I’ve made a number of loaves of bread over the years and almost all of them involve the use of my gloriously handy Kitchen Aid Mixer. I mean, really, why do all the kneading by hand when it can be done so quickly and easily with the mixer. Can we say a “wohoo” for the dough hook?
Still, this weekend I was feeling just a bit Martha Stewartish and decided to try out a recipe for sweet bread that I had sitting in my huge pile of ‘recipes riped out of magazines/printed off of blogs’. I have been drooling over this recipe for the past couple of years but have never been ambitious enough to do all that kneading. Turns out, it wasn’t that bad. In fact, it was a bit therapeutic. Scoop, slap, stretch (take that ‘working mommy’ guilt). Scoop, slap, stretch (take that ‘don’t have enough time for your horse’ guilt). Scoop, slap, stretch (take that ‘the house is a mess’ guilt). Not only did I have a mini therapy session but then got to eat a wonderfully tender, slightly sweet, flavorful bread a few hours later. It went great with the Sun Dried Tomato Butter Nut Squash Soup for dinner.
The kneading directions can be a little confusing so I would recommend checking out the great video instructions on Gourmet.com for reference if needed.
1. Heat milk to 120 to 130°F.
2. Rub yeast into flour in a large bowl, then rub in butter. Stir in sugar and salt. Fold in milk and eggs with bowl scraper, rotating bowl, until liquid is absorbed and a wet, sticky dough forms. (Dough will be wetter than most you’ve encountered.) Scrape dough out onto an unfloured surface. (Dough will be a sticky mess. Don’t be tempted to add more flour. By working the dough through a process of repeatedly stretching and folding it over onto itself, trapping air, dough will become cohesive and supple.).
3. Slide your fingers underneath both sides of dough with your thumbs on top. Lift dough up (to about chest level) with your thumbs toward you, letting dough hang slightly. In a continuous motion, flip dough over and swing it down, slapping onto surface, then stretch dough up and back over itself in an arc to trap in air. Repeat lifting, slapping, and stretching, scraping surface with flat side of bowl scraper as needed, until dough is supple, cohesive, and starts to bounce slightly off of surface without sticking, about 8 minutes.
4. Transfer dough to a lightly floured clean surface. Form into a ball by folding each edge, in turn, into center of dough and pressing down well with your thumb, rotating ball as you go. Turn ball over and transfer to a lightly floured bowl and cover with a kitchen towel (not terry cloth). Let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until doubled, about 1 hour.
5. Gently release dough from bowl with scraper onto a lightly floured surface (do not punch down) and divide into 2 pieces. Form each piece into a ball. Flatten 1 ball with heel of your hand into a rectangle (about 8 by 6 inches). Fold a long edge into center and press seam down with heel of your hand. Fold opposite edge over to meet in center, pressing seam. Fold in half along seam, pressing edges to seal. Put, seam side down, on a lightly buttered large baking sheet. Repeat with remaining dough.
6. Brush tops of loaves with egg (chill remainder) and let stand a few minutes until egg feels dry. Cover with kitchen towel and let rise in a draft-free place at warm room temperature until almost doubled and feels springy when gently prodded, about 1 1/2 hours.
7. Preheat oven to 425°F with rack in middle. Place a pizza stone on the rack while the oven is preheating, if you have one.
8. Brush top of each loaf again with egg. Holding a pair of scissors at a 45-degree angle, make snips along top in a line down center of each loaf. Transfer to oven and immediately reduce temperature to 400°F.
9. Bake until loaves are dark golden brown, 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a rack to cool.