The breads that sustain us: everyday sandwich bread

We disappeared for a while. Sorry about that. The holidays — and a long string of illnesses, which sadly are not completely behind us — wiped us out. But we’re back, facing 2013 with a fresh, hopeful perspective, and trying to stay warm.

We’d like to kick off 2013 with a series on the breads we most love to bake — the recipes that we keep coming back to. In our house, there’s rarely any store-bought bread, but there’s almost always a loaf of something resting on a cutting board on the counter, with a serrated bread knife balancing precariously nearby.

Most reliably, that loaf is a nice, moist oatmeal sandwich bread. I originally found a recipe for it in The America’s Test Kitchen Family Cookbook, a book that would make it onto my desert island list if I hadn’t memorized all my favorite recipes in it. It’s a modern classic — my household’s version of The Joy of Cooking.

In the years since, I’ve tweaked the recipe a bit, as well as the amounts, so that I can make three loaves at a time in my KitchenAid mixer. As several of my friends have sadly noted, this is not a recipe for the faint-of-heart mixer. I have a 6-quart, 575-watt machine that handles gobs of dough like a pro; I have never had it overheat, even when working with whole wheat doughs. But my friends with lower-capacity, lower-wattage mixers (the Artisan series only boasts 325 watts) are going to need a scaled-back recipe — it’s just too much dough.

This bread makes the best toast I’ve ever eaten. It smells heavenly, has a tender, soft crumb, and makes lovely sandwiches. It’s essentially white bread, but benefits greatly from the added nutrition and texture of cooked rolled oats. Recently, I substituted half the cooked oatmeal for cooked millet (which has to be cooked for about 30 minutes instead of 2!) and was dazzled by the results: even higher, more golden loaves than we were used to, with slightly better integrity. I will definitely be experimenting with even more grains in the near future. Here is the recipe I use to make three loaves. Scroll to the bottom of this post for a small-batch recipe.

oatmeal sandwich bread loaves

Large-batch oatmeal sandwich bread

2 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

2 cups water

2 cups whole milk, warm

6 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into several pieces

3/8 cup (6 tablespoons) honey

6 cups bread flour, or a mixture of bread flour and whole-wheat

1 1/2 tablespoons instant yeast

4 teaspoons salt

1. Bring the water and oats to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until softened, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Let cool until just warm.

2. Heat the milk and butter in a large (4-cup) glass measuring cup in the microwave. You want the milk to be warm enough that the butter melts into it, but not so hot that it could kill the yeast in the dough. When warm, stir in the honey.

3. Mix 5 1/2 cups flour, the yeast, and salt together in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the milk mixture and oats until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes.

4. Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (If, after five minutes, more flour is needed, add remaining 1/2 cup of flour — or more if necessary — 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough clears the side of the bowl but sticks to the bottom.)

5. Turn the dough onto a clean, lightly dusted counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball, about 1 minute. Place the dough in the largest bowl (or stockpot!) you have, lightly oiled, and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 to 1 1/2 hours.

6. Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly dusted counter and divide in three pieces. Press each piece into a 9-inch square. Roll each square into a tight cylinder and pinch the seam closed. Place each loaf seam-side down in a 9-inch loaf pan, cover with a tea towel, and let rise in a warm place until it has nearly doubled in size and springs back to the touch, about an hour. (I preheat the oven during the rise time.)

7. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat to 350 degrees. Place the three loaves on the middle rack and bake until golden and the center of the bread registers 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 40 minutes. Flip the bread out onto a wire rack, brush each loaf with butter if you have it, and let cool to room temperature before slicing, about 2 hours. (I dare you to wait that long to eat a slice.)

three loaves of bread

Small-batch oatmeal sandwich bread

makes 2 loaves

1  2/3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1  2/3 cups water

1  2/3 cups whole milk, warm

4 tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into several pieces

1/4 cup  honey

4 cups bread flour, or a mixture of bread flour and whole-wheat

1 tablespoon instant yeast

2  1/2 teaspoons salt

1. Bring the water and oats to a boil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Cook until softened, stirring frequently, about 2 minutes. Let cool until just warm.

2. Heat the milk and butter in a large (4-cup) glass measuring cup in the microwave. You want the milk to be warm enough that the butter melts into it, but not so hot that it could kill the yeast in the dough. When warm, stir in the honey.

3. Mix 3 1/2 cups flour, the yeast, and salt together in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, alternate adding the milk mixture and oats until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes.

4. Increase the speed to medium-low and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. (If, after five minutes, more flour is needed, add remaining 1/2 cup of flour — or more if necessary — 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough clears the side of the bowl but sticks to the bottom.)

5. Turn the dough onto a clean, lightly dusted counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball, about 1 minute. Place the dough in a very large bowl, lightly oiled, and wrap tightly with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1 to 1  1/2 hours.

6. Turn the dough out onto a clean, lightly dusted counter and divide in three pieces. Press each piece into a 9-inch square. Roll each square into a tight cylinder and pinch the seam closed. Place each loaf seam-side down in a 9-inch loaf pan, cover with a tea towel, and let rise in a warm place until it has nearly doubled in size and springs back to the touch, about an hour. (I preheat the oven during the rise time.)

7. Adjust an oven rack to the middle position and heat to 350 degrees. Place the three loaves on the middle rack and bake until golden and the center of the bread registers 200 degrees on an instant-read thermometer, about 40 minutes. Flip the bread out onto a wire rack, brush each loaf with butter, and let cool to room temperature before slicing, about 2 hours. (I dare you to wait that long to eat a slice.)

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