Two weeks ago, I went to visit one of my dearest friends and her darling daughter. It could not have been more delightful. I gleefully indulged the baby by picking up anything she threw off her jumper and giving it back to her, just to hear her say "uh-oh" when she tossed it back over the side. (You should know that I'm pretty much a "yeah, sorry about that kid" person when it comes to the man overboard game, but "uh-oh" instead of wailing like a banshee goes a long way to melt my cold, cold heart.)
Also, there were delicious foods, including home baked bread. So it broke my heart more than a little to leave them all and come back here. Since there's nothing I can really do about missing the baby, I focused on something more concrete and solvable - the bread. Blessed with a completely unexpected (and frankly unnecessary) snow day, I had a chance to bake up my new favorite bread, James Beard's Basic Homestyle Bread. So good. It's made with milk which just makes it extra delicious in my opinion. Also it bakes up two loaves, which means if I can manage to shove one in the freezer I have a treat for later. I will admit that sometimes I lack the self-control to do this and then Ryan and I eat basically two loaves in 3 days. Shut up.
BEARD'S HOMESTYLE BREAD
1. If you'd like to make bread, and you don't own Beard on Bread, you probably should. I stole my mother's copy which she later demanded back despite the fact that she never bakes bread. Fine, I've got my own copy now dammit. Interestingly enough, you can order it for your Kindle, in case you ever wanted to see how well sticky dough covered fingers and an expensive electronic device get along.
2. James Beard spends a lot of time supposing I have things that I do not now, nor will ever have, like caraway seeds and graham flour and empty one pound coffee tins. This recipe requires none of that nonsense.
1 package dry yeast
2 C warm milk (100-115F) - I use my candy thermometer here, because I don't want my yeast to be killed
2 T sugar
1/4 C melted butter (Beard means unsalted but he doesn't tell you that, no, no.)
2 t of salt (Beard wants you to use 1 T, but I found that to be way too salty).
5-6 C all purpose flour
Heat the milk, I use the stove so I can gauge the temperature properly. Once it reaches the proper temperature, add 1/2 C of it to the yeast and sugar in a small bowl. Let it sit (and the yeast proof) while you get the other things ready. Put the rest of the milk, the salt and the melted butter (now that I do in the microwave) in the bowl of your stand mixer. Use a spatula to mix it about. Fit the mixer with your bread hook and start adding the flour, one cup at a time. After each cup, give it a good stir, scraping down the sides with a spatula as needed to make sure the flour part is in with the dough part. Once you've added the third cup of flour, add the yeast mixture. Again, run the mixer for a minute, then continue adding flour a cup at a time. The goal is to get something firmish. While the texture of the bread ends up slightly different in the end depending on how much flour you add, I liked it very well both ways. You'll end up needing between 4 and 5 cups total. Let the mixer to the main work of kneading for you, running it on a fairly high speed for a few minutes until it's holding together well. I usually finish up with a quick hand knead, just to make sure I like the texture. You want your dough to be soft, not sticky and sort of satiny. Put it in a large buttered bowl, cover with a dish towel and set in a warm draft free place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until doubled in bulk. I have a gas oven so I pop it in there (ON OFF) for the first rise.
When the dough has risen, punch it down and give it a quick knead. Then slice it in half and shape it for two well buttered loaf pans. I don't own two loaf pans, so I used a casserole dish and a loaf pan (I might even like the round better!) Don't feel sad that it looks too small for the pans, time will take care of this. Again, cover the dough and set it to rise in a warm draft-free place. In 1 1/2 to 2 hours it should look nice and puffy (fine, doubled in bulk). Like so:
If you'd been housing them in your oven, take the out and preheat your oven to 400F. If you hadn't been storing them there, you could start preheating earlier. So, while the oven's warming up, use a sharp knife to slice the loaf pan loaf down the middle and to make and x in the top of the round loaf. Then give the top a little brush over with some milk so it's shiny and browned after baking. You could do the same thing with egg white, but it's too much of a hassle for me.
Bake at 400 F for 40-45 minutes (35 in my super fast oven). The bread is done when it's beautifully golden and sounds hollow when you tap it on the bottom. Remove the bread from the pans and try to wait for it to cool before you start eating. This bread is most delicious on the first day, but makes excellent toast so will hold up a bit longer if you are a master of self-control.