It’s crazy to think how many ways there are to make a loaf of bread. It can be easy or it can be involved. It can take a few hours, or it can take a few days. You can be messy or tidy, careless or precise. And those little yeastie beasties will still do their work. Wonders they are.
This is my every day bread. It’s a get-the-ingredients-from-the-store bread. It’s a soft, keeps-well, not-very-much-crust, kid-friendly sandwich bread. Nick and I make it together — I do the kneading, he does the loaves — and we’ve made it at least a hundred times. The eating of it is pretty good, especially right out of the oven with butter. But it’s the making of it that really sets me right, especially if I’m a steaming grumpy mess.
I’m not going to put too many words to it, though, today. It’s a wordless magic. If you’ve made this bread, or a bread like it, maybe you can tell me what it is about it that calms the soul.
Here’s the recipe.
Nick and Esther’s Every Day Yeast Bread
(This makes 4 loaves! halve the recipe if you have a smaller or less bread-addicted family than ours)
6 tsp yeast (a little more than two packets; two packets would do)
2 Tbsp plus 6 Tbsp real maple syrup or honey
2 cups plus 4 cups warm water
8 Tbsp butter (melted), plus butter or oil to grease the bowls and pans
4 tsp salt
8 cups whole wheat flour
6 cups plus at least 1 more cup unbleached all purpose flour
1. Proof the yeast. Combine yeast, 2 Tbsp maple syrup and 2 cups warm water in a small bowl. Stir once and set aside for 5 to 10 minutes, preferably in front of a small child (or ageless adult) who will enjoy watching it get bubbly.
- Make the sponge. Combine melted butter, salt, 6 Tbsp maple syrup and 4 cups water in a very large bowl. Add the now-bubbly yeast mixture. Add the whole wheat flour about two cups at a time, stirring as you go. Then stir all in one direction about 100 vigorous strokes. (And skip going to the gym.) Use a spatula to scrape the batter down off the sides of the bowl. Sprinkle the six cups of white flour on top of the sponge, but DO NOT mix it in. Cover with a cloth and let sit two hours.
Knead. Use a wooden spoon to mix in all the flour. (Skip going to the gym again.) Put lots of all purpose flour (at least half a cup) on a countertop or other smooth surface, then turn your very sticky dough out onto the flour. (If you’re reusing your big bowl, wash it out at this point and get it greased up with butter or oil. Or, you can have a second big bowl greased up in advance.) Knead the dough, adding flour as you go, for about ten minutes. I stop kneading when the dough no longer sticks to my fingers and I can make a dent with my finger and watch the dough bounce back to fill the dent. Put your dough into the prepared bowl, turning once to grease both sides, cover and let sit for 40-45 minutes.
Make loaves. Grease up four loaf pans. We use butter. Oil works, too, but be liberal with it, this is a sticky dough recipe (that’s why it’s soft and the kids like it.) Punch down your dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Shape the dough into a round and use a sharp knife to cut it into two equal parts. Then take each of those halves and repeat, so that you have four equal parts. Each of your four sections will make a loaf. Roll the portion of dough out into a flat rectangle, then roll it up like a jelly roll, keeping enough flour on it so it slides across the counter, but not so much that it doesn’t stick to itself. Then pinch it closed, turn it so the pinch line is on the bottom, and fold under the ends. Set each loaf in a pan. Cover and let sit for 40-45 minutes.
Bake in 350 degree oven. 40 mins for a pale bread that will last longer, 45 minutes for a more golden crust. Turn it out of the loaf pans immediately to cool on a rack. (That’s important. You don’t want it to stick to the pans!) If you want, you can tap the bottom of the loaf and listen to make sure it is done. It should sound hollow.
Here it is in printable form, in case that’s more convenient, or in case the calming effect of kneading bread is weakened by an open internet connection.