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The Practical Baker
Good, Old Basic Bread
Wednesday, October 15, 2008 • Posted October 15, 2008

Before we get into the building of a really great loaf of basic white bread, I want to clarify something that has caused a bit of confusion. In my “Quick and Easy Biscuit” recipe, I called out the use of “salad dressing.” As one or two readers pointed out to me, there’s lots and lots of salad dressings out there! What I meant, and should have specifically stated, was that you should use a product like Miracle Whip Salad Dressing. The clarification of this got me to thinking about the possibilities of using other kinds of salad dressings, so I’ll be experimenting with different types and let you know what I find out.

This recipe is from S. John Ross, and one that he presented to the world back in 1999. It produces a great loaf of bread, and does so on a consistent basis.

Basic Bread

1 1/3 cups of very warm (100 degree or so) water

1 rounded tablespoon of sugar

2 teaspoons of salt

2 teaspoons of butter (vary as needed, per instructions that follow), softened

4 rounded cups of bread flour, which equates to almost 5 level cups

1 teaspoon of active dry yeast

Step 1: The dough can be created either by hand or by machine. If you’re in a hurry, like I seem to be, all the time, using your bread machine is the right way to go. If you’re lazy, like I am, all the time, using the bread machine is the ONLY way to go. For a machine mix, add all the ingredients to the bucket, in the order recommended by the manufacturer, place the machine on the “dough cycle,” walk away from it for an hour or so, and when it’s ready, go directly to “Step 3.” If you want to mix it by hand, in a large mixing bowl, dissolve sugar, salt and water. Sprinkle the yeast on top, stir it in, and let it stand for about 10 minutes. Stir it again, add the softened butter, and then begin gradually adding the flour, a half cup at a time, until the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and begin kneading it, slowly working in the balance of the flour, while shaping it into a smooth mass. This can take up to 15 minutes.

Step 2: Oil or butter the inside of a large mixing bowl, turn the dough ball into the bowl and roll it around to get it covered with the oil or butter. Place a towel over the bowl, and place the covered bowl in a warm, draft free location. Let it rise until it has doubled in size, generally around 45 minutes. To check to see if it’s ready for the next step, stick your finger into the top of the dough ball; if the tunnel you make doesn’t begin to close up, the dough has finished rising.

Step 3: Remove the dough from the bowl, punch it down, and give it a quick kneading, no more than a couple of turns. Form the dough into a fat cigar shape, about a foot or so long. Place the formed dough on either a pizza stone or a cookie sheet that you’ve lightly dusted with corn meal. Make a couple of cuts, with your sharpest knife, down the middle of the loaf, and if you’re feeling frisky, make 3 or 4 more cuts across the loaf.

Step 4: Cover the dough loaf with paper towels and return it to that nice, warm place you used for the first rise, and let it rise again until almost doubled in size.

Step 5: This step has a bit of a twist to it, in that you place the dough in an UNHEATED oven, and then turn it onto 350 degrees. (I don’t know why he uses the cool oven technique, but it works!) Let it bake for 30-45 minutes until it turns a nice, golden brown. Since all ovens are different, it’s a good idea to begin checking your bread after the first 30 minutes. The finished loaf should sound hollow when you tap the bottom of it with your knuckles. After removing the bread, brush the top with olive oil or melted butter. Let it cool on a rack for at least an hour.

I think you’ll find that this is one of the better breads you’ll make. I’ve made it several times, and it always comes out the same, which I can’t say for some of my other experiments in the bakery!

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