for a perfect loaf every time
by Amy Daniels
There are few scents more heavenly than that of freshly baked bread. Doesn’t the thought make you long for the aroma? Whether you are a Betty Crocker in the kitchen or not, fresh baked bread is a lot easier to accomplish that most people realize. You don’t even need any fancy equipment.
Bread machines are nice if you want fresh bread with almost no effort (measure ingredients, push a couple buttons, voila, fresh bread). But bread machines are large, bulky pieces of equipment that take up quite a bit of counter or cabinet space and they typically produce awkwardly shaped loaves. Stand mixers are wonderful multi-purpose additions to a kitchen. They are large, too, but they are time saving and versatile. Using the dough hook attachment of a mixer makes baking a breeze.
Ultimately, though the only equipment you really need to make a melt-in-your-mouth, sinfully delicious loaf of bread in your own kitchen is a large bowl, a mixing tool, and an oven.
There are so many methods and recipes for bread making, it can be overwhelming to know where to start. If you want a dense, crusty bread that goes perfectly with soups and pasta, look up the recipe for King Arthur Crusty White Bread. It’s impossibly easy and always delicious.
For an everyday, light, fluffy loaf of bread, I have the perfect recipe that will have your entire home smelling like heaven in only 2 hours. Bonus: It’s a perfect base recipe to which you can add other flavors.
4½ teaspoons yeast
¾ cup + 2 ⅔ cups warm water
¼ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, (cubed, at room temperature)
9 to 10 cups all-purpose flour
3 tablespoons unsalted butter (melted, for brushing)
Dissolve the yeast in ¾ cup of warm water (from the tap, stick your finger in to test the temperature; so long as it’s warm and not scalding hot, it’s fine). Let it sit for 5 minutes, then add the remaining water, sugar, salt, cubed butter, and half of the flour. Stir to combine.
If you have a stand mixer, now is the time set up the dough hook (low speed). If all you have is a bowl and wooden spoon, it will take longer to mix, but you’ll still end up with gorgeous bread.
Gradually add the remaining flour until the dough is soft and tacky, but not sticky. A soft ball of dough will for and clear the sides of the bowl after about 7 to 10 minutes.
Set the dough in a lightly greased bowl, turn it over so it is completely coated. Cover with plastic wrap for light towel and set aside to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes to 1 hour. (I typically let my dough rise in the cold, closed oven.)
Gently turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly floured surface and press all over to remove air pockets. Divide the dough in two and set one piece aside. Gently pat the dough into a rectangle, roughly 9×13 inches in size (it doesn’t have to be perfect).
If you’re adding any flavors, spread up half a cup over the surface of the dough, all the way to the edges. Try a blend of Italian herbs, garlic salt, and black pepper. Or honey and sunflower seeds. Or feta cheese, olives, and rosemary. Or cinnamon and raisins. Or craisins, orange zest, and pepitas. You get the picture.
Roll up the rectangle (jelly roll style. Starting on the short end and roll into a log shape, pinching to seal the seams ends.
Grease a 9-inch loaf pan. Place your bread roll in the pan, tucking the ends underneath. Repeat with the second piece of dough.
Cover the loaves loosely and place in a draft-free area until doubled in size, 30 to 45 minutes.
Move your oven racks to the lowest positions and preheat to 400 degrees F. Brush the loaves with about half of the melted butter and bake for 30-35 minutes (rotate at 15 minutes to ensure even baking), until golden brown.
Remove from the oven and brush with remaining melted butter. Cool for 10 minutes, remove from pans, cool completely before slicing, or tear a chunk off and enjoy it as soon as it’s cool enough to handle. If you wait until it’s cool, you’ll be rewarded with gorgeous slices, showcasing a swirl of any goodies you added to the roll. If you can’t wait that long, there will be no judgment.
*Notes: Olive oil can be used in place of butter. Do not replace the sugar with any 0 calories sweetener options—the yeast needs the sugar in order for the dough to rise properly.