Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Buttermilk Sandwich Bread

Tonight's the second night of Hanukkah, and while I may not be having my mom's crispy potato latkes, or sweet noodle kugel, there IS a brisket in the oven that's making the whole house smell like the holidays.

And no, I'm not making brisket sandwiches (not tonight anyway), so why I am going on and on about it in a post about bread? Because one of these fluffy loaves got packaged up and sent to my dad as his Hanukkah gift this year.

Now, both my parents love sweets, but I think I get my addiction to bread from my dad (don't worry Dad, I've totally forgiven you for the Atkins phase).

When I was in school in New York, I would try to send as many goodies back to my family as I could, although walking into FedEx with a lemon meringue pie wasn't exactly do-able. But probably the unit that bankrupted me in mailing fees the most was our bread unit.

I know my dad loves chocolate, and ice cream probably more than anything, but whenever I offer to bake and mail him something, he usually goes for something yeasty and carbo-loaded, preferably chocked full of whole grains, seeds, or sourdough. I looked through a lot of recipes before settling on this one, and I am so, so happy with how it turned out.

But I wasn't always so optimistic. I don't know if it was the volume of dough or its tougher than usual texture, but listening to my poor little kitchenaid mixer struggle through those first couple of minutes of kneading just made me sad, so I decided to roll up my sleeves and give it a rest and knead this dough by hand (see Dad, truly a labor of love!). It starts out pretty dry and not elastic at all, but 5 or 6 minutes of kneading later, you should have a softer, slightly more pliable dough. Mine was not as elastic as most other bread doughs I've made, and since this was my first time making it, I have no idea if that means something went wrong or not, but considering the end product, I don't really care.

Because what I sliced into on yesterday was perfect. The middle was light and fluffy, but the crust had just the right amount of chew. And the slight tang from the buttermilk reminded me so much of sourdough, that I knew instantly my dad would love it. This bread was so perfect I heated up the stove and made French Toast for breakfast. On a Tuesday.

Buttermilk Sandwich Bread
Yield: 2 loaves

3/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)
1 Tbsp instant yeast
1 tsp granulated sugar
1 1/2 cups buttermilk at room temperature
2 Tbsp unsalted butter, melted
3 Tbsp honey
6 cups bread flour, divided
1 Tbsp kosher salt
egg wash (1 egg plus a splash of water or milk and a pinch of salt)
Sesame seeds for topping (optional)

1. In the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the warm water, yeast, and sugar. In a small bowl, combine the buttermilk, melted butter, and honey. Add to the yeast mixture.
2. To the bowl, add 4 cups of flour and the salt. You can begin with the paddle on low speed to get the dough going, or simply take the dough hook in your hand and manually mix it until it just comes to together. Add the remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time.
3. Fit the mixer with the dough hook and knead on low speed (no higher than 2) for 5-6 minutes, until the dough is smooth and a little elastic (This is a tough dough. It will not have the same elasticity of many other bread doughs). Alternately, knead the dough by hand for 5-6 minutes.
4. Transfer the dough to a well oiled bowl and cover lightly with oil-coated plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place for about 75 minutes.
5. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured surface and punch the dough down. Divide it in half with a sharp knife or bench scraper. Shape each piece of dough into desired shapes (braided loafs, boules, etc.) If using a loaf pan, grease it lightly. Cover the loaves lightly with oiled plastic wrap and let rise again for another 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.
6. Just prior to baking, brush the tops of the loaves with egg wash and sprinkle with poppy seeds. Bake 45 minutes, or until the bread is a golden brown. Let cool completely before slicing. Store at room temperature, wrapped in paper not plastic.

Recipe slightly adapted from Annie's Eats


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