I made another loaf of bread – a white bread from Beth Hensperger’s “Bread Made Easy” book. And it was the prettiest loaf I have ever made. I fiddled with Ms. Hensperger’s recipe a little by throwing in some mahleb. Mahleb is the pit of the sour cherry. Once crushed, it’s often thrown in to Greek breads (things I learn from our very own Asano-mama). Anyway, I finally bought a small jar of mahleb from Penzeys in December and decided “what the heck – let’s throw it in.” Now, I don’t know if mahleb is easily obtained at a store in ground form. Penzeys leaves their product in the pit form. After some googling, the recommendation is to crush only as necessary and to store the mahleb in the freezer, because, like nuts, it can go rancid. Mahleb is pretty easy to crush with a mortar and pestle, so it’s not particularly inconvenient.
It was a fun experiment. However, since I’ve never made this particular white bread before, I had nothing to compare my results with. This is a repeat occurrence in my life – experimenting without a controlled result.
Adapted from the milk bread master recipe in Bread Made Easy by Beth Hensperger.
one standard size bread loaf pan
3 to 3.5 cups of all-purpose or bread flour
1 Tbsp sugar (I always cook with cane sugar these days)
1 tsp instant yeast
1 tsp salt
1 cup warm milk
1/8 cup boiling water
1 1/2 Tbsp of mild olive oil (this is the same as 4 1/2 tsp)
1 1/2 tsp crushed mahleb (if you can’t find it, skip it)
1 egg mixed with 1Tbsp milk for glaze (optional – I didn’t bother with it)
Start by mixing 2 cups of flour with the sugar, yeast and salt in a large bowl. In a smaller bowl, mix the milk, boiling water and the oil (this should not be above 125F – it should feel hot to the touch… then again if you’re me and you forgot to warm the milk before mixing all of the wet ingredients, do your best to warm the mixture as best as possible and don’t worry that you’ve ruined it).
Make a well in the middle of the dry ingredients, and start incorporating the wet ingredients. Once this is well mixed, add the remaining flour until it becomes a stiff, shaggy dough that is clearing the sides of the mixing bowl. Move the dough onto a clean counter, and knead for 5-8 minutes, adding flour only as needed to stop the dough from sticking to everything.
Let this rise until double in bulk in a greased container. If your kitchen is cold like mine is (hello! I live in New England and it’s winter here!), don’t worry if the dough takes more than 2 hours to rise. Yeast loves temperatures at around 80F – any hotter and you risk killing your yeast, but any colder and the yeast just takes longer to do its stuff.
Grease your bread loaf pan. When the dough is ready, turn it out onto the counter. The dough will softly deflate, don’t worry about punch your dough down. Cut the dough into half. With each half, roll the dough with your palms until you have a log about 10 inches long. Wrap the dough logs around each other for a twisted effect. Place this in your pan and left rise until double in bulk (the dough will probably rise to about an inch or so over the pan rim).
Bake at 375F for about 40 minutes. You want a nice brown color to the crust and it should sound hollow if you knock on it. Remove the loaf carefully from the bread pan when done, and let the loaf cool on a wire rack.