When I was in college, my friends spoke very disparagingly of white bread. They referred to it as gummy and flavorless. They only bought whole grain breads. Now that I am an adult, when buying bread, I pretty much only buy whole grain bread as well.
But there is a reason white bread was once the symbol of the privileged.
Frankly, as far as I am concerned, home made white bread is the best sandwich loaf there is. Buttery and rich, it is great for sandwiches, toast, served on the side with dinner or anything else you want to do with it. Like a lot of people, I became very concerned with the health of my family and began only baking whole grain breads. Then one day I made white bread while teaching a friend to make bread. I chose white bread because the feel of the dough is consistently the same and always easy to work with, and therefore is a great way for a novice to learn to make bread.
I had forgotten how good it was. How little adornment it needed. A good butter was like the icing on a good cake–a partnership where each individual item can stand on its own.
So where does my mom come in? Well we don’t make the same white bread: hers is more yeasty and less rich, and she prefers the heady flavor of molasses as a sweetener, which I find a little too strong. I am in love with buttermilk while she has always used plain milk, and I like mine enriched with eggs as well.
But 2 facts remain: I know how to make bread because of my mother, who made bread several times a week while while I was growing up. That storebought stuff never crossed our doorstep (except when my lunatic brother asked for Wonderbread–children! the things they put you through!), which is of course why I stared at my college buddies in blank incomprehension when they spoke disparagingly of white bread. The second fact that I learned from my mom is that while the blueprint might remain the same, bread is a canvas waiting for your brushstokes to personalize it. What flavors go well, the guts to fool around with the recipe, etc–those instincts I got from my mom.
So when I started craving my favorite white bread recipe this past week, a recipe by Peter Reinhart, I started thinking about how I might make it a little healthier while not turning it into whole grain bread. The end result? It does not matter what the weather does. It is bread season with a vengeance around here–I made my 7th loaf in as many days today. I am not making whole grain bread, but I have been making bread with some whole grains and seeds in it–but it tastes pretty close to my favorite white bread.
4 1/4 cups (19 oz) unbleached bread flour (I sub in 4 oz or about 1 cup of white whole wheat flour)
1 1/2 t fine sea salt
3 T sugar
2 t instant yeast
1 large egg, slightly beaten
1/4 cup (1/2 stick) unsalted butter, room temp
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 T ground flaxseed
2 T wheat germ
2 T wheat bran
extra flour and buttermilk for achieving correct dough feel
Mix together the flours, salt, sugar, yeast and any of the add-ins in a large mixing bowl. Add the egg, buttermilk and butter and mix with a large spoon or with the paddle attachment of your mixer. When the dough starts to form a rough, shaggy mass, switch to the dough hook (or begin kneading on a floured surface). Add more buttermilk if the dough is dry; add more flour if it is too sticky. With your dough hook on speed 2, knead for 6-8 minutes (resting your mixer as needed), or knead by hand, until you have a soft, supple dough. It should be tacky but not sticky.
Gently de-gas the dough by pressing the bubbles out and divide into 2 equal portions. Shape each portion for 2 8X5 loaf pans. Grease the pans and place the loaves into the pans. Lightly spray plastic wrap with oil and loosely cover the loaf pans. Let rise for 60-90 minutes, or until doubled.
Preheat the oven to 350 F about 30 minutes before baking.
Bake the loaves for 35-45 minutes, rotating halfway through. The internal temperature of the loaves should be about 190 F when they are done. I like to butter the tops of my loaves when they come out of the oven. Let the loaves cool on a cooling rack, but for gosh sake, no matter what the experts say, make sure you slice them while they are still warm (just not piping hot–I usually aim for waiting 30 minutes).