Everyone who is afraid of making bread, please raise your hand.
Well, I wish I could see you and then I wish I could come into your kitchen, hold your hand, and make this bread with you. There are a few reasons for this. One, after my experience last week, I’d love to meet more people who read this blog. Two, I would like to help dispel the myth that bread is scary and hard to make. Three, I would love to share the joy and wonder that is bread baking. And four, maybe you would let me take some of the bread home because mine is all gone.
I know – yeast. Eeeek! But it does. not. have. to. be. so! I have made this bread countless times and it always turns out perfectly. It has nothing to do with my experience or any kind of “magic” – it’s just a terrific recipe and it’s easy. Really.
The one thing you will need here is time. This bread has four rising times, the longest being two hours and the shortest being ten minutes. The process will take five hours from beginning to end but almost all of that is rising time. Your hands-on time (like with most bread) is maybe half an hour and even that is split into small increments. Take advantage of one of those rainy days where you are just home and take the leap. Maybe you are also making a big pot of soup or a lasagna or something that is going to keep you in the kitchen for a few hours. The dough will keep you company while you work.
And at the end of it all you get two gigantic loaves of the most fragrant, soft yet dense, and slightly sweet bread you can imagine. It freezes incredibly well so you can enjoy one loaf and save the other for another time. My very favorite way to eat it is completely plain – it’s that good. But it also makes terrific french toast, bread pudding and grilled goat cheese sandwiches which you then serve with homemade Tomato and Leek soup. Recipe for that one coming soon.
A couple of notes. I use my Kitchen Aid mixer to make this dough. I use the paddle attachment to mix everything together, and about halfway through adding the flour, I switch to the dough hook. Once all the flour is added (and I think 6 cups is just about spot-on), I let it mix for about 5 minutes. Dough that is sufficiently kneaded should feel like your ear lobe. A perfect place to let your dough rise is in the oven. Turn it on to it’s lowest setting and then turn it off after just a few minutes. Just that little bit of heat (plus no draft) will make it nice and cozy in there. When you need to heat the oven to bake the bread, place the loaves on the stovetop where they will still get residual heat.
Adapted from Food and Wine
Makes 2 large loaves
2 packages active dry yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water (about 110°)
1/3 cup sugar, plus a pinch
1 stick (4 ounces) unsalted butter, thinly sliced, plus 2 tablespoons, melted
1 cup milk
1 tbsp. honey
2 1/2 tsp. salt
4 large eggs, at room temperature
About 6 cups bread flour
1 large egg plus 1 large egg yolk and 1 tbsp. water
1. In a small bowl, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water with the pinch of sugar and let stand until creamy and starting to bubble. In a medium saucepan, combine the sliced butter and the milk. Warm over low heat just until the butter melts. Stir in the remaining 1/3 cup of sugar and the honey and slat. Pour the milk mixture into a large bowl and stir in the dissolved yeast and the 4 eggs.
2. Stir in just enough of the flour, 1/2 cup at a time, to form a dense dough that doesn’t stick to the side of the bowl. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, adding only as much flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking.
3. Brush a large bowl with 1 1/2 tablespoons of the melted butter. Transfer the dough to the buttered bowl and brush the top with the remaining 1/2 tablespoon of melted butter. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel and let rise in a warm, draft-free spot until the dough is doubled in bulk, about 2 hours.
4. Punch down the dough, then cover and let rise again until doubled in bulk again, about 1 1/4 hours.
5. Line 2 large rimmed baking sheets with parchment paper. On a lightly floured surface, divide the dough in half. Cover one half with plastic wrap and divide the other half into 3 equal pieces. Using lightly floured hands, roll each piece into a 10-inch long rope with tapered ends.
6. Arrange the 3 ropes side by side pointing toward you and just touching. Starting in the middle and working toward your body, braid the ropes together, bringing the outside ropes over the center one. Pinch the ends to seal and tuck them under. Turn the loaf around and repeat with the other half, this time braiding the outer ropes under the center one. Seal the ends, tuck them under and transfer the loaf to a prepared baking sheet; gently plump the loaf with your hands. Repeat with the remaining dough. Cover the loaves with kitchen towels and let rise for 35 minutes.
7. Preheat the oven to 375°F. Mix the remaining egg, egg yolk, and tablespoon of water together to make a glaze. Brush the loaves with the egg glaze. Let stand uncovered for 10 minutes, then brush again with the glaze. Bake the loaves in the upper and lower thirds of the oven, switching the pans halfway through baking, for 35-45 minutes, or until they are golden, feel light when lifted and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Loosely cover the loaves with foil if they become too brown during baking. Transfer to a rack and let cool thoroughly before slicing.