There’s something about the process of making a loaf of bread that is so satisfying. Humble ingredients like flour and yeast are transformed by time and kneading into a smooth, elastic dough that bakes up into a decadent loaf to share with friends and family.
Yet the process of making bread is often over complicated. So many recipes require the use of a heavy duty stand mixer. Many well equipped kitchens simply don’t include a mixer powerful enough to knead a batch of bread. So, aspiring bakers are left to believe that without investing several hundred dollars on a stand mixer, they can’t make delicious homemade bread.
Yes, a stand mixer can speed up the process of making a batch of bread. A heavy duty mixer can do the kneading for you, making the process as simple as adding the ingredients to the bowl, turning the mixer on, and transferring the dough to a warm place to rise before shaping and baking into golden loaves.
Our grandmothers and their grandmothers before them knew better. They didn’t have the luxury of high powered electric mixers or bread machines yet they made all the bread their family ate around their dinner tables. They used simple recipes, trusted ingredients, and their bare hands to consistently turn out the loaves that nourished their families.
By following their lead, you can do the same. This recipe is easy to master and doesn’t require any special equipment. It’s an enriched dough that incorporates butter and eggs, much like the brioche that started my bread baking adventures several decades ago. Ironically, mastering that difficult recipe involved me burning out the motor of a heavy duty stand mixer.
When my mixer was put out of commission, I was left to make bread by hand. I had just fallen in love with bread baking, had just become accustomed to filling our home with the delicious aroma of freshly baked bread and our bellies with the extra nourishment that seems baked right in to a loaf of homemade bread. So, I began looking for ways to simplify the recipes, I tried different methods for mimicking the results of the breads I had been making with my mixer even though I was making them by hand.
That was years ago. I did indeed create a few recipes that consistently turn out delicious loaves made entirely by hand. I hadn’t given it much thought until I started hearing from so many readers who were eager to try making bread but believed that they would be doomed to fail if they didn’t have a stand mixer in their kitchen.
So, I turned back to my recipe inspired by that brioche I made from Julia Child’s cookbook so many years ago. I had updated the recipe, simplifying it a bit for my Farmhouse Brioche that I make almost weekly. Those loaves are delicious, but I was convinced that I could further simplify the recipe and specifically create a version that would be ideally suited for making entirely by hand.
It took several months of adjusting the ingredients, fine tuning the instructions, and tasting dozens of loaves of this bread. For the final test, my daughter became my test baker, making two gorgeous loaves by following the recipe to the letter. I felt like a proud mother hen watching her make those loaves. When we sat down to our informal taste test, I was sure that this recipe was indeed ready to share, that all you could soon be making delicious homemade bread by hand for your family table.
I hope that you’ll give this recipe for handmade enriched bread dough a try and that you’ll grow to love bread baking as much as I do. I can’t wait to hear all about the delicious loaves you’ll make!
Once you’ve mastered baking your homemade bread, you’ll need to learn all about the best way to store it. Different types of bread benefit from different storage methods. You can learn all about them by reading The Best Way to Store Fresh Bread.
- 6 ounces (¾ cup) warm water
- 21 grams (1 Tablespoon) honey
- 5 teaspoons (2 packages) active dry yeast
- 6 ounces (3/4 cup) buttermilk, room temperature
- 2 large eggs, room temperature
- 1 stick butter, room temperature
- 3 ½ cups (420 grams) All-purpose flour
- 3 ½ cups (420 grams) bread flour
- 1 Tablespoon kosher salt
- Whisk the warm water and honey in a large bowl. Sprinkle the yeast over the top of the liquid. Allow the yeast to rest for approximately five minutes as you prepare the remaining ingredients.
- In a large bowl, combine the two types of flour and salt. Cube the butter and soften in the microwave for approximately 30 seconds. It should be incredibly soft to allow it to be easily incorporated into the dough by hand. In a small bowl, whisk the eggs until smooth.
- Add the buttermilk and eggs to the bowl with the yeast. Whisk until combined. Add the softened butter followed by the dry ingredients all in one addition. Using your hands or a sturdy wooden spoon, mix the ingredients until they begin to come together.
- Turn the dough out on to a lightly floured surface. Using your hands, bring the dough together and begin to knead until it forms a ball. Continue to knead for about five minutes. The dough should be smooth and elastic. Shape the dough into a ball and move it to a large buttered bowl covered with a clean towel. Place in a dough proofer or a warm spot and allow to rise for 1-2 hours or until nearly doubled in size.
- It is easy to confirm that the bread dough is ready to shape by using the windowpane test. If you are unfamiliar with the windowpane test, the technique is quite simple but incredibly helpful when making a loaf of bread. This windowpane test will help you to determine if your dough has been kneaded sufficiently to yield a wonderful finished loaf. By using this technique, you will be certain that your homemade bread dough will produce a beautiful loaf of bread.
- Conducting the windowpane test is simple. Take a small piece of dough and stretch it between your fingers until it is thin and translucent (much like a window). If the dough stretches without breaking, the gluten has developed sufficiently and the dough is ready to prepare for its shaping and final rise. If the dough breaks, allow the dough to rise a bit longer until it passes the test.
- Prepare two standard sized (8”x4”) loaf pans by brushing with butter or a neutral tasting oil. Be sure to brush the top rim of the loaf pan as this dough has a tendency to rise well above the top of the pan. Oiling the top rim of the pan will make releasing the baked loaf from the pan much easier.
- Divide the dough into two even balls. You can shape the loaves by hand or by using a rolling pin. Either will create a beautiful loaf with great texture. To shape by hand, work the ball of dough by turning and pulling into a rectangle before placing in the lightly oiled loaf pan.
- To shape with a rolling pin, stretch the ball of dough by hand into a large rectangle before placing on a lightly floured surface. Using the rolling pin, roll the dough into a large rectangle measuring approximately 8 x16 inches. Fold in the edges along the long ends to match the length of your bread pan. Starting on one short end, begin rolling the dough tightly into a log to create a loaf shape. Transfer the dough to the prepared pan with the seam side on the bottom.
- Brush the top of the loaves with a bit of melted butter and use a sharp knife to cut three slits in the top of the dough. Scoring the loaf will allow the dough to rise and bake evenly without breaking the beautiful top crust.
- Brush a piece of plastic wrap with melted butter before loosely covering the loaf. The plastic wrap will prevent the dough from drying out as it rises. Take care not to cover the loaf too tightly which can prevent the dough from rising properly. Set the loaves aside to rise in a warm, draft free spot. Allow the loaves to rise until they have reached a height of about an inch above the top edge of the loaf pans.
- As the dough nears the end of its rise, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. If you have a pizza stone, this is a great time to put it to use. I like to use stones when baking bread in order to deliver even heat to the bottom of the loaf as it bakes. I find that my loaves bake more evenly when I have the stones in the oven during preheating and baking.
- Once the loaves have risen sufficiently and the oven has reached the proper temperature, transfer the loaves to the oven. Bake for 30 minutes, turning near the halfway mark to ensure even browning. When the loaves are fully baked, they will be golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove the baked loaves from their pans to a wire rack. Allow them to cool completely before slicing or storing.