Buttermilk Bread - made January 10, 2011 from Baking in America by Greg Patent (book #35)
When I was a kid, my mom used to make homemade bread regularly. She used a recipe for potato bread that I found addicting. I have fond memories of cutting a thick slice of fresh-baked bread, still steaming, and spreading butter to melt over it. There was nothing better than that slice of fresh baked, warm bread. Anything store-bought just couldn't compare. Sadly, it almost seems like the days of homemade bread have gone by the wayside. At least, in most working families that I know. In today's busy environment and shelves of convenience food, not to mention the modern convenience of breadmakers, the days of old-fashioned "mix the dough, let it rise, knead the dough, let it rise some more, knead it again, shape it and let it rise one last time" feel extinct. Does anyone still make homemade bread the old-fashioned way?
I myself rarely bake bread or any kind of yeasted dough. It's not hard to do but it takes time, especially if you have more than one rising. Bread making is not for the rushed or impatient which, by necessity, most of us have to be just to fit life in. Fortunately, however, I have all kinds of time these days and a cloudy, overcast day seemed like a perfect day to make fresh bread. This is a standard bread recipe except for the buttermilk but I'm always on the lookout for recipes that use buttermilk so I can use all mine up before it expires (always a constant battle). With a KitchenAid mixer, it's even easier to make the dough - throw it in the bowl and let the dough hook do its job. Much as I love homemade bread, I don't enjoy kneading it. The trick to good bread is kneading the dough well enough to develop the gluten. How do you know when the gluten is fully developed? It's a matter of feel and look. A properly kneaded dough is elastic and not too sticky. You can also pull the dough and make a "window pane" by stretching the dough without it breaking. If you don't knead it enough, your dough is clumpy and sticky. If you knead it too much, the gluten breaks and your dough isn't stretchy. We made bread doughs in culinary school and it's something you get good at with lots of practice but it's definitely an art. I've been out of practice for awhile so I wanted to try something fairly simple....and shamelessly used my Kitchen Aid and dough hook.
When my mom made bread and needed a warm place for the dough to rise, she would boil hot water, pour it into a shallow pan set in the oven and place the dough in a bowl on the rack above the pan of steaming water. The hot water and steam provided a warm, humid place for the dough to rise and whenever it had cooled off too much, my mom simply boiled more water and replaced the cooled water in the baking pan with more hot water. I thought I would have to do the same thing, especially since it was a cold day and the recipe says to let the dough rise at room temperature. Room temperature in winter can be pretty cool and not warm enough to let bread dough rise. However, when I looked at the bells and whistles on my oven, I discovered a setting marked "Proof". Seriously? Yippee! I pressed the button and the oven warmed to just the right temperature to gently allow the dough to rise but not so hot that it actually baked the dough. Genius, these oven people are.
I only made half the recipe since I didn't need 2 loaves of bread. The first rising went fine and so did the second rising. I took the dough, kneaded it a bit with a little flour and put it in a greased loaf pan. Put it to proof in the oven for an hour while I did other stuff. When I came back after 70 minutes (lost track of time), the dough had risen and spilled over the sides of the pan. Eek. I scraped off the excess dough at the sides and set the loaf to bake but put the loaf pan on a baking sheet in case any more dough spilled over.
I forgot to time it so I don't know how long I baked it but I baked it until it was the golden brown color you see. I did brush it with egg wash before I baked it to help it brown better. Overall, this was pretty good. The inside was soft but not too soft and it was chewy. The outside was crusty but not hard. I expect it'll soften once it's cool. I can taste the tang of the buttermilk. It's not quite as good as my mom's potato bread recipe though so I'm going to have to look up that recipe and try it myself.
2 cups warm buttermilk (105⁰ - 115⁰F)
½ cup warm water (105⁰ - 115⁰)
1 ¼-ounce package (2 ¼ teaspoons) fast-rise active dry yeast
7 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more as needed
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 large egg
¼ cup sugar or ½ cup untoasted wheat germ
1 tablespoon salt
1. In a mixer bowl, stir the buttermilk, water, yeast and 3 cups of flour together with a wooden spoon. Beat until smooth, cover tightly with plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature until doubled in volume and bubbly, about 1 to 1 ½ hours.
2. If using a stand mixer, add the butter, egg, sugar or wheat germ, salt and the remaining 4 cups of flour to the bowl. Attach the dough hook and knead on low to medium speed for 5 to 8 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic, cleans the sides of the bowl, and is only slightly sticky. Knead in a bit more flour if the dough seems too wet and sticky.
3. Lightly oil a 6-quart bowl or coat with cooking spray. Add the dough, turn to coat all surfaces, and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise at room temperature until almost tripled in volume, about 1 ½ hours.
4. Butter or grease two 9 x 5 x 3-inch loaf pans or coat with cooking spray; set aside. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and pat it gently to remove any air bubbles. Divide the dough in half, and shape each piece into a loaf. Place the loaves into the prepared pans. Cover loosely with lightly oiled plastic wrap and set aside at room temperature until the centers of the loaves have risen 1 ½ to 2 inches above the rims of the pans, about 1 hour.
5. About 30 minutes before the loaves are ready to bake, adjust an oven rack to the lower third position and preheat the oven to 375⁰F.
6. Remove the plastic wrap from the loaves and place in the oven, leaving a few inches between the pans. Bake for 35 to 45 minutes, until the loaves are well browned and sound hollow when you remove them from the pans and rap the bottoms. They will not rise much. Cool on wire racks.