Lest you think I do nothing but crochet all day, today I want to share with you my fluffy white bread recipe that can be made both by hand or in a bread machine. I’ve posted this recipe before in a few places, and on my old (now defunct) blog, but I continue to get requests for it. So here it is again.
When my grandmother was just a little girl, she would start her morning the same way, every day. Right after waking, she would make her way to the kitchen, where my great-grandmother would have three or four large balls of dough waiting for her. Every morning started with a thorough kneading that would feed the family their daily bread that day. She hated it, and after she grew up and had a family of her own, she never made bread by hand ever again.
Isn’t it funny, the things that were eschewed just a few generations ago are now deliberately enjoyed? I suppose once something turns itself from a chore that has to be done to a hobby that is done for enjoyment is the main difference. I learned how to make bread in my early 20s and fell in love with the simplicity of it: the magic of its rising, the amazing smell that fills my home, and the first bite of fresh, warm bread straight from the oven.
There’s a distinct difference in taste (to me, at least) between homemade and store-bought bread. I experimented with and enjoyed all sorts of amazing bread – mustard breads, rye breads, spelt breads, you get the idea. Unfortunately, the little ones were a lot less enthusiastic. Once they had their first taste of Wonder Bread at grandma’s house, they begged me to make something similar that was airy and light. And so I experimented until I was able to come up with a fast and fluffy white bread that I could whip up even in the bread machine with little to no effort.
The secret ingredient to fluffy breads is vital wheat gluten, which is the protein part of wheat. Gluten has become somewhat of a dirty word lately in dieting trends, and while the benefits or drawbacks of including it in one’s diet can be debated, if you are not gluten-free, it makes a huge difference between hard, heavy breads, and light and airy ones. Put basically, all the little “holes” you see in breads are from the gluten, and adding a bit of extra gluten to your bread recipes will give you even more holes and lightness. And you don’t need a lot either – just a tablespoon or two added to your dough makes a huge difference. Finding vital wheat gluten at the grocery stores is something that has become much easier lately as well. I see it carried in almost all of the major stores as well as natural food shops. Take a look around the baking aisles, and you’ll find either Arrowhead Mills Vital Wheat Gluten (around $3 for a small box) or Bob’s Red Mill Gluten Flour, which runs around $8-$10 (for a much bigger bag).
This recipe, like all my recipes, can be tweaked in so many ways. If you don’t have a bread machine, it can be done by hand without much extra effort. My preferred way of making it is to run the dough cycle (so I can lazily avoid all the effort that goes into kneading) and then taking it out, putting it into a greased loaf pan, and baking it that way. You can also modify the ingredients to make it much more of a health bread. Or, you can simply toss all the ingredients in your machine, and be off. I’ll go through all these options. And while it may look like a lot of work at first, it actually is quite simple – I spend less than five minutes putting it together.
The basic recipe:
Fluffy White Bread (makes 1 loaf)
1 Tablespoon yeast
1- 1/4 cups warm water (110-115 degrees is ideal, but as long as it feels quite warm, like bath water, you should be all right)
1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon olive oil (can substitute other oil or butter)
3 cups white flour
1 Tablespoon vital wheat gluten (don’t leave this out!)
1-1/2 t salt
Proof Your Yeast:
Before beginning, first proof your yeast (which means to make sure it’s active). To do this, just add about the quarter cup of the warm water to the yeast, sprinkle it with the 1 T sugar, and let it sit for about ten minutes or so. If it starts to get foamy, it’s good to go. If it just sits at the bottom and looks the same after ten minutes, get yourself some new yeast, because the bread won’t rise). Add the remaining 1 cup water and proceed.
Bread Machine Directions:
Put all ingredients into your bread machine as your machine instructs (mine says put the liquid ingredients in first, then the dry; yours might be opposite). Press “start”. Voilà!
Bread Machine Directions on dough cycle:
Put all ingredients in as above. Select dough cycle. After the cycle has ended, punch dough down and place in a greased loaf pan (or shape into a round, or however you like). Cover with a damp towel and let it sit for about 20 minutes. Then bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes. It’s ready when you tap on the top and it sounds hollow on the inside.
Directions by hand:
To proofed yeast, add remaining water, sweetener, oil and salt. Combine the flour with the vital wheat gluten, and begin to stir in. When the dough gets too thick to stir, start kneading the remaining flour mixture in until it has all been combined. Continue kneading on a floured surface for about 5 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and elastic. Grease a large bowl, put the dough in, then take the dough out, flip upside down and put back in (this is just to make sure that the entire round of dough is coated with a little bit of the grease to keep it from drying out). Then put a damp towel over the top of the bowl and put it in a warm place to rise for an hour (I put mine on top of the refrigerator, usually). After an hour, the dough should have doubled in size. Punch it down, place it in a greased loaf pan and cover with the towel again for about 20 more minutes. Then bake in a 350 degree oven for about 20-25 minutes. It’s ready when you tap on the top and it sounds hollow on the inside.
Healthy and Substitutes and Flavorful Variations:
The possibilities of changing this recipe up are limitless! To make the original recipe a little healthier, you may want to use one or any of these substitutions:
~ whole wheat flour instead of white flour
~ honey, molasses or agave nectar instead of sugar
~ sea salt rather than table salt
~ throw in a small amount of hemp seed, chia seed, or ground flax seeds
~ add a little cracked wheat and sprinkle sesame seeds on top
For a completely different flavor:
~ shredded cheddar cheese, minced olives and black pepper
~ parsley and a tablespoon or two of powdered ranch dressing mix
~ a bit of (room temperature) tomato paste, minced garlic and Parmesan cheese
~ a teaspoon of vanilla extract, a tablespoon of cinnamon and a handful of raisins
The possibilities really are endless, and your end result will be fresher – and more frugal – than picking up bread from your local bakery.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, it’s time for a bit of fresh baked bread, toasted, with jam for me. Have a wonderful Monday, everyone!