Do you have a secret food vice? You know, a food you're sort of embarrassed to admit that you love? For me, it's white bread. WHAT, you say? All that refined white flour and blandness??!! You write a food blog, for cryin' out loud! I know, I know, I'm sorry, I've tried and tried to develop a taste for whole wheat, whole grain, rye, pumpernickel etc. and I do like them, but nothing comes close to the way I feel about my old standby. White toast with butter is my favorite comfort food! For a long time now I have tried to make a really stellar loaf of homemade white bread and while some of my attempts have been halfway decent, none have come close to this wonderful recipe by master bread baker, Peter Reinhart, today's Famous Friday subject. It's everything you want a loaf of white bread to be--not too dense, soft, and mildly flavored with an appealingly chewy crust--the best I've ever made!!
Peter Reinhart, legendary in the bread baking world, teaches baking at Johnson and Wales University and is the author of 5 cookbooks on bread baking, including The Bread Baker's Apprentice, which was awarded cookbook of the year by both the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals. It's also home to this amazing recipe for perfect white bread. Peter's books are not just filled with great recipes but techniques for making all different kinds of bread successful for home cooks who don't have an industrial oven or access to certain ingredients that are only sold wholesale for professional use.
Other than the wonderful outcome, what I loved about this recipe was how clear the directions were and how flexible the recipe was in both ingredients and bread shapes. I chose boules because they just looked so adorable, but you could also use this same recipe to make loaves, dinner rolls or hamburger and hot dog buns. Similarly you could use, butter, margarine or shortening and choose between three variations of the recipe (I chose Variation 1). And while this takes some time from the first mixing to the final baking, none of it was difficult or required much hands-on time.
You start by mixing everything together in the bowl of an electric mixer and then switching to the dough hook to knead the bread--just make sure to keep an eye on the mixer as the weight of the dough tends to make the machine jump around and a little and I had a near miss with the mixer almost doing a nosedive off the counter while I was emptying my dishwasher! Don't worry, you can also accomplish everything by hand if you don't have a stand mixer. Once the dough is all mixed and kneaded, you let it ferment for 1 1/2-2 hours until doubled in size, leaving you plenty of time to surf the web, throw in laundry...
Next you partition the risen dough and shape it into small rustic rounds, boules, and let those rise until doubled in size.
Then you're ready to bake! Your kitchen will smell amazing and you will be so excited when you remove them from the oven, because they come out looking perfectly golden brown and bakery worthy. I really had to control the urge to let them cool for an hour and not cut into them right away!
So glad I did because look at the little air pockets which keep the bread soft and light. And the taste..oh! Just exactly what white bread should taste like. Amazing with butter and jam! And this bread truly makes the best toast I've ever had! If the child in you still longs for the deliciousness of white bread, you "knead" to spend a little time in the kitchen with this classic favorite from Peter Reinhart--I promise you'll love it! Have a wonderful weekend and let's hope we don't get any more snow!!!
Peter Reinhart's Boules-Famous Fridays
Makes 4 small boules
Prep Time: 4-5 hours (but only about 40 minutes is really hands-on)
- 4 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 cup powdered milk
- 3 1/4 tablespoons sugar
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast (if you can't find it you can use active dry, but you will need to proof it first)
- 1 large egg, at room temperature and slightly beaten
- 3 1/4 tablespoons butter, margarine or shortening, melted or at room temperature (I used melted butter)
- 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon to 1 3/4 cups room temperature water
1. In the bowl of a stand mixer (or a large bowl if you're using a hand mixer), mix together using a large spoon, the flour, salt, powdered milk, sugar and yeast. Pour in the egg, melted butter and 1 1/2 cups plus 1 tablespoon of the water and mix on low speed if using a mixer or again by hand with a spoon, until all of the flour is absorbed and dough comes together in a ball. If the dough seems too stiff, you can add a bit more water until it becomes more soft and supple.
2. If you're using a mixer, transfer the attachment to the dough hook and mix on medium speed to create a dough that is soft, supple and tacky but not sticky. Add more flour gradually if necessary to achieve this consistency. If working by hand, sprinkle flour on the counter, turn the dough out onto it and knead it. In either case, you want to knead for 6-8 minutes. In the mixer, the dough should not stick to the sides, but should adhere to the bottom a bit. Now lift up the dough and if you stretch it a bit and can see light through it, it's ready. This is what Peter refers to as "passing the windowpane test". Lightly oil a large bowl and place the dough inside, rolling it around to coat it all over in the oil. Cover with plastic wrap and set it in a warm place. Allow the dough to double in size. This can take anywhere from 1 1/2-2 hours (more if your room is cold.)
3. Once the dough has doubled in volume, lightly oil a flat surface and then remove it from the bowl. Cut the dough in half with a knife and then again so that you have 4 pieces. Now you want to try not to deflate the dough too much, so lift one of the pieces and gently turn it over. Fold over the side closest to you halfway across the dough, pulling it to the bottom and then fold the other side in to meet the folded side, pulling it across the top. Then squeeze it down and take each end of the long cylinder you've created and fold them under each other tightly, forming a little ball shape with a lot of surface tension. Here's a great site that gives you a visual explanation and is very helpful, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TtCu9hYGhOU . Repeat with the remaining three pieces. Line a large rimmed baking sheet with parchment paper and transfer the boules to it. Mist or brush the tops very lightly with oil and cover with a towel or plastic wrap and let rest for 60-90 minutes until balls double in size.
4. Preheat oven to 350ºF and bake for 35-45 minutes, reversing sheet halfway through baking until they are golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when you thump them on the bottoms.
5. Remove from oven and let cool on a wire rack for at least 1 hour before slicing.
6. Bread keeps wrapped in plastic wrap for several days at room temperature.
Note: Recipe based on Variation 1 from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.