My mom typed this up on a couple of index cards and gave it to me when I was going off to college. She told me that even if I couldn’t afford to make anything else, I could always make this. And it really is economical. For the cost of one loaf of bread, these ingredients will make 3 loaves. If you make this with stone-ground flour and whole milk, it really is nutritious. And you can make it, start to finish, in 4 hours. If you have the time, decrease the yeast by half, and let the dough rise overnight, and you’ll be rewarded with a better-tasting loaf, but make no mistake — this is not like those artisanal loaves of bread. It’s about as basic as it comes.
¼ c sugar
¼ c warm water
2 packages dry yeast
2 c warm milk (or water)
6 c flour (750g / 27 oz / 1 lb. 11 oz)
1 T salt
¼ c butter, softened (½ stick)
First, activate the yeast : Run the tap water until it feels warm, but not too hot, on the inside of your wrist. Combine the sugar, yeast, and water in a coffee cup, and let it sit for 10 minutes until foamy.
Warm the milk in a saucepan over low heat, trying to get it to the same temperature as the water.
Into a big bowl, measure the flour either by weight or by making level cups with dry measuring cups. Add the salt and mix thoroughly. Then add the butter, and rub it into the flour until it disappears. Pour in the yeast mixture, and then slowly add the warm milk, mixing as you go. You want to moisten every bit of the flour. It’ll be messy. Keep turning the dough over in the bowl until all the flour is incorporated. You’ll end up with a smooth, round ball of dough.
Run a clean towel under warm tap water, wring it out, and stretch it over the bowl. Put the bowl in a warm place to rise. (Mom suggested inside the oven, with the oven light on, or with the pilot light on. These days, many gas ovens have electronic ignitions, and pilot lights are a thing of the past. You might try heating the oven to 200 degrees, turning it off, and letting it cool down for a couple of minutes, then putting the bowl inside.)
You’ll want to let the dough rise to double in size, which will take about 2 hours.
When you’re nearing the 2 hour mark, grease 2 or 3 loaf pans with oil or butter. Next, clear the decks. You’ll need a clean, flat work surface to knead the dough. With flour covered hands, deflate, scoop out, and knead the dough, by rolling it around, pushing it flat with the heels of your hands, puling the left side and the right side of the ball into the middle, and then rotating the ball counter-clockwise. Keep doing this adding a little flour every time it sticks. It’s not necessary to really knead this for long, but do the folding-over action at least 15 times.
Now, with a sharp knife, cut the ball either in half or in thirds, depending on how many loaf pans you’ve greased. Pat and stretch each cut piece into a cylinder, long enough so that when you put it into the pan, it touches each of the narrow ends.
Cover each pan with your damp cloth and let them rise again, this time, about 45 minutes, or until the dough has doubled in size again. (If you’re doing the overnight method, this will take a little longer than 45 minutes.)
Preheat your oven to 400°, and bake your bread for 35 to 40 minutes on the center rack. When it’s done, it will have pulled away from the sides of the pan. Carefully turning a loaf out of its pan, thump it on the bottom. It should sound hollow. Cool on wire racks for at least 30 minutes.