White bread. It can lure atheists out of the safety of their homes, proclaiming that only in a godless world can white bread exist. It can divide a family and drive sane parents to seek asylum in distant lands of unknown longitude and latitude. I have had to avoid certain supermarket aisles because of the fear of nostalgic seizures caused by memories of yellow American cheese, grilled with pads of butter on white bread. It can send kids into a frenzy of gluttony, down a path of hypoglycemic stupor and has even been known to lower the grades of school-aged children. Research has shown that all fast food addicts started by eating white bread. Two squishy, soft slices. That’s all it takes. Sugary sweet peanut butter and jam, the conveyers of innocence and hope, spread across pillowy-white landscapes of childhood. And then wham! It happens so quickly. One day you’re breaking open your piggy bank. The next day you’re borrowing money from your friends or looking under the couch for lost change. There’s a pusher on every corner ready to take your money. You can’t wait to give it to them and yes, you’ll take fries with that. I don’t know if I can continue to protect my kids, especially my daughter. The other day she asked, “Why can’t I be like all the other kids and eat crummy bread? ”
Of course, I’m talking about the kind of white sandwich bread that is squashed into plastic bags and left suffocating on supermarket shelves. Now, hand a loaf of homemade white bread to that same atheist and stand back. Watch him get down on his knees and repent. It’s a powerful experience.
Another powerful experience is taking the first bite of the soft white sandwich loaf from Home Baking by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid. This appreciation for the art of home baking, like their other books, shares dual citizenship between kitchen counter and coffee table top. I call it a cookie jar cookbook because I am always sticking my hand in the jar to try more recipes. You will, too. While my wife was quickly cutting another slice, she paused to give it a “this is really good rating” (TIRG). And my daughter? Let’s just say that I checked under the couch cushions and found enough change to treat my wife to a caffé latte.
Soft White Sandwich Loaf, American Style (from Home Baking by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid)
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
About 2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
4 to 5½ cups all-purpose flour
1 tablespoon salt
Make the biga at least 12 hours before you wish to bake the bread. Dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water and then stir in 2 cups flour. Knead until smooth. Place in clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let stand for 12 hours to 3 days. Refrigerate if letting stand for more than 24 hours.
When ready to make the dough, turn the biga out and cut into 4 or 5 pieces.
By hand: In a large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the lukewarm water. Then add 2 cups of flour and stir well, always in the same direction. Add the pieces of biga and mix in. Sprinkle on the salt. Add about 2 more cups flour and fold and turn the dough to blend in the flour. Turn the dough out on a well-floured surface and knead until smooth and springy (about 8 minutes).
Transfer the dough to a large clean bowl, cover it tightly with plastic wrap, and let stand for 1 to 1½ hours, until doubled.
Turn the dough out onto a very lightly floured surface. Cut in half. Lightly grease or butter two 9 x 5 inch bread pans. Shape into sandwich loaves and place dough in pans. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise about 2 hours, or until doubled in volume.
Place a rack in the center of the oven and preheat the oven to 475°.
Just before placing the breads in the oven, slash each one down the middle with a razor blade or sharp knife. Place in the oven, lower the heat to 400° and bake for about 45 minutes, or until golden on top. Remove from the oven, take out of the pans, and place in the oven for another 5 minutes or so. The loaves should sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, and the corners should be firm when pinched. Let stand on a rack to cool and firm up for 1½ to 2 hours before slicing.