Sandwich Bread - Make or Buy?

Homemade White Bread

Sandwich bread is one of those staples (like eggs and milk) that I always try to have in the house. From morning toast, to a quick PB&J, it's just good to have bread around.

So recently, when I reached for a loaf at the grocery store, I hesitated. I've been baking my own breads for a few years now, from little artisan loaves to baguettes. I was getting seriously picky about the bread I was eating at dinner, and yet here I was, sticking with habit and buying plain old grocery store sandwich bread.

I decided it was time to try making my own, so I pulled out my my trusty Baking with Julia, and got to work. In total, the recipe took a little longer than three hours but yielded two stunning white loaves that kick the butt of grocery store sandwich bread any day of the week.

The downside? The 3 hours required pulls these out of weeknight baking, these loaves are relegated to the weekend or random days off. And like all baked goods, the shelf life of homemade bread is just a couple of days. Not very long if you want to have bread around all week long. One thought to consider, if you have the space for a bread machine, homemade loaves are even easier and the time commitment for rising, etc is completely handled by the machine and not by you.

The verdict? Sandwich bread is pretty easy to make and tastes great. If you happen to be home and have the time for it, I'd definitely say make it yourself. But, if you are like me,  pressed for time, and want bread ever at the ready, save the homemade loaves for special occasions or when you are in the mood to bake, and just buy your sandwich bread. Or buy a bread machine.

Boozy Epicure's White Sandwich Bread
Adapted from Baking with Julia White Loaves recipe

Since there are only 2 in my household, I've scaled the recipe down to make just one loaf. 

1 cup warm water
2 tsp active dry yeast
1 tsp honey
3 cups (approximately) bread flour (AP works fine too)
2 tsp kosher salt
1/4 stick (1 oz) unsalted butter, at room temperature

Put the water and honey in the bowl of your stand mixer and sprinkle in the yeast. Stir to combine then let it sit for 5 minutes so the yeast can wake up and get foamy.

The yeast is just getting started.

Add the three cups of flour to your bowl and (using the dough hook) turn the mixer on low until the dough comes together. Add the salt and turn the mixer to medium and get that dough kneading. You'll need about 10 minuted to get it smooth and elastic. If your dough is looking too sticky, you may need to add additional flour, just sprinkle it in little bits at a time. 

Dough is together, add the salt and turn the speed to medium.

Once your dough is smooth and unified, it's time to add the butter. Turn the mixer down to low and start adding your butter, one pat at a time. This is at first going to make your dough break apart and look oily. Don't freak out, just keep it going. Once all the butter is added, turn the mixer back to medium and let your dough come back together in one unified mass.

Don't stress, the butter just needs to get incorporated.
Here is where I like to knead by hand, on a lightly floured surface, just for a minute to make sure the dough is how I like it. Smooth and soft, it should not be sticky or tough. Shape the dough into a ball and place in an oiled bowl, turning the dough ball so it too gets a light coating of oil. Place a piece of plastic wrap over it and let it rise until doubled in size, anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour.

Dough ball
Risen dough ball

Once it has risen, butter a loaf pan (roughly 8.5 x 4.5 inches) and set it aside. Deflate the dough and turn it onto a lightly floured surface for its final shaping. You can use a rolling pin, but I like to use my hands. Pat the dough into a rectangle (about 9 x 12 inches) placing the short side towards you. Grab the top of the dough and fold it down about 2/3 of the way, then fold it again to meet the bottom. Pinch the seam to seal it then move that seam to the center pointing up. Now grab each end and turn it up and tuck so that your dough will fit into the loaf pan. Pinch the seams to seal then flip your dough so all the seams are down and plump it so that it shaped evenly. Place in the buttered loaf pan, seam side down, cover with oiled plastic wrap, and allow to rise a second time (45 minutes to an hour) until the dough is rising over the top of the pan.

1. Large rectangle...
2. Top folded down...

3. Folded again...
4. Pinched and tucked.

5. Ready for the pan.

While you are waiting for the final rise, center your oven rack and preheat to 375 F.

Dough in pan before rise.
When your loaf is ready to bake, pop the pan in the oven on the center rack for 35 to 45 minutes, until the loaf is golden brown. I like to pull the loaf out of the pan at 35 minutes and continue the last 10 minutes with the loaf directly on the oven rack so it can brown evenly on all sides. If you like to go by temp, the bread is done when the inside center hits 200 F.

After rise, ready to bake.

When your loaf is done, let it cool on a baking rack (if you kept it in the pan the whole time, make sure you take it out of the pan immediately for cooling).

Finished baking, just needs to cool.

View from behind.

It will smell glorious, but you must wait until is it almost completely cool. A touch warm is okay, still hot is not. Trust me on this, it will be well worth your effort.

When it is cool, slice to your preferred thickness and eat. It makes delicious toast and killer sandwiches!

The fruit of your labor, makes a simple ham sandwich sing.