Sunday, September 8, 2019

Buttery White Bread

After a great deal of difficulty with my skin last winter, during which I desperately hoped I could peel like a snake and grow a new, healthy, and non-itchy layer, I learned that I had developed some allergies. Through a process of eliminating from my diet, in turn, gluten (not fun, but not impossible), dairy (I'm so sorry for the things I said when I was cheese-less), and quite a laundry list of other things (I'm so tired of reading labels), I finally sussed out two valuable pieces of hard-won information.

1. My skin is allergic to a particular kind of preservative found in a lot of liquid soaps, laundry detergents and shampoos. If interested, here's a website that discusses the issue and alternatives, though this is a tangent that doesn't get us any closer to the recipe, or the food. And I am all about the food.

2. During my gluten-free phase, my skin problems continued. So I added wheat back into my diet. Skin and immune system, ticked off again, flared more intensely. Next I eliminated yeast from my diet. My skin improved, and I was bereft. Because yeast is the reason for so many of the foods-- wine, beer, cheese, bread-- that I love, this depressed me more than I even care to admit. Then, after I got my skin to a relatively stable point, I decided I'd rather be miserable and itchy for awhile than eternally pizza-less, and I made a pizza with my own home-made dough.

I didn't have a reaction. Nor did I any other time that I ate home-baked goods. Or cheese or wine or beer.


I went back to my internet research, and considered what was left. While I don't know for sure and there can be many overlapping factors in allergic reactions, I concluded I'm most likely allergic to some common preservatives or shelf-stabilizers in commercially baked breads and similar products. There are so many of these types of ingredients, often listed together in a single product. I decided it wasn't worth trying to narrow it down further. I've just started avoiding store-bought bread and baked goods. Things are going much better-- my skin doesn't look like raw hamburger.

I've always done a lot of home baking because I enjoy it.  Now I'm doing it because I am trying to avoid those preservatives. Do not think, however, that I now have become some baking-all-the-time type person. I'm not that crazy. I work full time, and I have other things that need doing, as well. Like laundry and blogging.

Despite the relief that my allergies don't appear to be gluten- or wheat-related, it's better for me if I don't have wheat and white flour things all the time, anyway. As I get older I'm trying to stick more and more with meat and veg. If bread is something I have to bake in order to have it at all, it means that I eat it less often, and it's a bit of an event. Something to savor and celebrate. If it doesn't cause an allergic reaction, so much the better.

One of the recipes I make a lot is this one for buttery white bread. The recipe developed gradually over the years from a multitude of other white bread recipes that were not quite completely right, so I kept experimenting. I fiddled with more and less sugar, more and less butter, eggs and no eggs, until I came to this buttery loaf. This one is simple, not too sweet, and has enough fat in it that it doesn't go instantaneously crumbly and stale overnight. It is divine as buttered toast, with jam or honey. It is also a good sandwich bread. Since September is here and the weather has cooled down enough to have the oven on, I thought I'd share it with you.

Buttery White Bread
  • 2 cups milk (2% or whole milk. Don't use skim milk, because you want it to taste good!)
  • 1 stick (1/2 cup, or 8 tablespoons) of salted butter (Don't use alternative fats. It will give your bread the sads.)
  • 1 Tablespoon or 2 packages active dry yeast (Don't use quick-rise for this recipe)
  • 3 T white sugar 
  • 1/2 tsp kosher salt (if using salted butter) or 1 tsp kosher salt (if using unsalted butter)
  • 6- 6 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I use King Arthur unbleached all-purpose flour, but I've also used grocery-store brand unbleached all-purpose when on a budget, so that is fine too.)
Step 1: Preheat the oven to 375° F. Pour the two cups milk into a large mixing bowl. Chunk up the stick of butter and put it in the milk. Microwave the milk for 20 seconds, and then check the temperature with your finger or thermometer. Microwave in 20 second increments until you get the milk feeling nicely warm but not at all hot to your fingertips, with the butter chunks beginning to get melty and soft, but not completely liquid. Depending on your microwave, it takes about a a minute, maybe a little more. If you've got a cooking thermometer, you can check that you're in the 105-110° F range, but it's okay to just do it by feel. It should look like this: 

Step 2: Add the yeast and sugar. Stir once or twice to blend, and then let it set for about 10-15 minutes. It will get foamy, but still have chunks of butter in it, and look like this: 

Step 3: Measure flour by scooping it into the measuring cup and leveling off. Measure four cups of flour into the bowl. Add the salt. Using a sturdy spoon, mix the flour into the liquid until the dough is a rough, sticky batter that mostly clings together, though you may have a few clumps or bits that are not fully incorporated. At this point you may still see some lumps of butter, but they are beginning to incorporate into the dough.

