These large loaves are a wonderful basic to have on hand, with full flavour and texture, perfect for sandwiches of all kinds. Grilled cheese sandwiches made with this bread are especially good.
Makes two 1 3/4 pound loaves
2 1/2 cups warm water (592 g) (105° F to 115° F), divided
1 tbsp active dry yeast
1 tbsp sugar (12.6 g)
7 cups (980g) (approximately) bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tbsp salt (17 g)
1/2 stick (56.7 g/ 2 oz)
Mixing and kneading
Pour 1/2 cup (118 g) of warm water into a bowl of a heavy duty mixer, sprinkle in the yeast and the sugar, whisk to combine. Let it rest until the yeast is creamy, about 5 minutes.
In the mixer with the dough hook, add the remaining 2 cups of water and about half the flour to the yeast. Turn the mixer on and off a few times, on low speed, to start the process without having flour fly all over the counter, then still on the lowest speed, add the rest of the flour. Increase the mixer speed to medium and beat, stopping to scrape down the bowl and hook as needed, until the dough comes together. If the dough does not come together, add a bit more flour, a tablespoon at a time. Add the salt and continue to beat and knead at medium speed for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. If you prefer, you can mix the dough in the machine for half the time, about 5 minutes and knead* it by hand on a lightly floured surface for 8 to 10 minutes.
*Fold the dough
When the dough is thoroughly mixed (return it to the mixer if necessary), add the butter a tablespoon at a time and beat until incorporated. Don’t worry if the dough comes apart with the addition of butter. Beating will bring it back together.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape it into a ball. Place it in a large buttered or oiled bowl (one that can hold double amount of the dough). Turn the dough around to cover its entire surface with butter or oil, cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let the dough rest at room temperature until it doubles** in bulk, (about 45 minutes to 1 hour)
**Check the dough when it’s 70% risen (about 35 minutes?). Read about proofing.
Shaping the Dough
Butter two 81/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pans and set aside.
Deflate the dough and turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide the dough in half and work with one piece, covering the other. Using the palms of your hands and fingertips, or a rolling pin, pat the dough into a rectangle about 9″ wide and 12″ long, with the short side facing you. Starting at the top, fold the dough about two thirds of the way down to the rectangle and then fold it again , so that the top edge meet the bottom edge. Seal the seam by pinching it. Turn the roll so that the seam is in the centre of the roll, facing up, and turn the ends of the roll in just enough so that it will fit in a buttered loaf pan. Pinch the seams to seal, turn the loaf over so that the seams are on the bottom, and plump the loaf with your palms to get an even shape. Drop the loaf into the pan, seam side down, and repeat with the other piece of dough.
Cover the loaves with oiled plastic wrap, and allow them to rise in a warm place place (80° F) until they double in size again, growing over the tops of the pans, about 45 minutes.
While the loaves rise, center a rack in the oven and preheat the oven to 375° F.
Baking the Bread
When the loaves are fully risen (poke your finger into the dough on the side of the loaf; the impression should
remain slowly spring back), bake them for 35 to 45 minutes, or until they are honey-brown and an instant read thermometer plunged into the centre of the bread reads 200° F (turn a loaf out and plunge the thermometer through the bottom of the bread). If you like, about 10 minutes before you think the loaves should come out, you can turn the loaves out of their pans and let them bake on the oven rack so they brown on the sides. Remove the loaves from their pans as soon as they come out of the oven and cool the breads on racks. Allow the bread to completely cool before eating.
Once completely cool, the breads can be kept in a brown paper bag for a day or two. Once a loaf is sliced, turn it cut side down on the counter or a cutting board and cover with a kitchen towel. For longer storage, wrap the breads airtight and freeze for up to a month. Thaw, still wrapped, at room temperature.
Use the tip or pad of your finger and gently poke to make an indentation in the side of the dough.
The dough is under-proofed if it immediately springs back without any indentation left. Proof a little longer.
The dough is over-proofed if the indentation remains and the dough doesn’t spring back.
The dough is ready for the oven if the indentation slowly springs back half-way, that means the dough is proved and you can pop it into the oven to bake. If unsure, err on the side of underproofing – the bread will rise some more in the oven anyway.