For an allegedly digital individual, I revert to analog ways more often than you might guess. I live in a 93-year-old house, dry clothes on a line in the summer, own a manual typewriter, and like to get my hands dirty gardening. And I haven’t bought sandwich bread since 2005 or so, because I bake my own.
I came across this recipe–after many years in which I couldn’t get sandwich bread to work–about eight years ago in the Post’s Food section. Rose Levy Beranbaum’s article, headlined “The Lazy Loaf,” promised bread in under four hours, and her instructions lived up to that advance billing. (In the spring of 2010, I was delighted to see Beranbaum post a few comments on my own blog.)
I’ve since made a few tweaks to the recipe, including variations for hot dog and sandwich buns as well as English muffins. I’m still seeing if I can get the hang of bagels.
FYI, I posted a version of this on my Facebook page in February of 2011. But the visibility of old Facebook notes is minimal, and I’d like to think that many of you missed this the first time around.
Our Weekly Bread
Makes a 9-inch sandwich loaf
- 1 1/4 cup hot water out of the tap
- 2 1/4 teaspoons yeast (one standard packet, although I measure it out of a Costco-size bag)
- 1 teaspoon honey
- 3 1/2 cups flour: I usually combine 2 1/2 c all-purpose unbleached white flour with 1 c whole-wheat flour, but I’ll use as much as 1/2 c and as little as 1/2 c of the latter, and sometimes I’ll mix in some rye or flaxseed flour for a heartier flavor.
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1 tablespoon of herbes de provence, Italian seasoning or dried oregano (optional, but recommended if you’re using all or mostly white flour).
- 1/4 cup olive oil, plus additional for the bowl
Add yeast and honey to the hot water and whisk together. Let stand for 10 minutes, until the yeast foams.
In a mixing bowl, whisk together the flours and mix in the salt and, if using, any dried herbs. Pour in the water/yeast/honey mixture, then the oil.
Use a standing mixer’s dough hook to knead the dough until smooth and springy, about 7 minutes (the original recipe says you can knead by hand for 10 minutes, but I’ve never tried that). The dough should be soft and cling slightly to your fingers, not the bowl. Shape the dough into a ball, kneading a few times by hand.
Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot. Set aside to rise until the dough has doubled in size, from 1.5 to 2 hours, depending on the temperature.
Butter a loaf pan. Turn the dough onto a work surface, such as a clean countertop dusted with flour, shape it into a rectangle and fold the longer side over. Then flatten that into a rectangle and fold that over again. Finally, flatten it a third time, then roll that up tightly and pinch the seam with your fingers to seal it.
Place the roll, seam-side down, in the pan, then cover with plastic wrap. Let it rise until almost doubled, from 45 minutes to as long as an hour and 45 minutes depending on temperature. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees about 30 minutes into that second rise, longer if it seems to be going slowly; if you let the pan rest on top of the oven, the residual warmth will help the yeast do its job. Bake at 375 degrees for 40 minutes.
Remove the bread from the pan and let it cool on a rack for at least an hour, preferably two.
Hot dog and sandwich buns
After I’d gotten the hang of sandwich bread, I had to try making a smaller form of the same product. Beranbaum’s original recipe included the tantalizing note that it also worked for “hot dog and hamburger buns (with the addition of a little oil to soften the crust and crumb),” but provided no details. So I had to improvise a little–an easy thing to do, considering how cheap the ingredients are.
Use 3 cups white flour, 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour. After first rise, separate dough into two halves. Divide each half into six sections, three slightly bigger than other three. (If you’re the sort of detail-oriented nutjob to break out a kitchen scale, the smaller ones should weigh about 2 1/4 ozs. each and the larger ones 2 3/4 ozs.)
Shape the heavier ones into sandwich buns by rolling them into balls and them flattening them with your hand; shape the lighter ones into hot dog buns by rolling them into thin cylinders about 6 inches long. Place on a cooking sheet covered with parchment paper and let rise for an hour, until at least doubled in size.
Brush the tops of the sandwich buns with water and sprinkle with sesame seeds if you want, then bake them at 375 degrees for 22 minutes. Cool on a rack for an hour.
With hamburger and hot dog buns figured out, English muffins were next. Here, Mark Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything” provided valuable guidance. So did cooking a few too-thin and too-thick muffins.
Use 3 cups white flour, 1/2 cup whole-wheat flour. After first rise, separate dough into 12 equal parts (for the detail-obsessed, about 2 1/2 ozs. each). Shape each into a disc, 3 to 4 inches across, dust with flour or cornmeal on each side, place on a floured surface, and top with wax paper and then a cooking sheet before letting rise for 45 minutes.
Warm a large pan over almost medium heat and scatter with cornmeal. Cook the muffins on each side until lightly browned, about 4 minutes per side. You will need to move them around the pan frequently to balance out hot spots and check for doneness; press lightly with a spatula if they get thicker than 3/4 inches. Use a damp paper towel to clean out burnt cornmeal between batches. Let cool on a rack for an hour. You should be able to split them apart with a fork before toasting, although not as easily as with store-bought muffins.
Revised 11/4/14 with directions based on my limited experience baking baguettes that should ensure a stronger, more consistent second rise. Revised again 7/27/2015 to delete an optional ingredient.