In our Daily Bread episode we talked about a wide variety of breads from around world. But, when we asked our friends at America’s Test Kitchen what they’d want to share with us, the answer surprised us: white bread. Turns out their editor Tucker Shaw is obsessed with it. Sally Swift talked with him about the beauty of making white bread at home and got his amazingly simple recipe for American Sandwich Bread.
Sally Swift: We have been digging into bread for this episode. We’ve gone into some great exotica. We’ve learned how to make injera. We had a primer on bagels. We talked about Nordic breads. Now I’m coming to you to ask what is your very favorite bread recipe?
Tucker Shaw: That’s an impossible question to answer, isn’t it? There’s nothing better than bread. But, I’m going to go with the basic, good old-fashioned white sandwich bread. That beautiful white bread that when you slice it you get the perfect shape for a PB&J or BLT.
Photo: America's Test Kitchen
SS: That’s a surprising answer to me. Why do you love that bread so much?
TS: For one thing I can make it, and I’m not the world’s best baker. The recipe we have for this white bread is so simple that literally if you can read, you can make this bread. It doesn’t take a whole lot of effort, just a little time. I do this once a week now and I work it into my Saturday morning chores, like while doing laundry and that kind of stuff, when you’re stuck at the house anyway. You can pull this off with almost no work. So, there you go; you have clean clothes and a fresh loaf of bread.
SS: I love that idea. Can you talk me through the process?
TS: Sure. It takes six ingredients, the most important of which is bread flour, which is easy to find at the grocery store. It has a slightly higher protein content than all-purpose flour. You want to use the bread flour because it gives your bread a little bit more structure, so that when you slice if for sandwiches it holds its shape. You take that and whisk it together with yeast – the kind that you get in little packets that you find in the baking section – and salt. Whisk those together in a bowl and attach it to your stand mixer with a dough hook.
SS: So those are your dry ingredients. What are the wet ingredients?
TS: The wet ingredients consist of whole milk, a bit of water to expand the liquid ingredients, and some butter – maybe two tablespoons that you melt and cool down. Whisk that together with the milk and the butter adds extra fat to make sure the crumb is going to be tender and a little bit rich. And then two tablespoons of honey, which gives it sweetness and also gives the yeast something else extra to participate with.
SS: A little something extra to eat.
TS: And then you knead it with the dough hook on the stand mixer. Set the stand mixer on medium-low and slowly pour the liquid ingredients into the bowl. It will start to come together in about 90 seconds, maybe two minutes. Then you let it rip for about 8 minutes of kneading. It will start to come away from the side of the bowl and will form a more cohesive ball of dough. It does the work for you so you can go check on your laundry.
You take it now and put it into a bowl that you’ve lightly greased so nothing sticks. Cover it with plastic wrap and put it aside for an hour and a half, maybe two hours; you want it to double in size.
After it’s doubled in size you turn it out onto a very lightly floured counter. You gently bring it together into a ball and press it down into a rectangle of about eight inches by six inches. It’s a supple and easy dough to work with – it’s not sticky in the least – and you can achieve this shape with working it very hard. It takes only 30 seconds, maybe a minute.
From there you roll it quite tightly, so you have an eight-inch long log. You have to roll it fairly tightly so that you don’t get big air pockets in the bread after it bakes.
SS: And you mean you’re rolling it up with your hands, not with a rolling pin.
TS: That’s right. Rolling it like you would a jelly roll or something like that. That goes into a loaf pan and you let it rise again for about an hour. You’ll know it’s ready when it’s about an inch above the lip of the loaf pan, so that it has a little dome on the top. At that point you will have turned on your oven, and it will be at 350 degrees and ready to go. Slide the pan into the oven. About 35-40 your bread will be down, and you’ll know it’s done because it will smell so fantastic in your kitchen. You can check it with an instant-read thermometer; if it’s at 205-210 degrees, that’s perfect. But really, if you just bake it 35-40 minutes it’s going to be just right.
Pull it out of the oven and let it cool in the pan for about 10 minutes to make sure that it’s easy to release. Slip it out of the pan and onto a wire rack to let it cool for about three hours. You have to let it cool all the way down before you slice it. You may have experienced this. If you use a serrated knife on a loaf of bread that is too warm, you run the risk of tearing it. And this is sandwich bread, so you want perfect slices. The way to achieve that is to make sure that it’s cooled down and use a really nice serrated knife. We have a favorite: Mercer Culinary Millennia 10-Inch Wide Bread Knife. It gives you perfect, even slice every time you use it.
SS: It sounds like the hardest part of this process is waiting for the bread to cool.
TS: It really is. It was astonishing to me the first time I made this bread just how simple it was. Bread has always been sort of mysterious to me and I’ve always admired people who made bread because I thought they had some sort of magical ability to do something we mere mortals couldn’t pull off. But sandwich bread is so easy, and I literally make it every week.
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Sally Swift is the managing producer and co-creator of The Splendid Table. Before developing the show, she worked in film, video and television, including stints at Twin Cities Public Television, Paisley Park, and Comic Relief with Billy Crystal. She also survived a stint as segment producer on The Jenny Jones Show.
On each episode of The Splendid Table we visit with the test cooks at America’s Test Kitchen to discuss a wide range of topics including recipes, ingredients, techniques and kitchen equipment.