I always enjoy baking breads. French baguettes and Italian ciabattas; hard kaiser rolls and soft hamburger buns; whole wheat and sour rye; corn breads, cheese breads, and nut breads … There’s a world of interesting breads to play around with. The kind of bread I bake most often, however, is none of the above: It’s plain American white bread.
Joy of Cooking’s White Bread Plus has nourished my household for decades, ever since I first learned to cook. Irma Rombauer’s recipe is the basis for all my breakfast toast, lunch sandwiches, dinner canapés, and stuffings that require fresh bread crumbs. The bread is always delicious. The recipe makes three loaves, two of which always go straight into the freezer, and when we finish the third one I bake some more. Here’s the most recent batch:
I’ve occasionally tried other sandwich bread recipes – Bernard Clayton’s Complete Book of Breads has a decent one, and the booklet that came with my Magimix food processor has a good pan de mie recipe that I’ve written about here – but none has tempted me to abandon my ever-reliable White Bread Plus.
Still, one needs to keep checking, so this week I made Nick Malgieri’s Golden Sandwich Bread, described as “in the spirit of a brioche loaf but much less rich,” in his Bread, a book I received for Christmas (along with its companion volume, Bake, from which I recently made his focaccia.).
The book is essentially a primer on making many kinds of breads, with lots of explanations, photos, and detailed instructions, plus recipes that use bread as an ingredient. Nick’s techniques for mixing and shaping his sandwich bread are different from the ones I use with Irma’s bread, and I was curious to see what I might learn from him. (Excuse the first-name familiarity; I can’t claim personal acquaintance with either author.)
The first thing I learned is that he’s very explicit – not to say fussy – about everything. You must use bread flour, not all-purpose. You must use fine sea salt, not any other kind, and it must go into the dough at a specified stage of the mixing. You must work the liquids into the flour with a rubber spatula by hand, even though you’re going to knead the bread in a heavy-duty mixer with a dough hook, which could easily blend those ingredients for you. Irma provides alternatives for many of these ingredients and procedures.
His dough is given a pause to rest during the mixing and then is kneaded a little less than hers. The pause seems to be a professional baker’s trick I’ve also seen in bread recipes from Maggie Glezer’s Artisan Baking Across America – a book I very much like, which, however, doesn’t include a plain white sandwich bread.
The second thing I learned is that Nick must do his baking in an extremely warm kitchen. His dough has three risings (compared to Irma’s two). He says the first two will take 45 minutes each. My first two risings took 1½ hours each. All he says about timing for the third one, when the bread has been shaped into loaves, is “until they have risen about an inch above the rim of the pan.” For me, that was another 1½ hours.
I don’t begrudge him the time as such: Doughs rich in butter, egg, and sugar do take longer to rise. But when a recipe leads you to think you’ll have the loaves ready for the oven in about two hours and it really takes more than four hours, I call that a misleadingly written recipe.
On the positive side, I did like Nick’s technique for shaping loaves. It involves a style of flattening, folding, and rolling that I wasn’t familiar with. I was somewhat abashed, on looking back at Irma’s general section on “kneading, proofing, shaping and baking bread” (to which I hadn’t paid attention in years), to find a description of the exact same procedure. Perhaps I’ll adopt it in future.
Well, I made just one loaf of Nick’s bread for the initial experiment.
It was indeed richer than Irma’s: Per loaf there was much more egg, more sugar, more salt, more yeast, more flour, a bit less butter, and some milk rather than all water. I made it in the specified 9 X 5 inch pan, whereas I usually make Irma’s in slightly narrower pans.
Here the two finished loaves are shown next to their creators:
The crumb of Nick’s bread was somewhat finer than Irma’s. Its color was warmer, no doubt because of the greater amount of egg. The different shapes are partly the result of the different-sized baking pans, but I believe Nick’s loaf should have risen more than it did for me; it wasn’t exactly heavier in texture, but it seemed a bit compressed. There’s no photo of the finished bread in his book, so I can’t tell, but I thought the shape was clumsy.
They’re both excellent-tasting breads. Nick’s is marginally sweeter than Irma’s, but overall they’re quite on a par. I wouldn’t hesitate to serve either one to friends and family. His takes a lot more work, however, and a lot more time – in part because his procedures were new to me, whereas I’ve been making hers for so many years they’ve become second nature. So my regular recipe remains my regular recipe, and I’m perfectly happy with that.
Until I get a chance to try another.