Ages ago I promised my kind and hilarious friend Maureen that I would send her my basic bread recipe, and then I failed to do that. (Not because I'm too lazy to copy and paste, but because it's not actually written down anywhere.)
But THEN she suggested I post it here this week, and I'm thrilled for an excuse to phone in one of these posts, so here we go.
Oh, but first, a little back story.
My dad makes very good basic white sandwich bread. Excellent bread, really - soft and light, but still a little chewy. I swear, you haven't had toast until you've had toast made with this bread. When my siblings and I were in high school (I promise I am not making this up) our friends used to come over and ask for toast at 11pm or whenever, because toast made with my dad's bread is just that good.
He CLAIMS the recipe is from James Beard's bread cookbook, but I have used that recipe as written and I can attest that it does not result in bread like my father's. I determined there must be some x factors involved, so about a year and a half ago I resolved to figure it out. (Dad is eternally generous and would bring a batch of six loaves of bread for our freezer whenever he came down, but I figured it was time for us to become bread-self-sufficient. Self-bread-sufficient. Self-breadficient?)
I had him tell me exactly how he makes the bread. And then I tried doing it like that, and then I tried a bunch of variations, and eventually I devised a method that does not involve kneading by hand (which my dad does, but which I prefer not to do for a variety of reasons) and which is reasonably foolproof.
The original recipe is flour, water, salt, and yeast, which are the basic ingredients for your chewier breads, but softer breads are generally enriched, and this is one of the things that was bugging me about my dad's bread: how could it be so soft and not be enriched? But I eventually figured out that it IS enriched: he adds an extremely generous glop of oil to the bowl that holds the dough, and ends up kneading most of it in. So I made it easier on myself and just add the oil near the beginning now.
Anyway, here's the recipe. I am a little nervous about sharing it because I've only tested it myself, but I think it should work. I weigh the ingredients when I do the recipe, but I am sharing volume measurements here, because I know that is what most people do. If you want the weights, let me know!
Basic White Bread
makes two loaves
2-1/2 cups warm water
1 Tbsp yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
6-8 cups flour
2 Tbsp oil
1 Tbsp salt
for 5"x9" pans:
3-1/2 cups warm water
4 tsp yeast
1 Tbsp sugar
9-11 cups flour
3 Tbsp oil
5 tsp salt
(I know these are not quite the same proportions. It's okay! All measurements are general anyway. Feel free to wing it.)
1. Dump the water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Add yeast and sugar. Stir together and let sit about 5 minutes, until foamy.
2. Add (the low-end amount of) flour, the oil, and the salt. Using dough hook (on "Stir" speed), knead until dough forms a ball on hook and cleans sides of bowl, adding more flour if necessary. Once the dough balls up, it should not be sticky to the touch; if it is, add a little more flour. Err on the side of adding extra flour.
Once dough is smooth and uniform (this will take at least 5 minutes of kneading), transfer to oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap or clean cloth, and let dough rise until doubled, 60-90 minutes. (It might take longer if it's sitting in a cool place.) You'll know it's ready to be punched down when you can stick a fingertip into it and it doesn't bounce back at all.
Deflate the dough and let it rise until doubled again, which should take a little less time this round. Deflate and let it rest for 5 minutes before forming it into loaves. (Make sure you grease the bread pans really well. I use at least a couple teaspoons butter per pan.)
Cover loaves in pans and let rise until the loaf is an inch or so above the edge of the pan. (This takes about 45 minutes, in my experience.)