When I was growing up, my mom occasionally baked bread, although I don’t think I really appreciated it. When I was in high school, she got a bread machine. My sisters and I thought it was the best invention ever.
First thing in the morning, she would dump all the ingredients inside and set the timer. Then we’d all come home after school and stand in the kitchen together and eat bread. We sliced the almost perfectly square loaf (with a hole in the middle for the blade), and drizzled it with squeezable butter and honey. It was the best.
Years later when I wanted to make my own bread, the only way I dared was to use the bread machine my mom bought for me. I thought that working with yeast was way too scary. Even when I began baking bread in the oven, I actually mixed the dough and let it rise in the magic box that made perfect dough every time. What? But eventually I got brave enough to try, and it turned out that there was nothing to fear.
The most intimidating part was getting the water to the right temperature for the yeast to do its thing. A food thermometer makes that part easy, but it isn’t completely necessary. King Arthur Flour has some great tips for activating yeast and working with dough. And one thing I’ve learned to do, whether or not it’s in the recipe, is add a bit of honey to the yeast and warm water. Yeast really likes honey.
Once the yeast gets going, the rest is easy and fun. In just a few hours when your kitchen smells like fresh baked bread, you’ll be ready for a slice. Just remember, it tastes the best standing right there in the kitchen.
Bakes Two Loaves (8 x 4-inch)
1 ¼ teaspoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon honey
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons granulated sugar
1 1/3 cups whole milk
3 ½ cups bread flour, as needed
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
Sprinkle the yeast over 1/3 cup warm milk (105-115 degrees) and honey in a small bowl. Let stand 5 minutes, and then stir well to dissolve. Pour into the mixer bowl. Add 1 cup cold milk and the sugar and whisk to combine.
Attach the bowl to the mixer and fit with the paddle attachment. On low speed, beat in half of the flour, then the salt. Add the softened butter, 1 tablespoon at a time, and mix until it is absorbed into the dough. Continue adding enough of the flour to make a soft dough that cleans the bowl. You might be tempted to keep adding flour to make it easier to work with, but please don’t do it. You want the dough to be a bit tacky or sticky to make soft bread. Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook. Knead on medium-low speed until smooth and elastic, about 6 minutes.
Spray the inside of a medium bowl with cooking spray. Shape the dough into a taut ball. Place in the bowl and turn to coat with spray on all sides. Cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let stand in a warm place until the dough doubles in volume, about 1 ¼ hours.
Lightly spray the insides of two 8 x 4 x 2 ½-inch loaf pans with cooking spray. Divide the dough in half. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Gently pressing to deflate the dough, shape into a thick 8-inch long rectangle. Starting from the long side, rolls and shape into an 8-inch long loaf and press the long seam closed. Place, seam side down, in the pan. Repeat with the remaining dough.
Slip the pans into tall food-safe plastic bags. Tightly close the bags, trapping air in the bag to partially inflate it. Let stand until the loaves gently dome about an inch above the tops of the pans, about 45 minutes, then remove from the bags.
Bake the loaves, uncovered, until golden brown 35 to 40 minutes. Remove the pan from the oven and carefully slide the bread out of the pan. Turn the bread over and tap the bottom. It will sound hollow when done. The internal temperature should be about 190 degrees. Cool in the pans for 5 minutes, unmold onto racks, and cool completely.
Recipe from Sarabeth’s Bakery: From My Hands To Yours