Sunday, July 10, 2011

Honey White Bread

I have a bit of an embarrassing confession to make: I sometimes watch food or cooking shows. I do watch more edgy options, like Anthony Bourdain's No Reservations, but occasionally also find myself sitting in front of Rachel Ray, Giada de Laurentiis or the Barefoot Contessa. I get great tips and techniques from the Contessa and great, easy recipes from Rachel and Giada (as a side note, some of Rachel's later episodes are far less annoying because I think she toned down her personality a bit).

The other day I watched an episode of the Barefoot Contessa that was all about flour and it had a segment on White Honey Bread. Bf has been asking me to try bread for quite some time now and this recipe didn't require a baking stone and seemed pretty straight forward, so I thought I would give it a try. Unfortunately, this recipe, like almost all bread recipes, calls for a stand up mixer and a bread paddle. Not only do I not own either pieces of equipment, but I am quite certain they wouldn't fit in my kitchen. So I didn't a little internet research and determined I could combine my hand mixer and my own two arms instead. Also, the recipe traditionally produces two loaves and requires you to use two loaf pans. That's one of my biggest complaints with the Barefoot Contessa, she sort of assumes everyone has fancy, hoity toity materials, ingredients, and equipment. I only have one loaf pan, so I just halved the ingredients and hoped for the best.

There is a very widespread myth that bread is really hard to make. The truth is that sure, it takes a while what with the rising and such, but it's actually pretty simple, especially if you have a standing mixer. So, if you know you are going to be home for an afternoon or night, you should definitely give it a try.

Honey White Bread (two loaves)
from The Barefoot Contessa at Home

1/2 cup warm water, at 110 degrees (so I used 1/4 of a cup, you get the idea)
2 packages dry yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
1 1/2 cups warm whole milk (110 degrees)
6 tablespoons (3/4 stick) unsalted butter, melted and cooled
1 1/2 tablespoons honey
2 extra-large egg yolks
5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon kosher salt
1 egg white, lightly beaten

I started by melting the butter in a small sauce pan and letting it cool. Around the same time, I also took out the egg so it could come up to room temperature. Once the butter was cool, I put the sugar and yeast in the big bowl I planned to use later and added the warm water. Since I don't have a food thermometer, I had to estimate, but I think it worked out ok.

I let the yeast sit for about five minutes until it got foamy and bubbly.

Then, I added the butter, honey and milk and mixed. I separated the egg, reserving the egg white for later, added the yolk to the bowl, and mixed again.

Then, I added 1.5 cups of flour and mixed for about 3 minutes. The recipe suggested I mixed on medium speed for five minutes, but frankly, my hand mixer has been making this horrible, high pitched sound and after three minutes my ears were begging me to stop.

Next, I added another cup of flour to the batter and continued to mix. After about thirty seconds the dough was defeating my hand mixer, so I switched to a spatula instead, using vigorous folds and stirs to incorporate the flour.

Then, I added more flour little by little (in sprinklings like the one to the left) and incorporated it. I continued until the dough no longer stuck to the sides of the bowl.

Next, I turned the dough out onto a floured surface and kneaded by hand for a few minutes. In retrospect, I think I should have kneaded for a little while longer because the dough didn't rise quite as much as I would have liked. It was still freakishly delicious, but didn't look quite like it should have. Basically, it's ready to go once it's all nice and smooth and when you pull on it, it doesn't retract.

I put the dough into a buttered bowl and covered with a towel and left the bowl in a warm place. Next time, I'm going to use cling wrap because I like to check on its progress. Also, I think I should have left the dough to rise for longer than an hour.

After an hour, I rolled the dough into a log shape and place it in a buttered loaf pan. I then covered the pan and let the dough rise for another hour.

After about 40 minutes, I turned on the oven and let it preheat. I then baked the bread for about 30 minutes.  The recipe originally called for the bread to bake for 40-45 minutes, but my loaf took far less time. I think if there had been two loaves in the oven and the loaf had risen more the timing would have been more accurate. Anyway, after 30 minutes, the bread was golden brown on top and the entire apartment smelled amazing. I could tell it was done because when I tapped on the top of the loaf, it sounded hollow.

I then took a sharp knife and cut around the pan edge. Using a clean towel in my right hand, I flipped the bread into my hand and placed it onto a wire cooling rack.

After letting the bread cool as much as I could possibly stand it, I sliced the bread and put a little margarine on the bread while it was still a little warm. We literally can't stop eating it. If there is any left by the end of the night, I will be shocked. I will definitely be making this recipe again!

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