Like any regular 11 year old, Boo is captivated by cupcakes – anything with chocolate or peanut butter, please – so for the past few months, we’ve been baking cupcakes. It’s time for a break from those so over the holidays, we make scones and chocolate chip cookies, plate-sized pleasures that we have to hold with both hands. We make brownies too, remembering to sprinkle half of the batter with cashews because my Bin believes brownies should be nutty. (Boo and I disagree).
She’s been asking me to make French toast so I tell her, “Let’s make our own bread for it.” It still amazes me whenever I introduce someone to the joys of bread making because I have no formal education in it; I taught myself how to make bread in culinary school, a process I detailed in my book. Since then, I’ve assisted at a bread baking class, introduced my friend, Aldwin, to bread baking – he’s gone on to open his own bakery – and now here I am introducing my daughter to her first loaf.
I take her through the steps, explaining that yeast is a living thing and how it wants to be neither too hot nor too cold. Wide-eyed, she watches the yeast bubble up in water, then takes a whiff: “Mom, it smells like bread already!” She remarks in wonder. She measures out the flour cup by cup into the mixer and when the dough comes together, I show her how I knead – push, fold, quarter turn, push, fold … SLAM! Startled by the sharp slap of the dough hitting the surface, she looks up. “That’s okay hon, every baker has her own way of kneading.” I explain. So Boo has her turn with the dough: punching, slapping, slamming all the while, giggling in childlike wonder and awe. It’s a beautiful sound. We are done kneading when the dough becomes blistered and supple.
An hour later, the dough has crept above and over the lip of the mixer bowl. “Wow!” Boo exclaims. She “punches” the dough down: it releases with a sigh, collapsing into itself. The risen dough is enough to form two loaves but Boo wants a single massive, impressive loaf. I show her how to shape the dough, we laugh as the excess squashes in the corners of the pan as if in complaint.
Later, right before the dough goes into the oven, Boo brushes the top with melted butter; it will make for a more tender crust. As the bread bakes, it expands, threatening to hit the top rack. Boo is agog, watching and waiting. The house fills with fragrant promise.
The bread is ready, its surface has slit open from its top-heavy girth. Stunned by what she’s made, Boo stares. I sense a momentous event so I shoot a few pictures of the loaf. Steam escapes from each emerging slice, yeasty pleasure and proof of a bread done well. We three – me, Boo, and my Bin – enjoy lavishly buttered wedges of it for lunch. Boo is giddy and beaming with pride. Tomorrow, we’ll use the bread she’s made to make French toast.
Best Bread For A Beginner
Yields two 9×5-inch loaves or one mother of an 8×5-inch loaf. See below.
Here’s the recipe Boo used. It’s a terrific jumping off point for bread beginners because all the basic bread ingredients are here with the addition of milk, honey, and butter for a more supple, less sticky dough that’s a dream to knead.
1 ½ tablespoons yeast (active dry or rapid-rise)
1 ½ cups warm water
1 cup whole milk
3 tablespoons honey
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
½ teaspoon salt
5-7 cups all purpose flour (or bread flour)
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted, for glazing
Prepare baking pan(s). Boo used an 8×5-inch loaf pan with flared sides, as seen in the photos but you can also use two 9×5-inch loaf pans. Spray pan(s) with cooking spray and place atop baking sheet. Set aside.
In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle (or use the dough hook if you prefer), dissolve the yeast in the warm water. Let stand for 3-5 minutes to allow yeast to bubble up. Whisk in milk, honey, melted butter, and salt. Add four cups of flour and mix to form a dough. Continue to add more flour a half cup at a time as necessary, to form a soft dough. You might not use all the flour.
Transfer dough to a non-slip mat such as a Silpat, and begin to knead the dough. Dough will be somewhat sticky but resist adding more flour unless absolutely necessary. Continue kneading until the dough is smooth and supple, about 6-10 minutes.
Spray the mixer bowl you just used, or another bowl if you wish, with cooking spray. Place the bread dough into the bowl and cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel or plastic wrap. Let the dough rise at room temperature away from drafts, until double in size, about 1 hour in Manila’s weather.
Punch dough down. Turn dough out onto a non-slip mat and let rest for 5 minutes. Divide the dough in half, or if you want a massive loaf like Boo’s, use all of dough to form one loaf. Flatten the dough into a rectangle. Fold in the outer edges (left and right sides) of the dough and roll the dough up like a jellyroll. Pinch and tuck edges under the loaf and place seam-side down into the prepared pan. Cover again with a kitchen towel and let rise.
Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°F. Once oven has reached specified temperature, brush bread with melted butter. Bake bread for approximately 45 minutes. If bread is browning too quickly, you can tent it with aluminum foil. Bake until golden brown or until loaf registers 200°F on an instant-read thermometer.
Remove bread from oven. Let loaf rest in pan for 10 minutes before turning out onto a wire rack. Eat while warm slathered with lots of butter.