Okay, folks, here she is; my most-requested blog to date! Thank you to everyone who has liked the pictures on Facebook and requested my recipe, and to my family and friends who have been my bread guinea pigs for the past year while I developed my recipe. So in return, I am finally going to share all my best secrets to making my Farmhouse Style White Bread. Let me tell you, getting to this point has been a trying process, full of many ups and downs. Yeah, I’m still talking about writing a bread blog here.
It all started about a year ago when Jason and I began dreaming of the farm life. I knew there were things I could tackle (mayhem, ahem) before the big move to the country. One of the major things for me initially was eliminating store-bought food and beginning to produce it ourselves. I figured if I could teach myself to make bread – good, hearty, delicious bread – then I could pretty much do anything. I began scouring the internet, the library, and good ol’ Pinterest for recipes that appealed to me. From this, I narrowed it down to about 8-10 basic bread recipes. Then, it came time to play.
For the next three months, I tweaked the recipes. Adding here, taking away there, making my own notes. I needed something that I could be proud to make every week or two for, well, forever. About the height of this past summer, I had it! A recipe that I was confident in and that I was ready to share! I gathered my baking supplies, my husband, and my camera and had Jason start taking these great pictures of me making my bread. I even had my sweet boys help me knead the dough in those pictures. As the bread was making its final rise (at this point about two hours are invested), Jason had to scoot off to work and I said I could take the final pictures. I opened the oven and it just didn’t seem as hot as usual. It had been taking a while to preheat for a few months, so I figured I’d just go ahead and give it some extra time. 15 minutes later and no real change. Well, my bread needed to bake so I popped it in. I waited the normal 35 minutes and opened the oven to barely cooked sad little loaves. What was happening? I seriously called Jason at work at this point in tears. He recommended pulling the loaves and refrigerating them and said he’d take a look at the oven when he got home.
Well, I figured I knew better.
I let those poor loaves sit in that barely 200 degree oven trying to force them to bake. They got hard and yellow on the top and started to droop. Finally, I gave up. And I tossed those loaves. And I cried a little more. I was so ready to share this recipe on the blog I had just started. I felt defeated.
Turns out, the igniter on the oven was broken. My super handy husband bought the part and spent an afternoon fixing that oven for me. Then he tried it out. Seriously, guys, that oven had never worked so well! It took all of 5 minutes to preheat now, where it was taking me upwards of 30 minutes for the past 6 months. A million thank you’s to Jason!
A few months after this, sometime in the fall, I was finally ready to share my bread with the world again. And I wanted to use those sweet pictures of the boys and I from the summer. Well, you know what guys, those pictures got lost somewhere in “the cloud”. Now, to this day I’m still not 100% sure what the cloud is, or why I need it, but I know that it’s annoying. Cue disappointment number 2, and my second time pushing off writing the bread blog.
Incidentally, Jason recently “found” those pictures. It was time to try again. And I actually didn’t use those pictures in this blog. I started over. From square one. Because, as writing this blog taught me, not everything is going to be perfect. Sometimes the bread just won’t bake. In this world of instant gratification we believe that perfection is the goal. Everyone, everyday, everywhere is accomplishing something bigger, better, brighter than we are. Social media and photo filters and that one guy you went to high school with convince us that we’re not doing enough. But the grass ain’t always greener. And the bread taught me that perfection is just a waste of time. Because I am still tweaking it, and probably always will. You may find that you want to change it in your own small ways. Go ahead. Dare to be adventurous.
I’m not going to say that this is a simple bread or a quick bread, because it is neither. Go into it ready to do some work, and to devote 2 1/2-3 hours of your time (mainly in waiting for it to rise; a great time for laundry). What I am going to say is that it is a big hit in our family and it is our staple bread that works well for everything from sandwiches to French toast to homemade croutons.
And now, the bread…
- 4 cups all purpose flour
- 1 1/2 TBSP instant yeast
- 2 TBSP sugar
- 1 1/2 TBSP salt
- 2 TBSP melted unsalted butter
- 4 cups warm milk
- 6 cups bread flour
Please note that these ingredients can be tweaked at will, based on what you have on hand or what your preferences are. I have used honey instead of sugar. I have used olive oil instead of butter. I have used cow milk, almond milk, and soy milk. The bread has turned out fine every time. The recipe will yield you 3 loaves of bread.
Start off with a very large mixing bowl. Combine all 4 cups of all purpose flour, the yeast, salt, and sugar.
I do not ascribe to the notion that baking is a science. I think it is a feeling. I do not weigh my ingredients or exactly measure them. I apologize to those that may! It was a point of contention for my husband in the beginning as well.
Make a well in the center of your bowl. For those of you unfamiliar with this term, it is simply using a spatula or spoon to push your dry ingredients to the sides of your bowl to prepare for the addition of the wet ingredients.
Pour in the warm milk. You are looking for the temperature to be about 85 degrees. I microwave mine for 2 minutes to achieve this temp.
