This is the first bread I ever learned to make. I was in college, and living in an 8-plex with a roommate in one of the 2 bedroom units. University of Nevada, Reno, was right across the street, so it’s a wonder how very infrequently I went to class.
Because Kim and I were the first to move into the complex, and because we were excited to be out of our respective parents’ homes, we greeted everyone who moved in and soon knew the medical student upstairs and her husband and two kids and the enormous black Labrador they did not own because it was a no-pets building. Then Ramana, head of the engineering school, who did not own fish, and Valerie, who taught preschool and did not have a cat, and Ray, who was going to be a dentist and didn’t have a love bird, and Jack, whose apartment I took when he and the marijuana plants he did not own moved away. At that point Ray gave me the love bird and went on to not really own an African Gray Parrot and John and Barbara downstairs did not own an awful lot of marijuana they were selling. At some point there was also Eric, the football player, who had a lot of different girlfriends, some of whom met each other unexpectedly and with explosive results.
I learned in that complex that college boys would eat anything, especially fresh, hot bread. This one (and the cheese bread I posted some time ago) were both very popular.
I haven’t made this simple white bread in forever. It’s an easy bread, a user friendly recipe that creates a bouncy, soft, elastic dough. Brush the top of the finished loaves with a big slab of butter, letting it drip onto something easily cleanable or disposable like wax paper (trust me, you want to remember to put something under the wire rack…) and it’s wonderful as is, or for sandwiches, or with a roast cooked with all the trimmings, or at Thanksgiving dinner if you can convince your significant other to not have cheese bread instead (I cannot….)
Country Crust Bread
2 cups hot water in a large mixing bowl
2 packages active dry yeast (or 2 yeast spoonsful or 4 ½ teaspoons)
½ cup granulated sugar
1 tablespoon sea salt
¼ cup canola oil (or salad oil of choice)
6 to 6 ½ cups unbleached flour
Softened salted butter
2 9x5x3 loaf pans, greased
Dissolve the yeast in the water in the big mixing bowl. Stir in the salt, sugar, oil, 2 eggs and mix well. Add in the flour, one cup at a time, until the dough is not shiny sticky wet and can be lifted as one big elastic-y handful onto a floured work surface.
Knead in as much flour as needed to make the dough elastic and just short of wet. If it can just barely accept more flour, but isn’t sticking in big clumps to your fingers, that’s a good place to be. Evening, mid-80s, early August, 5000 feet, it took 6 and ¼ cups today.
Transfer into a large mixing bowl and cover with a clean dishtowel. Leave in a warm place to rise until double, probably an hour (under summer high altitude conditions, mine was ready in 35 minutes.
Punch dough back down and form into loaves for 2 normal sized loaf pans. The directions say to roll out the dough into a 18×9 inch rectangle, then roll up from long side to long side, tucking the ends under to form a loaf. I used to do that responsibly but since learned that if I just shape it into a ball, then keep running my hands from the top to under the sides to make a long oval with the seam on the bottom, then allow it to rise, the bread takes on loaf shape anyway by virtue of filling the pan. I never liked all the rolling, measuring and tucking.
Allow to rise as loaves until double, about an hour in normal places, I think, or 20 minutes at 5,000 feet in August. Brush both loaves with canola or salad oil. I think you can do this right before putting them in the oven, but brushing them before leaving them to rise keeps the surface from becoming at all dried out.
Bake in a 375 degree oven for 30 to 35 minutes or until tops are golden brown and the bottoms sound hollow when tapped. Gently release the breads from the pans and cool on a wire rack. When they’ve been out of the oven 15 or 20 minutes but are still warm, place the rack over waxed or parchment paper, or a baking tray, to catch drips. Run a pat of salted butter over the crust.
This bread is great warm with butter (or jam or peanut butter or honey or almost anything) but let it cool at least 20 to 30 minutes or the crumb will crush down and the bread will seem undercooked, too wet in the middle (almost like clay, you can form shapes out of it – this will stop as it cools).
Once cool this bread has an open, easy crumb, and the loaves will last a couple days at room temperature. If you have bread storage bags, you’re more prepared than I am – I use a gallon-sized zipper baggie and leave one end open – sealing up fresh bread tightly in plastic makes it sweat, leaving you with soggy or dried out and stale bread. (Though in that case, there’s always bread pudding or French toast.)
If you try it, let me know what you think!