Twenty, thirty+ years, okay, several decades ago, my friend gave me this bread recipe that had been handed down from mother to daughter for several generations. The recipe had never been written down and so I begged my friend to write it down so that it wouldn’t be forgotten – and so I could try it.
The reason that I liked it so much was because it was so light and it tasted wonderful, but it was also sturdy enough to make sandwiches and not fall apart. I was also impressed that it didn’t use eggs, not because I was worried about calories or cholesterol, but because the fewer ingredients needed in a recipe, the less I have to worry about running out of ingredients.
Before I actually give you the recipe, let me first explain a few things. I can’t tell you how much flour to use – I’ve never measured it and even if I had, it would change each time depending on the humidity and the flour itself. The secret to good bread is the feel of the dough.
My suggestion is if you have never made bread before is to make it by hand before you start using your mixer or bread making machine. There is a feel to the bread and the only way you can really get it right is to look at it and feel how the dough responds when it has the right amount of flour. If you put in too much flour it is tough and heavy and a bit crumbly. If you don’t put enough flour in it, it is too light and it won’t stand up to much more than making toast.
Whether you are mixing it by hand or machine, when it starts to hold together or pull away from the side of the bowl that is when it is just right. If it is too sticky to handle then just keep dusting it with just a little bit of flour so that you don’t overdo it. Enough said.
Next, knead it. Don’t just sit there and poke at it. You need to pull it up over on top of itself and push it down, turn a quarter turn, pull it up over again and push it in with the heal of your hand and keep repeating. Dust the countertop with just enough flour to keep it from sticking – no more. Remember that you don’t want to make the dough tough.
I use powdered milk to make my bread and it is VERY important that you use good tasting high quality powdered milk; if you don’t it will make the bread taste terrible. If you don’t have good tasting powdered milk, then use regular milk. I personally like the Country Cream brand and have had really good luck with it, but you can use any brand you want as long as it tastes good.
Grandma’s Best White Bread
½ cup dry powdered milk (or 2 cups fresh milk)
1 tablespoon salt
½ cup + 1 tablespoon white granulated sugar
1 cube butter (1 cube margarine, or a ½ cup oil can be substituted)
4 cups water (or 2 cups of water, if you used the 2 cups of fresh milk above)
1 tablespoon yeast (Tip: Store your yeast in the freezer)
6-8+ cups all-purpose bleached or unbleached white flour
Heat one cup of water over medium heat and add powdered milk, sugar, salt, and butter, and stir until everything is dissolved.
Turn off heat and add the three remaining cups of cold water to the hot mixture.
Put some flour (anywhere from four to six cups to start) in a large bowl (or mixer) and mix in the dry yeast granules (I use the kind that you don’t have to start ahead of time).
Add the warm liquid to the flour and mix.
Continue adding flour a little at a time until it starts to pull away from the bowl. If you are mixing by hand, pour out contents onto counter and continue kneading and adding more flour a little at a time until it feelsright – just trust yourself. You’ll get this with practice.
After making it a couple times you will begin to know what density you prefer (more flour=denser, less flour=lighter). If you are mixing it with a mixer, just keep adding the flour a little at a time until it pulls away from the bowl and is somewhat self-contained and not sticky to the touch.
Spread a little oil on the dough surface and cover with a cloth. Let it raise to at least double.
Punch down, knead a little more, and divide into four pieces for loaves (*6-8 for bread bowls, and **24 for rolls).
Form into loaves, put in well greased bread pans, spread a little more oil on the dough and let raise again until it is the size loaf you want.
Bake at 400°F degrees for 18-20 minutes.
When you remove bread from the oven, immediately tip the bread out of the pan and place the loaves on a cooling rack. You can spread butter on the crust while it is warm (making the crust softer), or leave it unbuttered (leaving the crust crustier) - your preference.
The process may look like it takes a long time, but in reality, it isn't long or difficult. You can get the dough mixed up and raising the first time in less than 10 minutes, and formed into loaves and raising the second time in less than 5 minutes. Just remember that the more you practice the better you will become, and your family will love being your test subjects.
*Bread bowls: Depending on how big you want the bread bowls, divide into six or eight pieces, and place on a greased cookie pan. Spread a little oil on the dough surface, cover and let raise. Make sure that you place them far enough apart that when they are fully raised and baked, they don't touch each other. Bake the same as the bread loves.
**Rolls: Divide into 24 dough pieces and knead with a little flour until they are nice and round. Place four across on a greased cookie sheet, until the cookie sheet is filled. Spread a little oil on the dough surface, cover and let raise until the space between the rolls are gone. Bake the same as the bread loaves.
Depending on what size loaf pan you have, this recipe will make either three (2 quart) or four (1.5 quart) loaves. I prefer the glass 1.5 quart size. Use whatever you prefer.
Both the dough and/or the baked bread freeze well. If you are freezing the baked bread or rolls, make sure they are cooled down completely before freezing. If you freeze the formed bread dough loaves (see *** below for frozen rolls), set it out on the counter covered in a greased bread pan, after spreading a thin layer of oil on the frozen dough, let it thaw and raise. Don't try to rush the thawing process by putting it near something warm. The outside will thaw and raise before the inside can thaw, and that will be problematic.
***You can also freeze the roll size dough and take it out the night before and let it thaw overnight in the fridge, and then flatten it out and fry it up for breakfast as a scone. Absolute family favorite!