Add in the melted butter.
At this point I begin to add the bread flour cup by cup. Start by adding 1 cup of bread flour to the milk and butter.
Begin folding in the rest of the flour by pulling it into your center well of wet ingredients from the outside of the bowl. I like a wooden spoon for this application. Add 3 more cups of bread flour to the mixture one at a time, repeating this step.
At this point you are not looking for fully formed dough but something that is sticky and tacky like the above picture.
Dampen a dishrag with very hot water and cover the bowl with it. This creates a great environment for the yeast to work its magic. Allow the mixture to rise for 20 minutes.
Bread is temperature sensitive. Like most of us, it likes a warm climate that is slightly humid. In winter this can be synthesized by placing your bowl by your heating vent (or even better, wood stove) to rise. I’m serious here folks, it works every time. I told you I was revealing my secrets!
After 20 minutes, uncover your bowl and add the final two cups of bread flour, again one at a time.
You don’t need to mix the flour in fully, just enough that it is beginning to form.
Generously flour your workstation. You are about to get a great arm workout!
Start kneading that dough. For those who are unfamiliar with the process, it is not simply pushing or pulling on the dough. Begin by taking the top portion of the dough and pulling it towards you.
Push in that portion with your palms. Rotate the dough a quarter of a turn and repeat the process. Continue this step for 8-10 minutes. Honestly, this is my favorite part! It is so cathartic, just me and my dough, working ourselves out.
Pull in extra flour if the dough begins to stick to you or your kneading surface.
After 8-10 minutes your dough should be a tight and well-formed ball that is springy to the touch. Beautiful, just beautiful.
A trick for knowing your bread is done being kneaded: your hands will no longer stick to the dough and the dough on your hands will begin to dry.
Place the dough back into the bowl and sprinkle flour over it.
Dampen the dishrag with hot water again and let the dough rise for another 30 minutes (preferably by your heat source).
After 30 minutes the dough will have pretty much doubled in size.
Flour your surface again and remove the dough to it. Gently push down on the dough to remove any air bubbles that may have formed.
I like to push the dough into a large oval shape as I am flattening out the air bubbles.
Generously grease 3 bread pans.
Cut your dough into 3 relatively equal loaf sizes. I just use a butcher knife.
Flour the loaves on the sides they were cut and shape them if need be.
They should fill your loaf pans about halfway at this point.
Dampen your dishrag with hot water yet again and place it over your loaves for their final rise. This will be the longest at 50 minutes. I like to turn on my oven now, to 375 degrees, and place the loaves on the oven for the warming process.
After 50 minutes, they should have about doubled again and fill the loaf pans. Into the oven for 35 minutes.
After 35 minutes they will be ready!
The loaves should pop right out of the pans when tipped upside down. Remove to cooling trays. We always cut right into a loaf! There is nothing better than fresh baked bread with a bit of butter!
3 loaves lasts us 1-2 weeks, so I usually make the bread every Saturday or Sunday. I keep one loaf out on the counter in a gallon Ziploc bag and it stays fresh for the few days it takes to eat it. The other two are wrapped in plastic wrap and placed in the fridge until we need them. If your need for bread is not quite as voracious as ours, it does freeze well! Just plastic wrap it and then allow it to thaw slowly in the fridge when needed. It’ll keep in the fridge for 3 weeks or the freezer for up to 6 months.
Of course, I’d be lying if I said price wasn’t a consideration as well. When we decided to switch to homemade bread we were purchasing the Butternut brand of bread, because it was the only cost-effective brand we could find that did not use high fructose corn syrup. When we could get it on sale it ran us $1.89/loaf. As part of Jason’s job, he does food and beverage price analysis on a regular basis, so I put him to work figuring out what my bread costs us! It should be noted that I choose to use the King Arthur brand of flour because I have seen a difference in the rise of the bread, as well as I like that their products are GMO free. This does cost more than the average sack of flour. We have seen it everywhere from $3.50/bag to $7.89/bag. We buy it on sale at Target at $3.50/bag – when you see that sale, stock up!! Feel free to use whatever brand you prefer, and know that if you do use store brand, it will mean your price is significantly cheaper!
So, after all that, what does it cost?
$3.75/batch, or only $1.25/loaf! Woohoo!
Admittedly, that is not as cheap as a store-brand 99 cent loaf, but it is significantly cheaper than the Butternut brand we purchased. At an average of 2 loaves per week, it actually saves us $66.56 per year – just in bread! Tastes better and costs less; that is certainly a win-win in my book.
As a side note to this rather lengthy blog, I am finally on Instagram! I’ve been telling Jason for years that the last thing I need is another social media form to become addicted to. Well, on Saturday that booger turned to me and said, “Wow, you already have 3 followers on Instagram.”
Me: “But I don’t have…Jason.”
Yeah. He signed me up. And yeah, I like it.
Check me out there as tacklemayhem_susan!