Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Buttermilk Sandwich Loaf

For years now, we've been all about slow bread. Overnight rises, no-kneading, almost no-kneading, storing bread dough in the fridge. I've been happy to turn out crusty artisanal loaves in my dutch oven, so my bread pans have been saved for other things, like oatmeal loaves and pound cakes. Then, a few weeks ago, my life changed completely. It's not really an exaggeration. One day, I'm reading the weekly newsletter from Leite's Culinaria, and a recipe by Elinor Klivans, one of my favorite cookbook authors pops up. White sandwich bread? In about two hours, start to finish? Can't be good, it's just not right. But Elinor Klivans and I go back a few years, she written many wonderful cookbooks, my favorite being 125 Cookies to Bake, Nibble and Savor.

I know its a bit odd to get so excited about a loaf of white sandwich bread, but really, this bread is not only delicious, but quick and easy to make. There's only one rise, and it's in the pan. I don't have to plan my whole afternoon around a slow rise, this one is ready in about 45 minutes.

I'm not giving up my no-knead breads, but I feel like I just learned a whole new skill.

Baker's Notes: I've made this multiple times, it's quite a forgiving recipe. Unbleached flour is better, but all-purpose will work fine. I like the color and flavor a bit of whole wheat flour adds, so I replaced just ½ cup of the white flour in the first addition. It's better with buttermilk, but you can use a couple spoonfuls of plain yogurt stirred into regular milk in a pinch.

The recipe as written seems to propose letting the dough rise in the pan only up to the rim. I let my dough crest about 1 inch over the rim. You will want to use a timer, both to time the mixer and the rise, the former is longer than usual and the later is much shorter. Warming the buttermilk isn't tricky, mine always seems to break or curdle right about 130°, so if you don't have a thermometer, try using that as an indicator.

Buttermilk Sandwich Loaf

adapted from Fast Breads: 50 Recipes for Easy, Delicious Bread

  • 1 ¼ cups buttermilk (any fat content)
  • 2 tablespoons unsalted butter,  cold or room temperature, plus more for slicking the pan
  • 3 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour (I subbed ½ cup whole wheat flour)
  • 1 tablespoon granulated sugar
  • 1 tablespoon wheat bran (optional)
  • 1 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 2 ¼ teaspoons (a ¼-ounce packet) instant yeast
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons melted butter for brushing the loaf

Butter a 9-by-5-by-3-in loaf pan. My pan is actually a bit larger, it works fine.

In a small saucepan, heat the buttermilk and butter over medium heat until it registers about 130ºF(54°C) on an instant-read or candy thermometer. My buttermilk breaks every time, don't worry, it'll be fine. Remove from the heat.

In a stand mixer fit with the flat beater, mix together 1½ cups of the flour (or 1 cup flour, and ½ cup whole wheat flour), the sugar, wheat bran (if using), salt, and yeast on low speed just until combined. Add the warm buttermilk mixture and mix until all the ingredients are smooth and combined. Add the egg and continue beating for 1 minute. Add the remaining 1¾ cups flour and continue mixing for 5 minutes. The dough will be sticky and will not come away from the sides of the bowl. 

Scrape the dough into the prepared pan and brush the top with the melted butter. Cover the pan loosely with waxed paper and let the dough rise to within 1 inch of the top of the pan (I let my dough rise to about an inch over the rim), about 25-40 minutes. Set your timer, otherwise you'll forget, guess how I know? Position a rack in the middle or lower third of the oven and preheat it to 375ºF.

Bake the loaf until the top feels firm and is browned, about 40 minutes. Let cool in the pan on a wire rack for 5 minutes, then turn out onto the rack and let cool completely before slicing. Keeps well in a plastic bag for at least 3 days.

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