The Best White Bread Recipe


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When I was in my early twenties, I learned how to make bread.  Unfortunately, it was a “teach yourself” experiment, as my own mother was never a big bread maker and I was a petulant child who never listened anyway.  I started with quick breads and graduated to yeast breads, and once I experienced the magical process of creating a gluey mess that turns out to be an aromatic wonder of baked goodness, I never looked back.

Since then, I’ve used a lot of different bread recipes that I’ve found in old cookbooks or on the ‘net.  However, I quit looking for the “perfect” recipe when I ran across this one in an old Fleischmann’s recipe booklet called “The Fleischmann’s Treasury of Yeast Baking” from 1962 (Hey, look — one is for sale on Etsy!).  The book is a gold mine of bread-baking knowledge, I tell you.  It not only shows you pictures of how to properly knead bread, but also how to fold it into a loaf.  Let’s just say that I had guessed at both of these processes along the way and I found that I was basically doing it wrong.

The book has a lot of different recipes for quick breads and yeast breads, but there is one that I use quite a lot.  I think it trumps the popular “Amish White Bread” or “Grandma Van Doren’s Bread” (formerly my standbys) on AllRecipes.com.  I am including the sponge method here because it’s the one I use most, and I think the bread just turns out better this way.

Try it — you’ll love it!

Fleischmann’s White Bread (Sponge Method) – Makes 2 loaves

1 1/2 cups warm water (105-115 degrees F)

2 T. sugar

2 packages yeast

7 C. unsifted flour (about)

1 C. milk

2 T. sugar

1 t. salt

3 T. butter or margarine

METHOD

Measure warm water and 2 T. sugar into large warm bowl. (*I usually fill my mixer bowl up with hot water and let it sit for a few minutes.)  Sprinkle in yeast and stir until dissolved.  Add 1 1/2 cups flour.  Beat until smooth.  Cover and let rise in warm place, free from draft, until light and spongy (about 30 minutes).

*NOTE:  For any of the rising processes, I put the bowl in the oven with the light on, along with a pan of hot water on the bottom rack beneath it.  This creates a warm, humid environment for the bread to rise.  Be sure to watch the bowl carefully!  Once the sponge has risen, your mixture should resemble this:

If your kitchen is warm enough as is, it’s kind of fun to watch the sponge rise.  The first time I made this, my kids had a blast watching it bubble up during the last 15 minutes or so.

While the sponge is rising, scald milk; stir in remaining 2 T. sugar, salt, and butter.  Cool to lukewarm.

Once milk is at lukewarm temperature, stir sponge down and add milk mixture and enough remaining flour to form a soft dough.

*I use the paddle mixer for the first part of this stage until the mixture gets so sticky that it clumps up on the paddle.

Then I switch to the dough hook.  Add flour (1/2 to 1 cup at a time) until the mixture is somewhat sticky, but is beginning to bond together and get stretchy.  Mixture should not feel wet, but it will be sticky.  You don’t want to add so much flour that your bread is not sticky at all; that’s how you know you’ve added too much.  This can be rectified by adding a little water until the semi-stickiness returns.

Knead bread until smooth. I use the dough hook for the kneading.  I mix on low, then every minute or so (or when the dough is beginning to creep up the top of the dough hook), I take my fingers and scrape the dough off the hook.

Knead for about 8-10 minutes.  Do not hurry through this step.  Good kneading is crucial to good texture.  When the dough is elastic enough to be pulled without breaking right away, and the texture is smooth, that’s when you know you’ve kneaded enough.  Again, though, 8-10 minutes is a good standard to go by as far as the time you’ll need for this.

Place dough in a large, greased bowl, turning once to grease top.  Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place, free from draft, until doubled in bulk (about 30 minutes).

Punch dough down.  Divide in half.  Shape into loaves (see bottom of post for instructions on this).

Place into two greased 9x5x3 inch bread pans.  Cover.  Let rise in warm place until doubled in bulk (about 30 minutes).  This last rising is the MOST important and is key to creating a nice-textured bread.  If the dough doesn’t rise enough, it will be flimsy and crumbly.  If you let it rise too long, it will be coarse-textured.  Your bread will rise another few inches during the first 15  minutes or so of the baking process, so you have to remember not to allow it to get too big during the rising process.  I usually let mine rise to the top of the bread pans or just a tad under, then I leave them in the oven while the oven warms up.   (If you’re using a pan of water to create heat and humidity in the oven while the bread rises, be sure to remove it before heating the oven!)  If you allow the bread to rise just the right amount of time during this last step, then you will end up with a soft, fine-textured bread that is as close to Wonder bread as you will ever get at home.

Bake in hot oven (400 F) about 30 minutes.  Remove from pans and cool.

Sure, you could use a bread maker, but I guarantee that the first slice won’t be nearly as satisfying as making bread with your own two hands. Promise.

INSTRUCTIONS FOR SHAPING A LOAF OF BREAD

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