Warning!: Today's post is a long one. Why? Because I've explained how I got such a soft and light bread, the most tender that I have made so far and the ways that you can as well. But still, if you're getting edgy to jump to the instructions, click here.
A plain, white and basic white loaf of bread is so versatile. Isn't it? You can toast it and slather with butter, jam, cheese spread, what not. You can make sandwiches out of it, use it for desserts like bread and butter pudding, or a french toast. The list is long...
A simple white loaf is the first type of bread that you should bake and master if you're planning to become a serious bread baker. And for this reason, though I have made it many times before and have improved a little each time, I still wasn't getting that pillowy softness that I was looking for. But not anymore!
This time when I baked this bread, it turned out to be really really soft and surprisingly, the weight of the baked loaf was at least half of my previous sandwich breads. As soon as I picked up the baked and cooled bread, I knew that this has turned out to be much better than all my previous efforts.
So what changes did I make to my Sesame Sandwich Bread recipe to get this fluffy bread? Well, I made three major changes. First during preparing the ingredients for the dough, second during the kneading and third, during the final proofing.
While preparing the ingredients, I used the Tangzhong method which is being used by bread bakers for a long time, but I've discovered it just recently. In this method, you dissolve a little flour out of the total flour weight with water or milk which is again part of the liquid called for in the recipe (this flour and water mixture is also called the water roux). After combining the flour and water / milk, it's cooked on a low flame till you get a thick paste. Once it cools, it's added to the other ingredients of the dough and kneaded. What this method does is, when you cook the flour and water/milk, the starch molecules in the flour absorb the liquid, swell and lock the moisture in. So when you add the water roux to the other ingredients, you already have the moisture multiplied which in turn gives you a soft, tender and light bread.
Next was the proofing stage. Till now, I always proved my dough till it reached double it's size before baking it. But to my surprise, if you proof the dough longer it turns out to be softer! So the result of all these changes? An extremely well risen, soft, light, fluffy and tender bread. So what are you waiting for? Let's get on to make this beautiful bread!
Recipe Source: Ingredients from Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart and the Method from The Fresh Loaf
305 grams / 11 ounces bread flour or strong white flour plus a little extra for sprinkling
3/4 teaspoon salt
25 grams / 1 ounce granulated sugar
1 teaspoon instant dry yeast
25 grams / 1 ounce butter (at room temperature) or oil
170-190 grams / 6fl - 8fl ounces water (the amount of water you require depends on your flour) at room temperature
For the Water roux
Take out about 15 grams / 0.5 ounces flour from the 305 grams / 11 ounces flour in a small saucepan. Add 75 grams / 2.5fl ounces water from the total water weight and add it to the flour. Mix with a hand held whisk or spatula until there are no lumps. Cook the mixture on a low flame until you get a paste consistency or when ribbons form in the pan when you hold the whisk or spatula above the mixture. Let the mixture cool.
For the Dough
Meanwhile in the bowl of a stand mixer, mix together rest of the bread flour, salt and sugar. Add the yeast and mix. Now add the cooled water roux, rest of the water and oil or butter. Knead the dough using the dough hook, first on the minimum speed until the dough starts to form and then on speed 1 until the right stage is achieved (which would take about 15 mins). You can knead the dough by hand as well, but it's going to take a long time.
To understand if you've reached the right windowpane stage, once you stretch the dough and it forms a windowpane, try to poke your finger through it (start checking after about 10 mins of kneading). The dough should not tear at this point. However, when you poke your finger real hard, you get a hole whose edges should be smooth and not rough. If the edges are rough, knead the dough a little longer. If you can easily poke your finger through the hole, then it means that you have over kneaded the dough. Over kneading isn't going to a pose a major problem. Just that the texture of the bread might be a little rough. Don't worry, it takes some time to get this right. Keep trying.
I'm sorry as I forgot to take photos of these stages. I've tried my best to explain this without it becoming too lengthy or confusing. If you want to look at the photos and understand, please click here.
Lightly oil a large bowl and rotate the dough in the bowl so as to coat the dough with oil. Cover the bowl with a cling film and let it rest at room temperature until the dough has risen noticeably but is not double in size. Punch back the dough, cover with the same cling film again and keep in the refrigerator overnight.
The next day, remove the dough from the fridge and the bowl, knead for few seconds and divide into three equal pieces. Spray all the pieces with oil and cover with a cling film and let rest for 1 hour to remove the chill. If you want to make one single loaf, don't divide the dough, let it rest for an hour and proceed with the shaping as mentioned below.
Press each piece into a thin rectangle and roll it lightly like a swiss roll and let rest for 10 minutes. If the dough keeps coming back and doesn't stretch when you press it, let it rest for 20 minutes and then repeat.
Grease an 8 1/2 * 4 1/2 pan. With the seam side up, press each ball thoroughly again into a rectangle. Now roll it again like a swiss roll, but this time tighter. Place the shaped pieces with the seam side down in the greased pan, spacing them equally part. They might touch other, it's ok. Spray with oil and cover loosely with a cling film and let to rest.
Once the dough is almost triple in size, preheat the oven to 175 degrees C / 350 degrees F. Bake the bread in the preheated oven till golden brown overall and sounds hollow when knocked on the bottom with your knuckles. Alternatively, you can check if the bread is done with a food thermometer as well. It should register at least 95 degrees C / 190 degrees F.
Remove the bread from the pan and brush with melted butter and let cool on a wire rack completely before slicing.
Enjoy your home made soft and fluffy White Sandwich Bread!
Storage Suggestions: This bread can be stored at room temperature for up to 3 days in a ziplock bag or frozen for up to a month.