No-Fail Homemade Bread
by Jes Mostek
serves: 10
  A warm loaf of fresh-baked home-made bread is the ultimate comfort food! But putting all that time and effort into bread that doesn’t rise properly can be terribly discouraging. If you’ve been unlucky in bread baking in the past, I encourage you to give it another go. And if this would be your first attempt at baking bread, you’re about to begin a great love affair. This recipe takes the guess-work out of bread-baking. May the hearty aroma of bread be with you soon!

Using bread flour makes all the difference in the world for successful bread-making. The difference between bread flour and all purpose flour is the heightened levels of wheat gluten in the bread flour. The gluten is what gives the bread dough its elasticity (the springy, spongy texture when it's done). If you don't want to commit to a whole bag of bread flour, you can also buy wheat gluten and add one T. for every 1 c. of flour.
  1 1/2 c.   milk, divided (luke-warm)
  2 T.   sugar
  2 tsp.   yeast (1 sachet = 2 tsp.)
  4 c.   bread flour
  1 tsp.   salt
  1/4 c.   oil
  2 T.   butter
  First, check the date on your yeast packet. If it’s questionable, proving the yeast will answer your question. To prove yeast, combine ˝ c. luke-warm milk (the temperature that’s comfortable to the inside of your wrist if you drop a few drops on it – no more than 120°F) in a small bowl. Set bowl aside in a warm, draft-free place (perhaps the inside of your oven or microwave, but don’t turn on either appliance). After 10 minutes, mixture should have increased in size and be frothy or bubbly. If not, discard and try again with new yeast.

Sift together flour and sugar in a large mixing bowl. Make a well in the center of the flour and pour the oil, the remaining warm milk and the yeast mixture into the well. Using a large spoon, mix all ingredients until well-combined. Your dough is now ready for kneading. You may also use the bread-hook attachment on your stand mixer to mix and knead the bread dough.

To knead, turn out dough onto a floured surface. Knead for 5-10 minutes. The reasons for kneading the dough this long are 1.) to release the gluten in the dough to give the dough its elasticity, and 2.) to give the dough a uniformity that will lead to an even crumb.

Coat sides of mixing bowl with shortening. Roll dough into a ball and cover with a light coating of shortening as well. Return dough to mixing bowl and cover with a clean, damp dish towel. Place bowl in a warm, draft-free place and allow dough to rest for an hour or until it has doubled in size.

Coat the bottom and sides of 2 loaf pans with shortening. Punch dough down and knead for another minute. Separate dough into balls, flatten to discs and roll up discs to cylindrical shape. Place loaves, seam-side down, in prepared loaf pans. Cover pans with the damp dish towel and return dough to that draft-free place for another 30 minutes to an hour, or until dough has increased in size by 50%.

To bake, Preheat oven to 415°F (if your warm, draft-free place was the inside of the oven, be sure to remove your loaves while the oven pre-heats). Brush tops of loaves with melted butter. When oven reaches 415°F, place bread pans in oven and bake for 10 minutes. Reduce heat to 350°F and bake another 40-50 minutes. Turn out pans onto a cooling rack. Store in an airtight container and eat or freeze within 4 days.