White bread loaves

With a ton of family and nanny support and a newborn who does little else but sleep, I've had a surprising amount of time on maternity leave to catch up on things like embroidery, organizing photos, blogging (baby pictures coming soon!), and baking. Ages ago I signed up for the Tuesdays with Dorie cook-through-a-Dorie-Greenspan-cookbook group, and I even kept up with many of the recipes but hardly ever posted on my blog. This week, I decided to go back to the initial recipe (for the group) and try my hand at a simple white loaf of bread. 

Baking yeasted bread is not my forte - I can even ruin a simple bread machine loaf by forgetting to ass the liquid ingredients - but I thought this prolonged stay at home would be a great opportunity to practice. And lo and behold, my second attempt produced a lovely, tall, fluffy pair of white bread loaves. E loves carbs and has been walking around with fistfuls of bread (truth be told, he was perfectly satisfied with the horrible first attempt as well). Mr Leaven, my mom, and I had delicious sandwiches today, inspired by the perfect loaf. I know, it's just white bread, but it's MY white bread, and it makes me happy. It's not too hard to make, either, and I'll definitely make it again and again. 

Funny thing (given the name of our blog and all), the problem with the initial batch was the lack of yeast. I used a jar of yeast that had not yet expired but was more than a year old. It did get creamy like it was supposed to but nothing vigorous. For the second batch I used a little fresh leaven (from a new jar - none of that fancy live yeast stuff) which, well, leavened the whole loaf. See? Two loaves, one with new yeast and one with old. Guess which is which. 

White Loaves (contributing baker - Craig Kominiak)

Makes 2 - 1 3/4 pound loaves

2 1/2 c. warm water (105-115 degrees F)
1 T. active dry yeast
1 T. sugar
7 c. (approximately) bread flour or unbleached all purpose flour
1 T. salt
1/2 stick (2 ounces) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Mixing and kneading: Pour 1/2 cup of the water into the bowl of a heavy-duty mixer, sprinkle in the yeast and sugar, and whisk to blend. Allow the mixture to rest until the yeast is creamy, about 5 minutes.

Working in the mixer with the dough hook in place, add the remaining 2 cups water and about 3 1/2 cups flour to the yeast. Turn the mixer on and off a few times just to get the dough going without having the flour fly all over the counter and then, mixing on low speed, and 3 1/2 cups more flour. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat, stopping to scrape down the bowl and hook as needed, until the dough comes together. (If the dough does not come together, add a bit more flour, a tablespoon at a time.) Add the salt and continue to beat and knead at medium speed for about ten minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. If you prefer, you can mix the dough in the machine for half that time and knead it by hand on a lightly floured surface for 8 to ten minutes. When the dough is thoroughly mixed (return it to the mixer if necessary), add the butter, a tablespoon at a time, and beat until incorporated. Don't be disconcerted if your beautiful dough comes apart the the addition of butter - beating will bring it back together.

First rise: Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a ball. Place it in a large buttered or oiled bowl (one that can hold double the amount of dough). Turn the dough around to cover its entire surface with butter or oil, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap, and let the dough rest at room temperature until it doubles in bulk, about 45 minutes to one hour.

Shaping the dough: Butter two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pans and set them aside. Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough in half and work with one piece at a time. Using the palms of your hands and fingertips, or a rolling pin, pat the dough into a large rectangle about 9 inches wide and 12 inches long, with a short side facing you. Starting at the top, fold the dough about two thirds of the way down the rectangle and fold it again, so that the top edge meets the bottom edge. Seal the seam by pinching it. Turn the roll so that the seam is in the center of the roll, facing up, and turn the ends of the roll in just enough so that it will fit in a buttered loaf pan. Pinch the seams to seal, and turn the loaf over so that the seams are on the bottom, and plump the loaf with your palms to get an even shape. Drop the loaf into the pan, seam side down, and repeat with the other piece of dough.

Second rise: Cover the loaves with oiled plastic wrap, and allow them to rise in a warm place (about 80 F) until they double in size again, growing over the tops of the pans, about 45 minutes.
While the loaves rise, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375 F

Baking the Bread: When the loaves are fully risen (poke your finger into the dough; the impression should remain), bake them for 35 to 45 minutes, or until they are honey-brown and an instant-read thermometer plunged into the center of the bread (turn a loaf out and plunge the thermometer through the bottom of the bread) measures 200 F. If you like, 10 minutes or so before you think the loaves should come out, you can turn the loaves out of their pans and let them bake on the oven rack so they brown on the sides. Remove the loaves from their pans as soon as they come from the oven and cool the breads on racks. These should not be cut until they are almost completely cool; just-warm is just right.

Storing: Once completely cool, the breads can be kept in a brown paper bag for a day or two. Once a loaf is sliced, turn it cut side down on the counter or a cutting board and cover with a kitchen towel. For longer storage, wrap the breads airtight and freeze for up to a month. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.


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