Have I mentioned how much I love bread?
Not just bread but especially Wonder Bread. When I was a kid one of my favorite things to eat was Miracle Whip & tomato on white bread (don’t judge), and peanut butter and strawberry jam--oh so yummy.
But as I've grown up and learned a few things, I realized that putting that much High Fructose Corn Syrup into my body is probably not the best idea.
Over the last few years, I have been making a white sandwich bread recipe from America's Test Kitchen (ATK) that I’ve really enjoyed. Pretty easy to make, I would start the dough when I woke up and have fresh hot bread by noon--and you thought the only perk of working from home was staying in your PJs!
Since I have started looking at making bread on a more consistent basis, I wanted to start looking at different recipes to see if I was missing out on something.
I decided to make recipes from chefs and bakers that I like, I chose White Sandwich Bread recipes from each of the following:
Mark Bittman- NY Times and a multitude of cookbooks
Melissa Clark, NY Times writer and food columnist
America's Test Kitchen, my current go-to recipe
The Bread Bible- how can I say no to a bible on bread
Julia Childs- needs no introduction
I wanted to see which bread would be the easiest to make. But also had the best taste, texture and held up for a few days to make lunches throughout the week.
One of the recipes had a ‘starter’, another some eggs, a different loaf had what seemed like excessive flour and yet mostly the recipes were pretty similar- flour, yeast, liquid, fat.
The day began at 7am with a trip to Restaurant Depot and ended at 6:30pm with a lot of coffee and note taking in between.
One of the things I want in a good white bread is a simple, easy to follow recipe.
Not all the recipes fit this criteria.
The bread with a starter took multiple turnings, multiple rises, like that high-maintenance friend who completely monopolizes your time with texts all day long that eventually leads to an end but just seems endless… I started it at 8:30am and it did not emerge from the oven until 6:30pm.
The next dough I mixed up seemed a little too easy. Nothing fancy or special.
Onto a dough that had eggs in it. Now if you are a regular maker of bread, you will know usually it is the richer breads that have eggs as part of their ingredient list- think brioche, challah. They also had very little guidance on how the bread should be shaped- ‘Divide dough in half and place each half into a loaf pan.’
The next dough seemed to have a lot of flour- like a lot of flour.
And last I tackled a somewhat familiar recipe that had a few surprises, such as, I had been incorrectly adding the order of some of the ingredients for the entire time I had been making it. Who knew reading the directions was that important?
All of this sounds somewhat tame but in reality while I was mixing one batch of dough, another needed to be punched down and/or shaped, a different dough had to be put in the oven, water spritzed there, buttered that, what time was I suppose to turn them around, etc. Flour on the counters, the floor, the cat who insisted on sitting behind me meowing as if my only job was to sit next to her bowl petting her all morning. I made a pot of coffee and at one point I realized I put milk and sugar into a cup but not the coffee. Flat surfaces are very hard to come by in our kitchen, so I took the dining room table hostage, then the coffee bar, some chairs, and a couple of other makeshift tables as staging areas for the dough.
One by one the breads went into the oven and I found myself in front of the kitchen sink washing the vessels used in the making of this lovely bread competition. With one mixing bowl for my Kitchen Aid, I needed to stay on top of getting the bowl washed before the dough dried because then it was like scrubbing off cement.
With the aroma of various loaves of bread sitting on the dining room table cooling, I realized for a true comparison I would need uniform slices. I needed a bread slicing box.
So out to the new carpentry workshop I went and told Jo what I needed. And like any good teacher she directed me on what I would need to make and pointed me in the direction of the wood bins. I was hoping she would drop everything she was doing for her paying customers and give all her attention to me and my desire to have nicely cut bread.
Discovering I was being a self consuming jerk, I took to the tools and after she made some of the scarier cuts, I made a ‘Sam version’ of a bread slicer.
It was 6:30 and the last 2 loaves came out of the oven.
We sliced one of the cooling loaves just because I could not leave the house with 8 loaves of bread and not try one of them.
It was a wow moment. So yummy and worth the time of making them all.
But the real testing came once we got back to the house. All the breads were now equally cooled and we sliced them up to compare and contrast each recipe.
Mark Bittman’s recipe was up first. It was ok, nice volume and good crumb but nothing too exciting, and I guess the bread may just be the vehicle. It rose super high and seemed like too much dough for one loaf pan but turns out I did not roll it as tightly as I should have so there was a nice big hole in the middle- whoops!
Julia Childs’ recipe, the bread we cut into before leaving, that tasted so perfectly delicious- nice, warm bread is always delicious. I guess I was so blinded by the warmth that I didn’t notice the floury taste and smell that was very present once the bread had cooled. The bread itself was light and fluffy, perfect for making a sandwich although a little light in color on top.
Melissa Clark’s recipe had the eggs, a buttered top and very little shaping instructions. The bread was a little flatter than the others and bit denser but still held up well as sandwich bread. This bread was sweet and lot richer than the others.
America’s Test Kitchen (ATK) was up next. An old familiar favorite that was easy to mix and rose beautifully. Great for a sandwich but could hold up on its own as just bread. Glad I re-read the instructions this time.
Finally, the Bread Bible. This bread took FOREVER to prepare and bake. I was thinking to myself- well if this bread took the longest, it should definitely be the best of the bunch. And as I stared into that first slice of bread I thought to myself, ‘ I should have let it rise more.’ And I would have let it go but seriously we were at the 10 hour mark on this bread and letting it go longer would have required a lot more planning.
Ultimately ATK was the one that made the cut. All the other breads were really good but when it comes down to taste, Melissa, ATK and the Bread Bible were all very close. Mark’s was just blah white bread and Julia’s was just too floury. For ease of the recipe- ATK had it.
Next I will start making loaves and slicing them, see how long they will survive just sitting on the counter and things like that; more experimentation to come.
So, you may wonder, what happened to all that bread?
I cut the majority of the loaves in half and hand-delivered them to lucky friends in the neighborhood. We saved a bit to make French toast this weekend- which was awesome!
Hopefully by this summer I will have perfected the bread just in time for the Jersey tomatoes to show up at the farmer's market - now I just need to find a healthier option for miracle whip.