Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Classic White Bread

In the late seventies, my friend Tyra and I left the flatirons of Boulder, Colorado for the desert of West Texas.  There was an oil boom going on and we decided to get a little slice of it.  We traded the mountains for the flat, bare, dry, windy and dusty plains of the Permian Basin and experienced geographical and cultural shock.  Doesn't sound like a fair trade, but the experience we gained from it was worth it and I grew to appreciate it in many ways.

We opened a Tea Room in Midland, Texas which was actually a second location, as Tyra's mother owned the original in San Antonio.  We were just young ladies who didn't know what we were doing at the time, but we learned really quick.

Tyra's mother Helen taught us a thing or two; and one of those things was a Ribbon Party Loaf.  Classic ladies' luncheon fare, it is a loaf of white bread, crust removed and sliced horizontally in thirds.  The loaf was assembled with a base of white bread, layer of filling (chicken salad, egg salad, ham salad, pimiento cheese, et al), layer of white bread, an alternate filling and topped with the top layer of white bread.  All of this was encased in a spreadable cream cheese mixture then refrigerated for several hours or overnight.  Sliced up, it produced a striking and feminine sandwich on the plate.
Now that I have your curiosity all a-buzz, I'm sorry to tell you this post is all about the bread.  I promise to bring you the Party Loaf in the near future.

I haven't made a Ribbon Party Loaf in 20 years and I want to make several this summer so my first order of business is to select a good, basic white bread recipe that won't fall apart, yet have a nice crumb and flavor.  The big test is how it will hold up with fillings and how it will slice.

All of that said, the clipping for today is a classic white bread recipe that I tore out of a King Arthur Flour catalogue many moons ago.

It's an easy bread to prepare by mixing all of the ingredients in the order they're given in the recipe (water, honey, yeast, salt, butter, flour and nonfat dry milk) and knead (with the dough hook or by hand - I did a little of both) until you have a nice smooth dough that is elastic.

Shape the dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl - I used a large 8 cup measuring cup.  Cover with a tea towel and let it rise for 60 - 90 minutes until it is puffy.  It doesn't have to be doubled in size.

Gently deflate the dough.  Wow, my hands are getting old.  Oh wait, could that be because I'm getting old??

Shape it in a log 9" long

Place in a 9" x 5" lightly greased loaf pan.

Cover and let rise 60 - 90 minutes

until it's crowned 1" to 1-1/2" over the rim of the pan

Bake for 20 minutes.  The crown of this mass of dough is ripply; like my thighs; not really; I'll never tell.

Tent with foil and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes until golden brown or an instant-read thermometer reads between 195°F & 200°F.

Turn out onto a rack and let completely cool.

For what it's worth:  I am please with this bread.  It smells great, tastes great (especially with slathered with soft butter) and has the texture I'm looking for.  A test on how it holds up with fillings will be the next step in deciding if this will be the bread to become a party loaf!
Classic White Bread
Yields 1 large loaf; about 18 servings

1 cup + 2 Tbsp, to 1-1/4 cups lukewarm water*
1 heaping Tbsp honey
2-1/4 tsp instant yeast
1-3/4 tsp salt
2 Tbsp soft butter
4 cups King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1/3 cup Baker's Special Dry Milk or 1/2 cup nonfat dry milk granules
*  Use the lesser amount in summer or humid climates; the greater amount in winter or drier climates.
(I used the lesser amount because it is raining cats and dogs this evening)

Mise en Place:
  • measure out all ingredients and allow to come to room temperature
  • lightly grease a large bowl (I use Crisco)
  • lightly grease a 9" x 5" loaf pan
Mix all of the ingredients in the order listed, and mix and knead to make a smooth dough, one that feels bouncy and elastic under your hands.  Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, or large (8-cup) measuring cup.  Cover it, and let it rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until it's become quite puffy, though not necessarily doubled in size.

Gently deflate the dough, and shape it into a fat 9" log.  Place it in a lightly greased 9" x 5" loaf pan.  Cover the pan, and let the dough rise for 60 to 90 minutes, until it's crowned 1" to 1-1/2" over the rim of the pan.  Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the bread for 20 minutes.  Tent it lightly with aluminum foil, and bake for an additional 15 to 20 minutes, until it's golden brown.  An instant-read thermometer inserted into the center will read 195°F to 200°F.

Remove the bread from the oven, and turn it out onto a rack to cool.  When completely cool, wrap in plastic, and store at room temperature.

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