Little Comforts: Homemade Buttermilk Bread

Thursday evening. So close to the weekend, yet so far away. 

This semester is kicking into high gear, and when things get this busy, I usually turn to cooking for stress-relief. I especially love baking at such times - the stress simply dissolves out through your hands when you  wholeheartedly knead dough into submission. People say that making food is all about putting love into each dish. Well. Let me tell you. Your bread will taste just as good when infused with a healthy dose of pent-up aggression instead. 

With that in mind, I made my second batch of buttermilk bread this past weekend, and could not believe the result: for the first time ever, I made damn good bread! (I didn't blog about the first attempt because, predictably, it was a bit of a mess.) The crust was perfectly thin and crunchy, while the dough inside was soft, fluffy and warm. The best part is that it's not at all flaky - it holds its shape when you slice it, so I have been enjoying PB&N ("N" for Nutella, of course) sandwiches with my very own homemade bread. 

I hope you'll give this recipe a try. And I'd like to give a special "thanks" to Elizabeth Yetter, whose Two-Loaf Buttermilk Bread recipe has brought back my faith that I can bake something without producing a sloppy mess. 

Homemade Buttermilk Bread
Recipe adapted from Elizabeth Yetter's Two-Loaf Buttermilk Bread. This is a double rising bread recipe, so total cooking time (including preparation) is about 3 hours and 45 minutes, depending on how long it takes for the dough to rise. Actual hands-on time is about 45-60 minutes.

You'll need:

3 tbsp butter, dissolved in 1 c water and cooled to just above room temperature (Note: you can dissolve it in the microwave or stovetop; either way, let it cool before adding to the dough mixture)
1 package dry active yeast, activated in 1/2 c warm water (If you're new to the wonder of activating yeast, check out this guide)
1 c buttermilk
2 tbsp honey
1 tspn sugar
1 tbsp salt
1/2 tspn vinegar (Note: the recipe calls for apple cider vinegar; I used balsamic instead, since that's all I had on hand, and it turned out just fine)
6 c all-purpose flour

1. Mix the buttermilk, honey, sugar, salt and vinegar in a large bowl. Add the cup of butter water and the activated yeast. Mix well to incorporate.

2. Begin adding the flour 1/2 cup at a time, incorporating fully each time before you add the next cup. If you don't have a stand mixer, you can start with a large whisk and continue stirring with it until the dough is too thick to whisk. At that point, switch to using a wooden spoon and continue mixing until the dough begins to form a sticky ball (after you have added about 5 cups of flour).

3. At that point, transfer the dough to a floured surface and knead in the remaining flour until it is firm and smooth. 

4. Butter a medium-sized bowl. Place the dough in the bowl, and then turn it over in the bowl so that the top of the dough is lightly buttered. Cover and let rise for about 45-60 minutes, or until it doubles in size.

5. Once the dough has risen, place it on a floured board and knead the bubbles out. Divide the dough in half and form each half into a loaf the shape of whatever pan you're going to use. (I don't have two bread pans, so I baked one round loaf in a pie pan and the other in a regular bread pan). Cover both loaves and let rise again for about 40-45 minutes, until double in size.

6. Brush 1 tablespoon of melted butter on top of the loaves and make a few light slashes across the tops using a sharp knife (I made a cross on the round loaf and 3 slashes on the rectangular loaf - feel free to get as fancy as you like).

7. Preheat the oven to 375 Fahrenheit and bake the loaves for 40-45 minutes, or until golden brown. (This is where the recipe got tricky for me. The first time I tried baking this bread, it ended up over-baked on the outside but raw on the inside. As a result, this time, I decreased the temperature to 325 Fahrenheit and baked for about 60 minutes, and the loaves came out just fine. However, that could just be a fault with my oven, so I would advise you to follow the original recipe first before trying my method).

And voilà!

Yours truly, one bite at time,



lawprof said...

Very nice. I'm hungry. Bread is a food that seems to have a special calming affect in any culture.

Keep the columns coming!

Radina Valova said...

Thanks! It's almost gone now, but I'll bring you a fresh slice next time I make it.