My mother is afraid of bread. No, she’s not one of those low-carb fanatics or even a gluten-free devotee. It’s not actually eating bread that scares her, but making it. Bear in mind that I’m talking about a professional foodie—once a restaurant critic and food writer—who routinely makes desserts with names that include words like “tuile,” “soufflé,” and “brulée.” A woman who once called cassoulet “a simple one-pot meal.” In the kitchen, there are, in fact, only two things that intimidate my mother: The impending arrival of guests (see my previous post, Happy Birthday Chez Panisse) and baking bread.
“That whole yeast thing just scares me,” she shrugs. “And all that kneading and rising? I’m sure I’d do it wrong and, oh, I don’t know…” her voice trails off and suddenly she’s busily whisking a roux or butterflying a pork loin.
And my mom is not alone in her bread-o-phobia. A lot of people dismiss any fleeting urges they might have to bake bread, thinking it’s too difficult, time-consuming, or technically challenging. But here’s a delicious secret: Freshly baked homemade bread is a cheap trick that never fails to impress precisely because most people never bother to try it. The truth is, the simplest kitchen science leads to awe-inspiring results. Use the right flour and give your dough ample time to rise—in other words, just find a good recipe and follow the instructions—and you will be surprised and delighted by the fragrant, tasty, soul-satisfying loaves that issue forth from your own oven. Our Magical Asiago Fig Bread, which you’ll find the recipe for in The Lazy Gourmet, is a perfect example of this: A no-knead bread that only requires lots of rising time.
This quick and easy Buttermilk Bread recipe is shockingly easy to make, and the whole thing can be done in an afternoon. It does require a teeny tiny bit of kneading (don’t let this scare you off! I swear, it will only take you a minute or two.) Plus, harkening back to my last post about finding uses for leftover ingredients, it’s a great way to use up that quart of buttermilk you bought for a recipe that required only a few tablespoons—this one uses a whole cup and a quarter.
The most important thing I’ve learned in my bread-baking experiments over the years is that the flour you choose matters. All-purpose, schmall purpose, I say. What’s the difference between bread flour and all-purpose flour, you might ask? Bread flour has a higher protein content, and protein is what gives bread its loft. Breads made with it will rise higher and develop an airier crumb. Using bread flour, which is available at any supermarket, in this recipe will give you a majestic loaf with a delicate crumb and a slightly crunchy crust.
This fluffy, slightly sweet, slightly tangy bread is the perfect foil for melty butter, peanut butter, jam, honey, or any other spread. It’s great for sandwiches and makes a fantastic bread pudding, too. I’m planning to bake up a loaf for my mom the next time she visits and really freak her out.
Easy Buttermilk Bread
Adapted from Fast Breads by Elinor Klivans, via Leite’s Culinaria. Be sure to use bread flour (I like King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour, which is widely available in supermarkets).
4 tablespoons unsalted butter, divided
3 1/4 cups bread flour, divided
1 tablespoon sugar
1 teaspoon kosher salt
2 1/4 teaspoons (a 1/4-ounce packet) instant or quick-rise yeast
1 1/4 cups buttermilk (any fat content)
1 large egg
Butter a 9-by-5-by-3-inch loaf pan, using about 1 tablespoon of the butter.
In a large mixing bowl (or in the bowl of a stand mixer, if you are fortunate enough to have one), combine 1 ½ cups of the flour with the sugar, salt, and yeast.
In a small saucepan, heat the buttermilk and 2 tablespoons of the butter over medium heat until the butter is melted and the mixture reaches about 130 degrees Fahrenheit on an instant-read thermometer (Don’t worry if you don’t have an instant-read thermometer. The mixture should be warm, but not hot to the touch). Remove from the heat.
Using the stand mixer fitted with the flat beater or a hand-held electric mixer, add the warm buttermilk mixture to the flour mixture and combine well. Add the egg and beat 1 minute more. Add the remaining 1 3/4 cups flour and continue mixing for 5 minutes. If you are using a hand-held mixer, you’ll need to scrape the dough off the beaters several times. After a few minutes, scrape it onto a board, wet your hands and, without drying them, knead the dough another minute or two. The dough should be fairly sticky. Form the dough into a loaf shape and place in the prepared loaf pan.
Melt the remaining tablespoon of butter and brush it over the loaf. Cover loosely with a clean dishtowel and place the pan in a warm place (like a sunny windowsill, provided the day is not too hot) and let rise about 1 hour, until the dough rises above the top edge of the pan. Make a shallow cut lengthwise down the center of the loaf (this keeps the loaf from pulling away from the edges of the pan during baking).
While the dough is rising, preheat the oven to 375ºF. When dough has risen sufficiently, make a shallow cut lengthwise down the center of the loaf (this keeps it from pulling away from the sides of the pan as it bakes), and bake it in the center of the preheated oven for about 35 minutes, until the top is firm and lightly browned. Place the pan on a wire rack and let cool 10 minutes. Remove bread from pan and cool completely on rack before slicing.