When we were first married, I wanted to be the best wife possible for my husband. In my mind, that meant I had to be the best at everything a wife should do. As in, better than any other wife in the history of wives. We can all see how skewed this idea was, but I was stuck in competitive thinking.
When it came to cooking, I was ok. Coming from a family of 7, and being a newlywed proved to be challenging, as I was used to cooking large portions. When the food was good, we ate it for several meals. When the food was bad, we choked it down for several meals…
Baking was another story. I have always been a great baker. Cookies, pies and quick breads were no problem for me. (Well, there was that one time I made biscuits from an American Girl cookbook and confused ¼ tsp. of salt with ¼ cup of salt, but I was 7. So, we just won’t talk about “Kayla’s Salt Biscuits” ok?) But bread baking is, in my mind, the pinnacle of baking for a homemaker. Once you master homemade bread, you have made it to elite homemaker status. That is totally a thing, just go with it.
For years, I tried different homemade bread recipes, baking dozens of loaves of bread. Some could break the countertop or be used as weapons. Some were ok, but not as good as my husband’s Grandma’s homemade bread. So, I kept working. I had to find a recipe that would be as good as his grandma’s. Not an easy feat, but I did it. Friends, I have finally found the absolute best recipe for fluffy, soft, amazing homemade bread!
This recipe started as a French bread recipe, but after a few alterations, I am proud to call it my versatile homemade bread recipe. It is versatile because you can form loaves, French breads, braid it, make dinner rolls, cinnamon swirl bread, and more. It makes 3 loaves, but can be easily cut in 1/3 or 2/3 with some quick math skills. (Glad I enjoyed fractions in school!) It is so good that I have stopped looking for a yeast bread recipe. Craig and our girls all approve. This one is it!
I still am not the best wife in the history of wives, but I am getting better at it every day I spend serving my family. However, I do have this fabulous homemade bread recipe. So, I call that a success!
Let’s look at the recipe and break down why these simple ingredients taste so delicious together.
First, I use all white flour. I have tried using whole wheat, but it is super dense in this recipe. I love Winona unbleached flour. I buy my flour, and all my baking supplies from our local bulk food store. They sell it in 50 pound bags, so I don’t have to worry about running out of flour during a baking spree. (Anyone else have that problem?) It is a great all-purpose flour that I use from bread and cakes, to cookies and pie crusts.
Next, the liquid. This is super important! I use whey for exceptionally soft bread. Where do you get whey from? Making yogurt of course. I like to make homemade yogurt for my family, and will strain it to thicken the yogurt. The leftover yellow liquid is whey, and it is like liquid gold for baking. If you don’t have access to whey, milk kefir, whole milk or water can be used. (Note: You can also buy store bought plain yogurt and strain it with cheesecloth or a flour sack to obtain whey. A quart of plain yogurt may provide you with up to 1 cup of whey.)
For the fat, I doubled the amount of fat for this recipe and switched it to lard. You can’t taste or smell the lard, but it creates a soft, moist crumbed bread. If you don’t have access to lard, I would use butter. It keeps the bread soft, and tastes wonderful!
For sweetener, I use plain cane sugar. For a rich tasting bread, molasses can be added. If you are making sweet rolls, increase the sugar to 1/3 cup. For French bread, decrease sugar to 3 Tablespoons total. You can also use honey to sweeten the bread.
My last secret for amazing bread: a triple rise. Believe me, it is worth it and doesn’t take that much longer. After the initial rise, I punch the bread down about 20 times, releasing the air from the dough. Then, I cover the dough and let it rise a second time. Keep an eye on it, as the second rise is much quicker than the first. Once it is doubled again, it is ready to be formed into loaves. It rises a third time before baking.
The Best Versatile Homemade Bread Recipe
Makes: 3 Loaves
Prep Time: 30 minutes
Inactive Rise Time: 2 hours
Bake Time: 30-40 minutes
1 Cup Lukewarm Water
2 Tablespoons Active Dry Yeast (or 3 packets)
1 Tablespoon Sugar
1 Cup Whey (or Whole Milk)
6 Tablespoons Lard (or Butter)
¼ Cup Sugar
4 tsp. Real Salt
10 Cups Unbleached White Flour, plus more for kneading
2 Cups Hot Whey (or Water)
In a small bowl, mix the warm water and 1 Tablespoon of sugar. Sprinkle the yeast on top and set aside to proof for about 10 minutes. It should be foamy/bubbly.
