OMG- THIS IS LIKE THE. BEST. BREAD. I’VE EVER TASTED!

by Oct 17, 2020

That was the text message from Granddaughter Eva when my son Karl brought this soft Buttermilk Bread home and shared it.  I am actually surprised that it made it there considering how much Karl likes fresh, homemade bread. But then, who doesn’t? 

I have been making homemade bread for almost 50 years, and it is probably the most rewarding baking that I do; it is both relaxing and gratifying. Although bread making takes times, the steps are not difficult to follow.

If you would like more detailed information about the process and tips for bread making in general, click on this link: TIPS FOR MAKING HOMEMADE BREAD.

I have tweaked and refined this specific bread recipe over the last year for friends who were having trouble chewing and swallowing due to illness or surgery.  This bread is exceedingly soft, has great flavor from the buttermilk and practically melts in your mouth. My preference is to use bread flour rather than all-purpose flour for this recipe due to the higher amount of gluten in bread flour.  Gluten gives bread dough stretch and elasticity, and helps it keep its shape.  You can substitute all-purpose flour, but the bread rounds will be flatter–or you could put the dough in pans to help contain the shape.

Combine the yeast and a touch of sugar in the mixing bowl, or a glass measuring cup, then pour warm tap water over top and stir. Let that sit for about 5 minutes to start the bubbling activation of the yeast.

Measure the buttermilk into a 2-cup glass measuring cup, add the softened butter, and microwave until the milk is warm and the butter is mostly melted.  Butter taken directly out of the refrigerator doesn’t melt soon enough without making the milk too hot. If the milk is too hot when combined with yeast, it can kill the yeast and your dough will not rise. If you don’t have time to let the butter soften, microwave the butter first, then stir in the buttermilk. Check the temperature-a dribble on the inside of your wrist should feel cozy warm, but not hot. You can also use an instant read thermometer if you have one; it should read between 100 and 110 degrees.

Sprinkle about 2 cups of the flour over top of the yeasted water in the mixing bowl along with the rest of the sugar, salt, and baking soda and stir by hand to combine. Yes, it is unusual to have baking soda with the yeast in a recipe.  In this case it makes the dough less acidic and facilitates browning of the crust. Put the dough hook on, add the buttermilk mixture, and turn it on low. It will look more like a batter than a dough. Add 2 and 1/2 cups more flour while slowly mixing. This can also be done by hand, instead of in a mixer.

You can tell the dough has enough flour when it starts to clean the bowl. Now is the time to increase the speed of the dough hook and get the mixer to do the hard work until you have a soft cohesive dough (or start kneading by hand on a very lightly floured surface).  Either way, it takes about 10 minutes to get the dough to form a soft, supple dough. Even when I use my stand mixer, I take the dough out of the bowl for the final few minutes so I can knead by hand.  It puts me in a pleasant Zen state of mind.

The dough should be smooth and elastic when properly kneaded. A good test to use is to push your finger into the dough and if it springs back and fills up the hole, you have kneaded enough. In the above photo, you can barely see the spot in the middle where I pushed in the dough. If your bowl is clean without remnants of flour or bits of dough, oil the bowl and put the dough back in. Turn it over once to coat all sides; cover with cling wrap and set the dough in a warm place to rise.

When the dough has risen enough, it will have doubled in size, and the dimple test will work the opposite way. Make a light poke in the dough and it should stay down instead of springing back up.  Then you get to punch (literally) the whole thing down and reform it into a ball. I turn it over in the bowl to rest and relax the gluten for a few minutes while I get my pans ready.

Line a large (or two small) baking sheet with parchment paper.  No parchment? Use foil or grease the pans.  Sprinkle cornmeal lightly over the surface. Divide the dough into 3 pieces. I don’t weigh the dough in order to make it all perfectly equal, but you can, if you’d like. Form each piece by pulling edges around and under to make a ball, pinching the bottom as you go. You will need to rotate the dough in your hands and repeat to get surface tension and a smooth top.  But don’t worry if it’s not perfectly round and smooth. No one will complain. Put the dough rounds down on the prepared pan (I used one large pan, probably should have used two for more room) and cover with a clean, dry dishtowel. The second rising goes much faster and is usually ready in about 30-45 minutes.

Preheat the oven after 30 minutes as you let the dough finish rising. Brush oil lightly over top of the rounds (or spray with cooking spray and brush evenly). Slash the tops slightly with a sharp knife, lame, or razor blade. This controls the expansion, so your bread does not burst open on top every which way.   

Bake the bread in the preheated oven for 20-30 minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven and thump it; it should sound hollow, and look golden brown on the bottom, also.  If you want a soft crust, brush the tops of the loaves with butter when the bread is still warm. Cool on racks for as long as you can keep yourself from tearing into the bread.  It really is worth waiting at least 45 minutes so you don’t smash your hard work into a gummy, sticky mess. 

BUTTERMILK BREAD

  • 1 tablespoon active dry yeast
  • 3 tablespoons sugar, divided
  • 1 cup very warm water
  • 6 tablespoons butter, softened
  • 1 cup buttermilk
  • 5 cups bread flour, in two additions
  • 2 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon baking soda
  • cornmeal for sprinkling pan
  • butter, optional

Place yeast and about 1/2 tablespoon of sugar in bowl of standing mixer with dough hook. If you don’t have a standing mixer, use a large bowl. Add very warm water; it should feel “cozy” warm, not hot, on the inside of your wrist. Stir with a whisk, and let it sit while you prep the other ingredients.

In a 2-cup glass microwave-safe measuring cup, melt the butter in the microwave for about 30 seconds or until mostly melted. Add the buttermilk and nuke for an additional 30-60 seconds, or until the mixture is warm, not hot.

Sprinkle 2 cups of bread flour, salt, remaining sugar, and baking soda over the water mixture in the bowl. Start mixing on low, then slowly pour in the buttermilk/melted butter into the bowl. Turn mixer to medium and blend well. Slowly add 2 1/2 cups more flour and mix until combined. Continue mixing, until a soft dough starts to form, adding the additional 1/2 cup flour as needed.

Rather than moving the dough to a new clean bowl, I just remove the dough long enough to spray it with cooking oil spray or coat the bowl with oil. Put the dough back in, turn it bottom side up, so all of the dough is coated. Cover with plastic wrap of a damp dish towel. Set in a warm place to rise for about an hour and a half, or until doubled in size.

Divide into 3 portions. Fold each portion over onto itself, turning and stretching dough repeatedly to form a smooth, tight circle of dough. Place on pans lined with silpat or parchment paper and sprinkled with cornmeal.

Let rise for about 45 minutes until doubled. Slash tops.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes (about 25 minutes for rolls) until nicely browned and it sounds hollow when thumped.

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