Ready or Not #90: White Bread

Twenty years ago my friend gave me this bread recipe that had been handed down from mother to daughter for several generations.  The recipe had never been written down and so I begged my friend to write it down so that it wouldn’t be forgotten – and so I could try it.  The reason that I liked it so much was because it was so light and it tasted wonderful, but it was also sturdy enough to make sandwiches and not fall apart.  I was also impressed that it didn’t use eggs, not because I was worried about calories or cholesterol, but because the fewer ingredients needed in a recipe, the less I have to worry about running out of ingredients.

Before I actually give you the recipe, let me first explain a few things.  I can’t tell you how much flour to use – I’ve never measured it and even if I had, it would change each time depending on the humidity and the flour itself.  The secret to good bread is the feel of the dough.

My suggestion is if you have never made bread before is to make it by hand before you start using your mixer or bread making machine.  There is a feel to the bread and the only way you can really get it right is to look at it and feel how the dough responds when it has the right amount of flour.  If you put in too much flour it is tough and heavy and a bit crumbly.  If you don’t put enough flour in it, it is too light and it won’t stand up to much more than making toast.

Whether you are mixing it by hand or machine, when it starts to hold together or pull away from the side of the bowl that is when it is just right.  If it is too sticky to handle then just keep dusting it with just a little bit of flour so that you don’t overdo it.  Enough said.

Next, knead it.  Don’t just sit there and poke at it.  You need to pull it up over on top of itself and push it down, turn a quarter turn, pull it up over again and push it in with the heal of your hand and keep repeating.  Dust the countertop with just enough flour to keep it from sticking – not more.  Remember that you don’t want to make the dough tough.

I use powdered milk to make my bread and it is VERY important that you use good tasting high quality powdered milk; if you don’t it will make the bread taste terrible.  If you don’t have good powdered milk, then use regular milk.  I personally like the Country Cream brand and have had really good luck with it, but you can use any brand you want as long as it tastes good.

White Bread
½ cup dry powdered milk (or 2 cups milk)
1 Tbsp. salt
½ cup + 1 Tbsp. sugar
1 cube margarine or ½ cup light olive oil (I prefer the olive oil)
4 cups water (or 2 cups of water if you use 2 cups of milk above)
1 Tbsp. yeast (Tip: Store your yeast in the freezer)

Heat one cup of water over medium heat and add powdered milk, sugar, salt and oil and stir until everything is dissolved.  Add three cups cold water to hot mixture.

Put some flour (anywhere from four to six cups to start) in a large bowl (or mixer) and mix in the yeast (I use the kind that you don’t have to start ahead of time).  Add liquid to flour and stir.  Continue adding flour until it starts to pull away from the bowl.  If you are mixing by hand, pour out contents on counter and continue kneading and adding flour a little at a time until it feels right – just trust yourself.

After making it a couple times you will begin to know what density you prefer.  If you are mixing with a mixer, just keep adding the flour a little at a time until it pulls away from the bowl and is somewhat self-contained.  Let raise, punch down, form into loaves, let raise again and bake at 400º for 18 minutes.  Don’t over bake.  The dough or the baked bread freezes well.  If you are freezing the bread or rolls, make sure they are cooled down before freezing.

Depending on what size loaf pan you have, this recipe will make either three or four loaves.  You can also make eight rolls per loaf of bread dough or three large bread bowls.  Just remember that the more you practice the better you will become and your family will love being your test subjects.

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