Bread Baking (the ordinary way)
After several months of using the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes recipe to bake bread every few days for the family, I thought I might give a try to making “ordinary” bread, to see how much more work it really is. (The Artisan recipe is great, but I have not had as good luck making sandwich loaves with it; they dry out too quickly and are a little dense most of the time. I’m sure it’s something I’m doing wrong, but whatever it is, I’m doing it wrong fairly consistently and I don’t know what it is…still much better sandwich bread than anything I get in the store, but I’ve just not been as happy in the long run. )
So I did my standard Google search: “best sandwich bread recipe.” Naturally I got a whole bunch of hits…so I tried the one from King Arthur Flour, which looked yummy.
For once I did actually follow the recipe, even though the single loaf used only white flour and 3/4 stick of butter. It also had powdered milk and mashed potato flakes (which I happened to have in the cupboard).
My conclusion to the original question: Yes, making bread the “regular” way is a heckuva lot more work than the Artisan way. The kneading part, honestly, was not that big a deal–in fact, it was less messy in a lot of ways than the much stickier Artisan dough. And it felt kind of nice, squishing and folding this soft cool dough until it smoothed out. And I think the only potential to really screw it up would be using water that’s too hot in the “lukewarm” stage; if it’s much hotter than skin temp (i.e. if it feels very warm when you stick your finger into it, as opposed to just sort of neutral), it’s too hot and may kill your yeast.
The double rise, though—pain in the aspiration! (There might be a “PITA” pun here, acronym, bread type, but I’m not ready to go there…) I never can get my dough to rise until I preheat the oven or create some artificial form of heat in the general vicinity of the dough, and the rising times are imprecise enough that you can’t just assume you know when it’ll be done doing what it needs to do. For a busy and schedule-laden working mom, that is just not do-able. Yesterday I had time to babysit it, but most days I just don’t have the 4+ hours to pay attention. First rise, punch down, shape, second rise, bake. Way impractical for me.
The bread itself: lovely, but honestly (which surprised me!) not as good as I’d hoped. Probably because when most people think “sandwich bread” they are thinking of the soft and sort of insubstantial white bread you get at the grocery store. And this had it all over that stuff, I freely admit. But it’s just not my thing, or my husband’s (though he will eat his sandwiches on it this week nonetheless).
So for anyone who a) has a few hours when they know they will be at home and wants to give this a shot and b) likes soft white bread, I highly recommend this recipe. I’d probably double it and at least get two loaves for my work, but YMMV.
I will doubtless try this process again, but I will try adding some whole grains–maybe a third white-whole-wheat flour and some oat bran, and use honey or brown sugar in place of the white sugar. And see if I can reduce the butter a little bit. And, as I said, I’ll double the recipe for sure.
But as a basic bread-baking plan–the artisan bread is still the way to go for me. The deal with that is that you can leave dough in the fridge for up to a couple of weeks, and then you just put it out to rest for an hour or so before baking it. And you give it a few good slashes in the top before it goes into the oven, so it does a really fast spring-rise in the oven and is lots quicker and easier, and give you a much nicer crispy crust.
Still, either way–I don’t think I’ll ever be relying on store-bought bread again; as with many other things I’ve discovered on my go-green journey, making it myself is cheaper, tastier, and not much more difficult.