WARNING: This recipe makes a very large amount of bread! I end up freezing half of the loaves and giving some bread away as well when I make this recipe. My neighbors love it because they always end up with some. I have not tried freezing the dough yet, but I do want to try and figure that out. Frozen loaves I have noticed, tend to crumble a bit, unlike the fresh loaves so I try to give away extra loaves rather than freeze it. Even with just the three of us, my family can easily go through one batch of bread in a week.
This bread is great for just about anything, the original recipe I used called it French Bread but it holds together well for sandwich bread, and slices great into strips for French Toast or croutons. I also like to bake it in large rolls for bread bowls with homemade chili or stew, it’s even really great with my Enchilada Skillet recipe, just ladle some filler in and go!
I make this recipe in my Kitchen Aid, one batch will fill it. I learned the hard way, DO NOT DOUBLE THE RECIPE if you use a Kitchen Aid! It ended badly, the kids had fun though, they were covered with flour anyways, so I let them make flour angels before their bath.
This recipe is made almost every week in our house, so I buy yeast in large batches and always have about 50 lbs of flour on hand (I stock up when I find a good sale and keep it in the freezer). Even just using water in the recipe, this bread comes out packed full of flavor. If you want to you can replace half, or all of the water with milk, I use water because milk is expensive and I like the taste just as well without it.
I start by putting the yeast, sugar, vinegar, and water in the mixer and letting it set for about 10 minutes, until it’s all foamy.
I add the oil, salt (optional, but it really does taste better with it), and start adding the flour. Start with 2 cups of flour and turn the mixer on to low.
Once the flour is mostly absorbed, you can start adding the rest, one cup at a time.This recipe calls for 6-7 cups of flour, watch the last cup and add enough to make it thick enough to handle, but not too sticky or half of it will be between your fingers when you pull it out.Caution: The last cup of flour will spill half of it all over your counter top unless you have a guard on your Kitchen Aid, I lost my guard a while ago, so I just go with it.
You can let your Kitchen Aid knead the dough, but I always find it relaxing (and my kids like to help). Turn the dough out onto your counter, use lots of flour so it doesn’t stick. The dough needs to be kneaded for 3-5 minutes. I just turn on the radio and knead it for the length of one or two songs, Keep a cup of flour handy because you will want to keep adding small amounts of flour. The more you knead, the softer and stickier it gets.
Put the dough in a large, greased (you’ll thank me later) bowl and let rise. I like to do a quick rise, because I’m lazy and want to eat my fresh bread more quickly. I boil a small pot full of water on the stovetop, then I put both the boiling pot and the bowl in the oven and close it. It makes it rise twice as fast.
Once the dough has doubled, or reached the rim of the bowl, dip your fist in flour and punch it down (don’t forget the flour!), do this once, and let rise again.
Bring the bowl back to the counter and punch it down again. Then divide the dough into your desired sizes. I usually make 4 large rolls and 3 medium loaves.
Set the loaves and rolls on greased baking sheets (You could probably put them in loaf pans, but I love the hand shaped loaves), allow plenty of space between since they will rise again. (If you want some texture on the bottom, sprinkle cornmeal on the greased baking sheets before placing the loaves)
Let them rise in a warm place for another 30 minutes (you can put them in the oven again like we did earlier, but make sure there is plenty of space for them to rise, I once had some that rose into the top heating element, that was a pain to clean off and it still smoked badly when I turned it on).
Heat the over to 375 degrees and bake the loaves for 25-30 minutes. Check the rolls after about 20, depending on the size you make them. Once the tops get golden brown and feel hard to the touch take them out and let them set for a few minutes before taking them off the baking sheets.
The bottom of the large loaves have a tendency to almost burn if I leave them in past the 25 minute mark, but that is my stove’s quirk. I have had others make them and say that they don’t have this problem. I just slice off the bottom and eat it anyway.
To store: use an old bread bag if you are going to freeze them. Mine last longer and crumble less in a bread bag versus a Ziploc. If I just want them to hang out on the counter, I use my muslin/cotton produce bags and just set them out, they keep just fine and don’t have condensation that gathers in the bottom like with plastic bags to make the loaf soggy. If you don’t have any handy cotton bags, just use a tea towel to wrap it up.