I was all geared up to share a sourdough bread recipe I've been working on, with a regular yeast variation. It's coconut chocolate coffee sourdough. Yes, it's amazing. But, when I sliced my loaf open to snap a picture this afternoon, I realized I forgot to add the chocolate chips! Mom brain, big time. So, that recipe will be postponed. (I promise to post it soon!)
In the meantime, here is a recipe I knew I'd share at some point. It's a family recipe, coming from Mom Barrows' side of the family. We always refer to it as "Nonna's Bread." It's a soft, sandwich bread that we almost always have in the bread box. We often make large batches of 9-12 loaves, then freeze them for the convenience of pulling out later. (Confession: that large of a batch will generally last about a week. We're bread lovers.)
The special thing about this recipe is that everyone has their own touch. Mom Barrows' bread comes out just so. Mine, with it's own particular flavor. My brother-in-law James' batches get us swooning with their incredibly lofty, fluffy heights and distinct yeasty flavor.
But no matter who is baking it, the bread is inevitably devoured, especially if cut warm. It's perfect for sandwiches, freezes like a dream (story on that later), makes great bread crumbs or cubes, serves well for french toast or bread puddings, and we even use the dough for pizza! It is a much loved, much used recipe.
1 tbs yeast
1 tbs sugar
6 cups flour*
1 tbs salt
1/4 cup olive oil
Measure yeast and sugar into a 2-cup liquid measuring cup. Add hot tap water and fill up to the 1 cup line. Stir altogether, then let sit. When yeast bubbles and foams up to the 2 cup line, it is ready to use.*
In a large bowl (or bowl of a stand mixer), measure 6 cups of flour. Add salt and stir. Make a well, then add the egg and olive oil. When yeast mixture is ready, add to the well.
With a sturdy spoon or spatula (or the dough hook attachment), mix everything together. Slowly add about 1 to 1 1/2 more cups of warm water until a shaggy dough comes together. At this point, turn out onto a floured surface (or keep kneading with the stand mixer) until the dough forms a neat ball. (You will have to turn the dough out of the stand mixer and give it a couple kneads to form a neat ball.)
Oil the bowl and place in the dough ball, turning it over once so that the ball of dough is coated with oil.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in a warm spot for about 1-2 hours. (An empty oven with the pilot light on is a good place during colder months.) The dough should double.
After the dough has risen, turn it onto a floured surface, knead it a bit, and divide it into three pieces. Shape each piece into a bread loaf. Place into greased pans*, then split the top with a serrated knife. Cover with an old tablecloth (or oiled plastic wrap), and let rise for another 1-2 hours.
Bake loaves in 450 oven for 15-18 minutes. Loaves should be nicely golden brown. Let rest in pan for 5 minutes, then gently remove, using a knife to loosen if necessary. This prevents the bottoms from getting soggy. Let cool fully on wire racks before storing (in a bread box, ziploc bag, or wrapped in foil). The crust will be hard initially, but will soften as it cools. Enjoy!
Flour: All purpose or bread flour. King Arthur all-purpose is my favorite from those available in grocery stores.
So, technically this step isn't necessary. Proofing the yeast is important if you haven't used your yeast for a while and you want to make sure it is alive. If you bake regularly and know your yeast is strong, just mix together the yeast & sugar & water and use right away. BUT, family members claim this step is the critical step of the whole recipe. (Maybe because if the weather is right for bread making in general, the yeast bubbles quickly & beautifully? Maybe this is a litmus test of your typical approach to baking & cooking, scientific or romantic!)
Pans: This bread is flexible. Use regular loaf pans or shape into rounds and use round pans. (I use a smaller 6 inch pan in the picture above.) You can even shape into three loaves and place on a large sheet pan. (They will just proof into each other.) This recipe also makes great rolls or buns. About 24 rolls and 16 buns.
So, that story I promised you. Sarah was visiting Philip and me when we lived up in Massachusetts. I had a batch of Nonna's bread, of course, which we enjoyed. A portion of a loaf was leftover when we went on a trip from the house for a couple days. When we came back, I served the leftover loaf at the next meal, fresh as ever. Sarah was dumbfounded: "Is this the same loaf from a few days ago? How is it still so soft?!" I had stuck it in the freezer, and no one could ever tell, clearly!