I love fancy artisan loves, but sometimes a simple, easy to slice loaf of white bread is exactly what a girl needs. I eat peanut butter and jelly sandwiches all the time, and when I have ‘good’ peanut butter or high-end jellies, I want a tasty but basic bread that won’t dominate the experience. This loaf of bread is exactly that – simple, easy, tasty, but plain. It also makes great free-form dinner rolls that taste divine with melting butter! For a sweater loaf, just add a tablespoon of honey. You can make it with water instead of almond milk, or cow milk instead of almond milk, for that matter, but I like the extra rich, nutty flavor the almond milk adds. This recipe will make one very full loaf in a 9×5 pan, two smaller loaves, or an assortment of smaller, freeform pieces.
- 2 cups of all-purpose flour
- 1 teaspoon of yeast, if it’s a little old, or 3/4 of a teaspoon of yeast, if it’s fresh
- 1 tablespoon of table sugar
- 1 tablespoon of vegetable oil or melted butter
- 2 cups of lukewarm milk
- 2-3 additional cups of all-purpose flour
- 3/4 teaspoon of salt
1. Combine the 2 cups of flour, yeast, and sugar in a large bowl and stir throughly.
2. Add the warm milk and oil and stir thoroughly to combine.
3. Add one cup of additional flour and combine. Then, add a second cup. Finally, mix in as much additional flour as you need to make a thick, shaggy dough. It should take several minutes of powerful stirring to combine all the flour and reach this point. You’re not just baking – you’re getting an arm workout!
4. Cover your bowl loosely with plastic wrap and let it sit for about 20 minutes. This is a very important step in the bread baking process and will yield a much tastier loaf! This period of rest is known as autolyse. Technically, autolyse is when you just combine the water and flour and let it hang out, so adding the yeast is really a modified autolyse period. Also, using plastic wrap is so much cleaner than using a dish towel. Dish towels tend to get fuzz and who knows what else all over your bread. Why not just use some plastic wrap, or even an old plastic grocery bag?
5. Stir in the salt, as best you can. Test knead the dough in the bowl and add additional flour if it is too sticky (in other words, if it gloms on to your hands).
6. Turn the bread dough out onto a well floured surface and knead. Add extra flour, as needed, to prevent it from sticking to the surface and your hands. Continue kneading for 8-10 minutes, until the dough is smooth. I get so bored kneading bread, but under-kneaded bread simply isn’t as good. I set up a short playlist of three good songs, enjoy them, and know the bread should be just about finished when the music is!
7. Next, the bread needs to rise. You can either lightly oil and flour a bowl for the bread, or you can use a straight-sided plastic container. Using a plastic container and marking its side is a really easy way to determine whether the bread has doubled in volume or not! Either way, cover the bread loosely with plastic wrap and set it somewhere warm and out of the way. Let it rise for somewhere between an hour and an hour and a half, depending on the the weather. Either check for the dough roughly doubling in volume, or poke at it with a well-floured finger. Bread that’s ready won’t immediately bounce back from its prodding! Bread takes longer to rise at lower temperatures, so go by how it looks and feels, not the clock.
8. Put the dough back on your floured work surface and flatten it with your hands to work out any large air bubbles. Then, dividid it, keep it whole, or make it into a bunch of separate balls. The choice is yours! If you use loaf pans, make sure to give them a light oiling to make removing the bread a breeze.
9. Shape your loaves. If you’re doing freeform, this is easy – just make it look however you would like. For loaf pans, the process is a little tricker and I’m honestly not the world’s best loaf-shaper. Essentially, you want to flatten your dough into a rectangle. Fold two corners down to make an envelope shape, fold the envelope point down, and then roll the flat bottom edge up. Press firmly (but don’t squash it) to remove air bubbles, pinch the seam to close it, and tuck/pinch the ends to close them. Hopefully the pictures below help these instructions make sense!
10. Place the loaves in their pans, if you’re using them, or leave them on the floured surface. Cover again and let rise for an additional 40-60 minutes. The dough should spring back slowly when poked. If you don’t let it rise enough, it will ‘blow it’s top’ in the oven (I was impatient when baking for this post and didn’t let mine rise enough. You may notice the semi-separated top on one of the loaves.). If you let it rise a super long time, it will go flat in the oven. This hasn’t happened to me (knock on wood and all that) and under-proofing loaves is far more common than over-proffing.
11. Preheat your oven to 375.
12. Once the loaves are ready, place them in the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown. Remove from the oven and allow them to cool for 3o minutes in the pan before turning them out.
13. Enjoy your delicious, homemade bread!
To store, wait until the bread is completely cool and place in a bread box or ziplock bag. Because it lacks preservatives, it does need to be eaten fairly quickly. It does freeze well, though. I like to freeze one loaf whenever I bake two! Wrap it tightly in aluminum foil and seal it inside a freezer bag. Well-sealed frozen bread keeps for a couple of months.
Do you enjoy baking bread? It has a reputation for being difficult, and bread does kind of have a mind of its own. This recipe is super simple, though, and I know people who can’t cook but are fabulous bakers. Go ahead, give this loaf a try!