Cooking for Hugo: Avocado Cucumber Salad
Jennifer Steinhauer's Field Day Poundcake

Melissa Clark's Excellent White Bread

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Omg omg omg, you guys, the baby's down. Asleep. In the bedroom. In the middle of the day! WHAT. I know!

I should go shower. But instead I will blog. It's like the good old days! Who knows how long I've got, ten minutes? 30? An hour? I've got the William Tell Overture blaring in my sleep-deprived brain and the computer open, so let's do this thing. Here goes!

So I made more bread. It seems to be the theme of the month! This time, it's Melissa Clark's recipe for Excellent White Bread. And it is indeed Excellent with a capital E. Totally, majestically excellent. I mean, check out that loaf up there! It's like Moby Dick sailing through my kitchen, or something.

It makes fantastic toast - all crisp on the outside and soft on the inside. It makes very decadent grilled cheese sandwiches. And I used it for baked French toast on the weekend and it was stupendous in that too. (Tangent: Want to impress Europeans? Make baked French toast. I don't know why, but every time I make it for guests, be they German, French, Belgian or Italian, their minds are blown. It's very neat. Maybe it's also the maple syrup? I don't know. Who cares! DO IT.)

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If you are a novice to bread-making, let this recipe be your gateway drug. It is so easy and so foolproof. And I made it even more so with instant yeast (see this post, see this cookbook, yadda yadda). The original recipe calls for 1/3 cup of sugar, but this makes the bread too sweet for sandwiches (though it's pretty great for French toast). If you want a nice, neutral loaf of sandwich bread (or "toast bread", as the Germans call it), two tablespoons of sugar is plenty to give the bread a little oomph, but not too much.

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Oooh, this is fun bread to make. The dough is firm and smooth and satiny and gorgeous and rises just as much as it's supposed to in all the different stages. The crumb is tight and cottony and looks practically store bought, if that's a compliment to you (if it's not, you know what I mean, right?). We chomped our way through one loaf (a full recipe baked in a verrrrry long loaf pan) in an alarmingly short period of time and my husband, who is genetically predisposed to dark, grainy, wholesome loaves, asked me specifically to make another loaf as soon as possible. He gets it: EX-CELL-ENT.

Aaaaand, the baby's awake.

Excellent White Bread
Adapted from Melissa Clark's recipe

Makes 2 loaves

5 to 6 cups/625 grams to 750 grams all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 ½ cups/355 milliliters lukewarm milk
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon/15 grams salt
3 tablespoons/43 grams unsalted butter, soft, plus more for greasing bowl and pans and for brushing the tops of the loaves
2 eggs

1. In a large electric mixer bowl, place 5 cups of the flour. Add all of the remaining ingredients. Mix with the hook attachment on low speed, adding more flour if necessary, until dough is stiff and slightly tacky, 8 to10 minutes.

2. Grease a large bowl with butter and turn dough out into the bowl. Flip over dough so greased side is up, cover with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and set in a warm, draft-free spot (like a turned-off oven) until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Generously butter two 9-x-5 loaf pans.

3. When dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto floured surface and knead for 3 minutes. Return to greased bowl, cover and let rise again for 30 minutes.

4. Press down dough with your hand to expel the air. Divide dough in half and place each half into a loaf pan. Brush tops of loaves with remaining melted butter.

5. Cover and let rise until dough is just above the tops of pans, 45 minutes to 1 hour.

6. Heat oven to 400 degrees. Bake bread for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake for an additional 20 to 30 minutes, or until loaves sound hollow when tapped, the tops are brown and the internal temperatures are 200 degrees. Remove loaves from pans and let cool on wire racks. The loaves will keep for at least three days at room temperature in a bread box.

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