All this cold, wet weather we’ve been having in Boston has put me in a serious mood for comfort food. (I mean, really. Folks in the northeast: Are you ready for spring, or what?)
Freshly baked bread is always near the top of my list of yummy, carb-laden indulgences.
Much like homemade butter, once you make your own sandwich bread, it’s kind of hard to go back to regular ole grocery store white bread.
Making your own bread is also really easy to do. It takes a few hours to make bread from start to finish, but most of that is for the actual rising and baking. There’s very little real hands-on time.
This recipe makes two one-pound (i.e. standard size) loaves of bread. Bake them on Sunday night—along with, say, a Deli-Style Roast Beef—and you’ll have delicious sandwiches all week long.
The crumb is even and light in texture.
The crust is soft and just a little bit chewy.
And nothing makes your house smell as wonderful as freshly baked bread.
Not to mention, it makes amazing toast.
You don’t need any special equipment to make bread. Just a couple of regular loaf pans (you can get fancy ones, or pick a few up at a well-stocked hardware store).
I usually use my stand mixer (it’s faster) to knead the dough, but you can just as easily (well, almost) do it the old-fashioned way: With your hands and a little elbow grease. There’s actually something really satisfying about kneading bread dough by hand.
Three important things to know about yeast
- Keep your yeast cold—It’s a living organism, and too much heat will kill it. (Dead yeast = dough that doesn’t rise.) The fridge or freezer is best.
- Measure your yeast by hand—Especially if it comes in those little paper packets. (You know the ones I mean.) The amount in each envelope can vary a fair amount.
- Always proof your yeast at the beginning of a recipe—Most recipes will start with something like, “Add your yeast to lukewarm water and let it sit for 10 minutes.” When it bubbles, you know it’s happy and alive. That way, you know if you have a problem with your yeast BEFORE you add all the other ingredients to the dough.
I’ve used SAF Instant Yeast for years. (The folks at King Arthur Flour swear by it for reliability.) I keep mine in the freezer in a mason jar.
Here you go.
Homemade Sandwich Bread
2 cups lukewarm water
2 Tbls. sugar
1 Tbls. dry active yeast
2 Tbls. butter, softened
5 1/2 cups all purpose flour + more for kneading the dough
1 Tbls. kosher salt
Yields 2 standard loaves
Proof the yeast
Put the water and sugar in a large mixing bowl.
Whisk vigorously to dissolve the sugar. (Yeast eats sugar, so consider this its appetizer before you add the flour.)
Toss in the yeast.
Whisk again to dissolve. Walk away from the bowl for 5-10 minutes to give the yeast time to work.
After 5-10 minutes, there should be a thick, creamy layer on the surface of the water.
That means the yeast is alive and kicking, so you can keep right on going.
Make the dough
Toss the flour and salt into the bowl with the yeast.
Cut your soft butter up into a few pieces (to make it easier to work into the dough evenly).
Toss the butter in with the flour.
Mix well to combine the ingredients. If you’re using a stand mixer, use the dough hook. (I use a stand mixer to knead my dough, but I always get it started by hand to keep the flour from flying all over the place.)
Knead the dough for 3-5 minutes.
It’s ready when it’s formed a smooth ball that feels elastic-y when you touch it.
Other signs the dough has been kneaded enough: Very little of the dough will stick to the dough hook when you pull it out of the bowl…
…and there will be very little dough actually sticking to the sides of the bowl.
The first rise
Round the dough up into a ball. Put it in a large, lightly greased bowl.
Coat a piece of plastic wrap with a little oil. Loosely cover the bowl with it, oil side down.
Let it sit in a warm place for about an hour, or until it’s doubled in size. If you check it after about 15 minutes, you should notice that it’s started to grow:
After about an hour, your dough should be doubled in size.
Form the bread loaves
Punch the dough down. (Basically, just poke it a bunch and smoosh the air out of it.)
Knead it a couple of times (I do this in the bowl) and form it into a neat ball. It should be smooth and tacky, but not sticky.
Sprinkle a little flour on a board. Set the dough ball on the flour.
Whack the ball in half with a bencher or a large knife. Each half will become one loaf.
Grab one half of the dough.
Knead it a few times by folding it in thirds over and over.
The second rise
Lightly grease two one-pound loaf pans. Set the formed loaf in one of the pans. Repeat with the other ball of dough.
Set the pans in a warm place, uncovered.
Let the loaves rise like this for about an hour, or until they’ve doubled in size.
About 15 minutes before your hour is up, preheat your oven to 350 degrees.
Bake the bread
When your loaves have doubled in size, pop them into your preheated 350-degree oven for 35-40 minutes.
When they’re done, the tops should be a nice light brown.
Yank the pans out of the oven.
Let them cool for 5 minutes in the pans. Then, with potholders, tip the loaves out of the pans and let them finish cooling on a rack.
(A good tip for checking if your bread is cooked through? Thump on the bottom of the loaf. If it makes a hollow sound, you’re bread is baked through.)
If you can bear it, let them cool to room temperature before slicing. When you slice bread that’s hot out of the oven like this, the remaining loaf can get a little gummy.
Bread will keep well, tightly wrapped on the counter or the fridge, for about 4 days. If, of course, it lasts that long.