I am a lazy, lazy baker.  My favorite cake takes just 5 minutes and a single bowl to make.  My banana muffins — I’ve memorized the recipe — become pumpkin, apple, or sweet potato by swapping out just one ingredient.  When I feel like homemade bread, nothing is easier than the ubiquitous no-knead loaf.

Unfortunately, the crusty, chewy, no-knead bread isn’t very good for sandwiches.  And we eat a lot of sandwiches!  There’s nothing wrong with the plastic-bagged, grocery store variety, but (contrary to all appearances) I really do like to bake and wondered if I could do as well or better at home.  As it turns out, I can.  And it’s not all that much work.

The following recipe is adapted from several different sources.  I wanted a light wheat bread with a soft yet sturdy crumb that would be easy to slice.  Using instant yeast rather than active dry (which needs to be proofed in warm liquid before combining with the other ingredients) streamlines the process, as does using a stand mixer to knead the dough (my mixer occupies valuable counter real estate — it might as well earn its keep).  Milk and butter make a slightly softer, more tender loaf, but water and oil are fine substitutes.

This bread is a little chewy when very fresh.  For sandwiches, I like it better the second day — it’s softer and more mellow.  After a day or two, slice and freeze what’s left.  Your pb & j never had it so good!

Soft Wheat Sandwich Bread

Yield:  One hefty loaf (16-18 thin slices)

2 1/4 c. bread flour

1 3/4 c. whole wheat flour

1 1/2 tsp. fine sea salt

1 1/2 tsp. instant yeast

1 1/3 c. milk or water, at room temperature (*see notes)

2 tbsp. honey or unsulphured molasses

2 tbsp. safflower or canola oil, or melted butter, plus a little oil for the bowl

In the bowl of an electric stand mixer, combine flours, salt, and yeast.  In a large liquid measure, combine water, molasses, and oil.  Using the mixer’s paddle attachment, stir wet ingredients into dry until the dough comes together in a ball around the paddle and all of the flour is incorporated.  (Alternatively, you can do this by hand with a sturdy wooden spoon and a lot of elbow grease.)

Replace the paddle with a dough hook and knead until dough is smooth, firm, and slightly tacky, about 5 minutes.  (Or turn the dough out onto the counter and knead by hand for 10 minutes.  A nice workout for your forearms!)

Shape the dough into a ball.  Lightly oil the mixing bowl, put the dough in the bowl and turn once to coat with oil.  Cover with a barely damp, clean dish towel or piece of plastic wrap and set aside to rise at room temperature until doubled, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.  The easiest way to tell if your dough is sufficiently risen:  Poke  it with your finger.  If the hole doesn’t spring back, it’s ready.

Turn the dough out on the counter and gently press it into a rectangle — one side should be the same length as your loaf pan (about 8″), the other a bit longer.  Starting at one of the shorter ends, roll it up into a tight log.  Place the log into a lightly oiled pan (8×4 or 9×5, whatever you have), cover with the towel or plastic, and set aside to rise again until the dough domes nicely over the top of the pan, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.  I usually leave the pan on the counter, but if my kitchen is very cold, I use my mother’s technique to encourage the second rising:  Open the oven door a crack and turn the oven on (any temperature, it doesn’t matter).  When you hear it ignite, look at the clock — when 1 minute has elapsed, turn the oven off, put the covered bowl or pan of dough inside, and close the door.

When the dough is ready, bake it in a preheated, 350 degree oven for about 45 minutes (if you’re rising the loaf inside your oven, remove it before turning the oven on!).  The bread is done when it sounds hollow when rapped on its bottom (put on an oven mitt and slide the bread briefly out of the pan to do this) or when it registers 190 degrees on an instant-read thermometer.  Remove immediately to a wire rack.

Let the bread cool completely before slicing.  This will take at least an hour, maybe two.  Resist the temptation to cut into a hot loaf — this will give you gummy slices.

Notes:

If you’re using cow’s milk and are so inclined, scald the milk first and then let it come to room temperature before using it.  This denatures an enzyme in the milk that can interfere with gluten development and inhibit rise.  Soy milk is a fine substitute for cow’s milk in this recipe.  You can use rice milk, if you like — because it has no protein,  there’s no need to scald it.

Make sure your milk or water is room temperature, not warm.  The long knead time in this recipe heats the dough, and too much heat can keep your bread from rising properly.

You can substitute 2 tsp. active dry yeast for the instant.  Proof the yeast in 1/2 c. of the 1 1/4 c. water or milk (proofing liquid must be warm) until frothy (takes about 10 min.) and add along with the other wet ingredients.

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