Long, long ago when The Daughter was a mere child, her 2nd Grade teacher would occasionally bake and sell loaves of slightly sweet, soft, very tender bread. To ensure good sales, the teacher would cannily pass out samples to her students, who then went home and begged their parents to buy the bread. It really was delicious, and the teacher was understandably very secretive about the recipe. But Katie didn’t see why we should be restricted to enjoying the bread only two or three times in a school year. She asked me if I could come up with a recipe that produced a similar loaf.
In those days, my passion for food had broadened beyond collecting recipes and cooking to encompass a curiosity about the science of food and an interest in its history. I had a decent library (still do) of food-related volumes, covering topics ranging from the memoirs of professional chefs, to food’s influence on culture and human development, to the people who devote themselves to winning cookoff contests. I subscribed to several food magazines, watched Emeril and Ina and Alton on the Food Network and read cookbooks for fun.
So Katie’s request wasn’t made just from a child’s wishful thinking and boundless faith in her mother. Could I devise a similar loaf? You bet I could.
This is a batter bread, and requires yeast, but no kneading. (And no electric mixer! Stirring with a spatula in a big bowl is preferable.) For anyone who’s nervous about using yeast, don’t worry. I call for instant yeast (SAF is an excellent brand), so you won’t have to proof it first, or even be extremely cautious about the temperature of the liquids you’ll add to the batter. I store my SAF in the freezer, and it keeps for a long time. Yes, one of these days I’d like to make a bread using wild yeast spores that I’ll harvest from the air around me (taking the concept of terroir to extremes, and probably resulting in an unsavory bread that tastes a bit like dog hair), but I use instant yeast exclusively and have for years.
SWEET BATTER BREAD Makes two 8 ½” x 4 ½” x 2 ½” loaves, or 24 dinner rolls
2 tsp. salt
½ c. sugar
4 Tbsp. (½ stick) softened, unsalted butter
½ c. very warm water (see Notes)
2 c. very warm milk, whole or 2% (see Notes)
4 tsp. instant yeast
5 c. all-purpose flour (divided into 3 c. and 2 c.)
1 egg (lg. or extra-lg.), beaten
Cooking spray or soft butter or oil, for greasing bread pans, muffin tins, etc.
1. Preheat oven to 375°F.
2. In a large bowl, stir salt, sugar, butter, water and milk together with a spatula until salt and sugar are dissolved.
3. In a separate bowl, stir together (with a fork or whisk) 3c. flour with the yeast.
4. Add the flour/yeast mixture one cup at a time to the water/milk mixture and stir with spatula to blend.
5. Next, stir in the beaten egg. The mixture will be very runny:
6. Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap and set in a warm place to rise. It should at least double in volume, and may go a bit higher. It will look like this once it’s risen:
7. Once the batter has risen, add in the last 2 c. all-purpose flour and mix thoroughly with a spatula to blend.
If making loaves:
8. Spray two 8 ½” x 4 ½” x 2 ½” nonstick loaf pans with cooking spray (or oil or butter them).
9. Divide batter evenly between the two pans and let rise again at room temperature (otherwise the batter might overflow) until almost at the tops of the pans. Do not cover with plastic.
10. Bake at 375°F for about 25 minutes, or until golden.
11. Cool in pan 10 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.
If making dinner rolls:
12. Spray two 12-cup muffin tins (nonstick is best, but I can’t find mine) and an ice cream scoop with cooking spray (or oil or butter them, but cooking spray is much easier).
13. Filling the scoop not quite full each time, divide the batter evenly between the 24 muffin cups.
14. Let rise again at room temperature (otherwise the batter might overflow) until slightly rounded over the tops of the cups. Do not cover with plastic.
15. Bake at 375°F for 12 minutes, then reverse muffin tins top to bottom, front to back.
16. Continue baking about 5 more minutes, or until golden.
17. Cool in tins 5 minutes before turning out onto a rack to cool completely.
• By “very warm” water and milk, I mean warm enough to dissolve the sugar and salt, but nowhere near scalding. While instant yeast is very easy to use, any liquid that’s too cold or very hot will ruin it. If you don’t want to leave it to chance, use a thermometer to check that the temperature of the water/milk mixture is between about 105° to 120°F when you add the flour/yeast blend.
• Bread recipes are an excellent opportunity to use up sour milk, by the way.
• I keep all homemade breads in the refrigerator. Very helpful for maintaining freshness and retarding mold.
• If you want to make toast, do it in a toaster oven or under the broiler. This bread is so tender it won’t hold up to a toaster. But it will make fabulous cinnamon toast, perfect with a cup of hot tea in the afternoon. Just be sure the butter is very spreadable.
Admire your handiwork. Then enjoy!