifully.

So, moral of the story? Microbes need warmth to grow and off-gas that delicious carbon dioxide we love so much. This is why bread dough should be warm and leftovers chilled ASAP.

Anyway, since this dough is not very wet, there was definitely a thin “crust” on the top of the dough during the overnight rise. I wasn’t really sure that was going to be baked out, so I did some pseudo-kneading of the bread before the ball & 15 minute rise time. I held it in the air and worked it with my hands in kneading motions (I didn’t feel like cleaning up flour after flouring the counter; sue me). That broke up the crust a great deal, but there were still fine little flecks (and not so fine little flecks in the dough). At that point, I figured the worst that could happen was the bread had some weird chunks in it and we’d toss it. Obviously, this put us basically back to where we were after the failed two hour rise, so I figured it was barely a loss.

Finally, time for the post’s “statement of the obvious”: Don’t forget to grease your loaf pan. Mine are semi-nonstick, so with some prodding with a heat-resistant nylon spatula/turner, I got the loaf out. It’s supposed to just fall out, though, so boo.

Consumption

The eating is the truth in all recipes, isn’t it? Well, unless there’s a spectacular failure in cooking when you follow the directions correctly.

Obviously, my main concern with this bread was the possibility of weird chunks due to that “dough crust” I mentioned above. My secondary concern, which would have been the main concern if everything had gone properly, was how good it would be for sandwiches. The purpose in making this bread was so Bill would have good sandwich bread for his lunches. Finally, we both wanted bread that’s good for breakfast toast.

So, I let this guy cool completely, as I was supposed to do. That was hard at first, since the smell of it baking made me absolutely ravenous and I nearly ate my pantry whole. However, as time went on and the smell lessened, it was easier to let it cool all the way. Also, it was easier to remember the possibility of weird chunky bits, which made me hesitate. Eventually, I just kind of forgot the bread. I am a bad food blogger.

Luckily, Bill came home and took one look at the bread and decided to make toast. Which he REALLY enjoyed. NO chunky bits. He actually had a couple of sandwiches on this before I tried it, and it was fine. Absolutely fine.

He says it’s a little dense for sandwiches, and is prone to drying out. However, it’s excellent toast bread. Now, whether the drying out would have been true without the overnight counter-top rise, I just can’t say, but I bet it would have.

Anyway, we went from my presumed recipe fail to recipe success! That’s fabulous, and indicates why I’m willing to risk epic kitchen fail. I’m glad it hasn’t happened just yet, though.