Wondrous bread

Dear Reader, I am aware that not all visitors to my blog are foodies. Some of you want your daily bread and water and to not be bothered to put all manner of unfamiliar pastes and blocks in your mouth (“just try one bite!”) I have non-foodies in my family, and I get you. I really do.

And when it comes to bread, the non-foodie likes the square sliced white bread. I do too! Sliced white bread is a neutral substrate for any kind of sandwich. Cube it and turn it into croutons. Toast it and butter it. Batter-fry it. Dip it in soup. The shape is predictable, even, easy to cut into little squares or triangles. This kind of bread is a workhorse.

In India we grew up with white bread of this variety:

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But as with many things, the primary innovation of making a square loaf, preslicing it and packaging it in waxed paper was American. It was a Wonder! And in case you need prodding to feel sufficiently celebratory, here, I will help:

It was a Wonder_Bread_logo.svg!

Sliced bread was invented in the 1920’s by a man named Otto Frederick Rohwedder. Not only did he come up with a bread slicer but also the idea of wrapping them in waxed paper to keep the slices fresh. After an initially doubtful populace, sliced bread began to fly off the shelves.

Pretty soon households were addicted to sliced white bread; that created its own problems. They became malnourished; the government had to insist that vitamins and minerals be added to the bread. Also, people began to forget what bread was supposed to taste like. Over the decades, the ‘bakeries’ where the bread was made turned into ‘factories’: the taste suffered, but nobody noticed. The product still flew off the shelves; ever more convenient, ever cheaper to make, sell, buy; it lasted longer and longer in our pantries. Until we ended up with this:

Wonder bread ingredients from http://theysmell.com

Wonder bread ingredients from http://theysmell.com

But never forget that the original soft white sandwich loaf really is wondrous. Easy to slice — not so crusty that the knife sends bread shards shooting into your eye. Not so soft that the knife mangles it with one gash. Easy to use for any kind of sandwich. And delicious.

Wondrous Bread

This recipe is from King Arthur Flour: Classic White Sandwich Bread. You should click the link for instructions and background but I’m repeating the entire recipe here.

Dry Ingredients:

  • 4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
  • 1/3 cup dry milk powder (unsweetened)
  • 2 1/4 teaspoon instant yeast

Wet Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon honey
  • 1 3/4 teaspoon salt
  •  2 tablespoons soft butter
  • 1 1/2 cup water

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Method:

Mix the dry ingredients in the bowl of a stand mixer with a dough hook attachment. Mix the wet ingredients separately (no need to get it super combined). Make a well in the dry ingredients and pour the wet stuff in.

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Stir with a dough hook until it sort of comes together in a shaggy mass. Cover with plastic wrap and leave it aside for about 10 minutes. Come back, run the mixer at this point for about 5 minutes until it comes together into a rough dough, like this:

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At this point, I like to finish kneading by hand, until it becomes a smooth dough like this:

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How do you know when you have kneaded enough? This is a trick I learnt from the book The Bread Baker’s Apprentice by Peter Reinhart. Take a little marble-sized ball of dough. Spread it as thin as you can into a little sheet, gently. If you are able to tease the dough into a translucent sheet (light should be able to shine through) without breaking it, you are there. If it breaks off into chunks rather than become a translucent sheet, you are not there and need to knead further. This is called the windowpane test.

Windowpane test

Windowpane test

OK. Oil the dough to keep it from drying out and put it in a large container to rise. I usually mark the level at which it is with a sticky tape. Leave it at room temperature until it doubles. This will take about 2 hours.

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Now comes the shaping. The loaf needs to go into a 9″ by 5″ loaf pan. Form the dough into a rough rectangle, and start rolling it into a log from the long side, gently pressing the seam closed as you go. Take care to tuck in the ends as you roll. The shaped loaf should have its seam closed everywhere, almost like a zipped up sleeping bag.

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Place it into a greased loaf pan and cover with a plastic wrap. In an hour or 90 minutes the loaf will have risen to an inch above the rim. Now it is ready to go into an oven.

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Preheat the oven to 350 F. When it comes to temperature the loaf pan goes in (without the plastic wrap, please!)  Bake the bread for 35 – 40 minutes. Around the middle of the cooking time, turn the pan 180 to allow it to cook evenly on all sides, and, tent it with aluminium foil to prevent it from browning too much.

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When it is done, allow it to cool in the pan with some airflow under it, then take it out and slice it. There! sliced white bread.

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