Add 6 Tablespoons of lard and 1 cup of whey to a large, microwave safe glass bowl. Microwave until the lard is melted and the whey is hot. I like to check it every 30 seconds and stir to help melt the lard. This can also be done on the stovetop in a saucepan, and transferred to your mixing bowl. Add ¼ cup of sugar and 4 tsp. of salt and mix. Stir in 2 cups of flour.
Add the yeast mixture to the large bowl and mix until incorporated. Continue to alternate adding the remaining 8 cups of flour and hot water. I add 2-3 cups of flour at a time, then 1 cup of hot water. This makes it easier to stir together. The dough should be shaggy and slightly sticky. You may not need all 10 cups of flour.
Turn out the dough onto a Pastry Board or counter and knead for 5 minutes, adding in more flour as needed. The result will be a ball of dough that is not sticky, but not dry. It should spring back when you press it slightly with your finger. It takes practice to know the feel of a dough that has been kneaded correctly. A sign I look for is that the dough holds its shape and doesn’t stick to my hands when I touch it.
Oil a large bowl (I use the same bowl it was mixed in) and place the dough inside. I use olive oil, but any oil or butter can be used. Cover the bowl with a clean towel or plastic wrap, and set aside in a warm place to rise until doubled in size. Depending on the temperature, it may take 1- 1 ½ hours.
Once it has doubled, punch the dough down with a clean hand, about 20 times, to release the air in the dough. Cover again, and let it rise until doubled in size. The second rise is quicker, usually about 30-45 minutes.
When the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a floured surface to form into loaves. I like to weigh the dough with a simple kitchen scale, and divide equally so all the loaves bake evenly.
Here is where you decide what kind of bread to make:
For sandwich bread, divide into 3 equal portions. Using a rolling pin, gently roll each portion out in a rectangle as wide as the long side of the pan, and about an inch thick. Roll the dough up. Place in a greased loaf pan, seam side down.
For Cinnamon Swirl bread, divide the dough into 3 equal portions. Roll out each portion like you are making sandwich bread. Brush liberally with melted butter, and sprinkle with cinnamon sugar. Roll up the dough. Place in a greased loaf, pan seam side down.
For French loaves, divide into 3 equal portions. Using your hands, roll the portions into a long strip of dough, starting in the middle and working toward the ends. Make sure the loaves will fit on your pans.
For braided loaves, divide the dough into 3 or 6 equal portions. (The loaves in the pictures are each 1/6 of the recipe, so 6 loaves were made.) Then divide each portion into equal portions, depending on how many strands you want to braid. Roll out each small strand the same way you do to make the French loaves. 3,4 and 5 strand braids are all beautiful for loaves.
For dinner rolls, about 48 large rolls can be made. For consistent sizing, weigh each roll with a kitchen scale.
Cover the dough and set in a warm place, or place the pans into an oven that has been preheated to 200 degrees, then turned off. Let the dough rise until doubled, then bake in a preheated oven at 375 degrees. If you let the dough rise in the oven, leave it in the oven and turn the oven on to 375 degrees. It will bake quicker, just watch for it to turn golden-brown.
For loaves, bake for 30 minutes, or until the bread is deep golden-brown, and sounds hollow when you tap on the top. (My oven runs hot, so it takes 25 minutes to bake loaves.) For French loaves, bake for 20-25 minutes, checking it for a golden-brown color and hard crust. For rolls, bake for 12-15 minutes, checking after 10.
Allow the bread to cool slightly, then use a knife to loosen it from the loaf pans. Transfer to a cooling rack. Allow bread to cool completely before storing. Bread is best eaten the same day, but can be stored in an airtight bag, bread box, or linen bag at room temp for 5 days.
What is your favorite way to enjoy fresh homemade bread? I want to hear in the comments below.