There’s a lot of magic that goes on in the kitchen. Stirring together sauces until they are delicious and creamy. Browning chicken to that perfect crispiness. The endless cookie possibilities you can get by stirring the same things together over and over; butter, sugar, eggs, flour, salt, baking soda, baking powder. Baking custards into perfection. Chocolate, in general.
But of all the amazing things that can be created, the pastries and cakes and fancy breakfasts, there is almost nothing so magical as baking a simple loaf of bread. Nothing so amazing as uncovering the rising dough and seeing that it worked and smelling that sweet smell of the yeast. It never ceases to amaze me, when I lift that towel to see my dough boldly risen and doubled in size without my having even noticed the process and definitely without my need to have helped it along.
And while it is all very magical, there is also nothing so primitively satisfying as making a loaf of bread. Sometimes I just crave that kneading of the dough, of feeling it sticky at first and transforming it with the simple work of my hands into something solid and tacky and smooth. And then there is that moment you put it in the oven and that exact smell of home starts to permeate every room.
Every time I make a loaf of bread I say I need to do it more, and yet I don’t because I’m not willing to commit as often as I should. There is too much life to live. But in kneading bread and watching it rise I think I find a peacefulness that my life needs, and that I should look for more often.
This is just a basic white bread recipe that I’ve made several times, and I want to share it with you because it made my Friday last week so much better than Friday already is.
Basic White Bread
from The All-New Ultimate Southern Living Cookbook
Prep Time: 40 minutes
Wait Time: 2 hours 30 minutes
Bake Time: 50 minutes
Makes 2 loaves
7 1/2 (more or less) cups all-purpose flour, divided
3 tablespoons sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 (1/4 oz.) envelopes active dry yeast
1 1/2 cups water
1/2 cup milk
3 tablespoons butter
1. In a large bowl combine 2 cups flour, sugar, salt, and yeast. Stir together and set aside.
2. In a medium-sized saucepan combine water, milk, and butter. Heat over medium heat until the butter melts, stirring often. Remove from heat and allow to cool to 120 to 130 degrees Fahrenheit (use a candy thermometer).
3. Gradually add the liquid to the dry ingredients, beating with an electric mixer on medium-high speed. Then beat for 2 minutes on medium speed. Gradually add 3/4 cup more flour, beating for another 2 minutes. Finally, stir in enough of the remaining flour to form a dough.
4. Dump dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 10 minutes, adding more flour to the board as needed, until the dough is smooth and elastic and no longer sticks to surfaces and hands.
5. Shape the dough into a ball and place into a greased bowl (either coated with olive oil or sprayed with non-stick cooking spray). Turn the dough so that it gets greased as well (or spray the top of the dough). Cover the bowl and allow dough to rise in a slightly warm place free from drafts (inside a turned-off oven is a good spot) until the dough is doubled in bulk, about 1 hour.
6. Punch the dough down and dump onto a lightly floured surface. Knead the dough lightly 4 to 5 times. Divide the dough in half and roll each half out into a rectangle about 14 x 7 inches. Roll up each rectangle of dough into a loaf, rolling from narrow end to narrow end, pressing tightly as you fold to eliminate any air bubbles.
7. Place each loaf seam side down in a greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. Cover the loaves and let rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
8. Preheat oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit.
9. Once the loaves have risen, uncover and bake for 45-50 minutes, until they are golden brown on top and sound hollow when you tap them. Remove bread from pans immediately and cool on wire racks. Serve warm or at room temperature.