Step 4: Sprinkle a clean countertop with flour. Stir the 5th cup of flour into the bowl, but don't worry if it's an even rougher mass of clumps. This is where it all starts to come together. With clean hands, dump the dough out onto the floured countertop, and knead it by folding the dough in half toward you, and pushing it away from you against the countertop with the heels of your hands. It's messy, but will start coming together as you work it. Flour your countertop lightly if it starts sticking, and sprinkle the dough with flour lightly while you knead, but don't use more than the upper limit called for in the recipe. In cold, dry weather, you'll use less flour. In hot humid weather you'll use more. Keep kneading, for about 8 to 10 minutes. By the time you're done the dough will have completely absorbed the butter, become smooth and elastic, and will form a ball like this:

While many recipes call for putting the dough in an oiled bowl, I admit I'm too lazy to be bothered with this nicety. I scoop the dough back into the bowl I mixed it in, cover it with a clean dishtowel, and set it aside. Let it rise until double in size. This takes anywhere from about an hour and a half (in warm weather) to up to three hours if your kitchen is pretty cold in the winter). Go somewhere else and have a cup of something hot. Fold some laundry. Answer some email. The time will go faster than you think.

When it has doubled in size, dump the dough back out on the counter and knead a few times to get excess air bubbles out and get it feeling smooth and elastic again. Divide in half. Shape into two loaves, and place in two oiled 9X5 inch bread pans. Cover with the dish towel, and let rise until the dome of the loaf is just barely an inch above the rim of the pan. This time, keep a closer watch, as it should take as little as twenty minutes for this step, and if the dough rises too much now it won't rise as much in the oven.

Bake at 375° F for 30-35 minutes, until the loaf is well browned, not just on the top, but down the sides that are in the pan. A good way to tell if it is done is to gently shake the loaf pan. If it's nicely brown down the sides and on the bottom, it will shake loose from the pan without much trouble. If it seems tightly stuck in the pan, it probably needs another five to ten minutes to bake off a bit more moisture and to brown up the crust. Remove from the oven, and turn the loaves out onto a rack to cool. Don't leave them in the pans; this steams up the crust and makes it soggy.

Store tightly wrapped, and remember that since this is fresh bread without any preservatives, it will go stale in about 3-5 days, even faster if the weather is warm and humid. In warm weather I store mine in the refrigerator to prevent spoilage. It will freeze unsliced for about a month.

Happy toasting!

1 comment:

  1. I've also got some kind of skin allergy to something. Seems to be only on my scalp and the inside of my ears, and only really bothers me during the school year. (Like a few other things, too.) Because I'm probably driven by vanity more than anything else (when it comes to my body), I have learned to mostly just live with it. I did try buying bakery bread that doesn't have all the preservatives, but because I'm now feeding mostly only myself it would go bad before the loaf was half gone. And it was expensive.

    Unrelated (but not unimportant), this post reminds me of my grandma. She made bread every week. My grandpa wouldn't eat store bought because he loved hers so much more. Growing up in the heyday of Wonder Bread (which my mother never bought, but my friend Susan Warner's mother did, so I knew just what I was missing), I thought my grandma's bread was a little weird, but as I became a teenager I grew to love it. Almost like it was a different food, though.

    All of which is to say, I think I'll try baking this bread. Thank you for the clear and complete directions. I'm also trying to stick mostly to protein and plants, but I don't want to give up bread. And when I have it, I want it to be good. I think moderation is the key to most things in life. We can have a little of everything and be OK, and it's probably not a good idea to entirely deprive ourselves of the things we want. (Unless we've got the death-inducing kind of allergy, of course.) I'll let you know how the bread goes.