6 1/2 c unbleached bread flour (can use all purpose, if that’s all you have)
2 t fine salt or 1 T coarse kosher salt
5 T sugar (or 5 T brown sugar or 3 1/2 T honey or agave nectar)
1 c lukewarm water about 95 F (for even softer bread, use 1 c water leftover from boiling potatoes, cooled)
1 c & 2 T lukewarm buttermilk or milk
1 1/2 T instant yeast
1/4 c melted unsalted butter or vegetable oil
In a mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour, salt and sugar together. (Tip: If measuring your flour in cups, without a scale, hold back 1 c to add as needed later). (If you’re using honey or agave, add with the liquid ingredients instead.)
In a large measuring cup or bowl, combine water and buttermilk and whisk in the yeast until dissolved. Add this mix along with the melted butter, to the dry ingredients. Mix by hand or with a dough hook until the mix is combined, about 2 min. Let the dough rest for 5 min. Continue mixing the dough, adding more flour or water as needed, until the dough becomes soft, smooth and tacky, but not sticky. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured surface and knead for a couple of min, then form dough into a ball. Place the dough in a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap and either refrigerate for up to 4 days, or allow to sit at room temp until doubled in size (about 60 – 90 min). If you have refrigerated your dough, remove from the refrigerator 2 hours before you plan to bake, to allow it to come to room temp. Divide dough into 2 equal pieces. Dust each with a bit of flour and then, using a rolling pin, roll into a rectangle approx 10″ wide and 16″ long. Follow one of the options below. Grease 2 8 x 4″ loaf pans and set aside. Using a sharp knife, cut the roll of dough down the centre, lengthwise. Rotate each piece so that the cut sides are facing upward and place them side-by-side. Pinch together the farthest end. Keeping the cuts sides facing upwards as much as possible, place the right-side piece over the left-side piece. Straighten it up and then repeat, pinching together the end closest to you. If any cheese escapes, just place it back on top. Using a bench scraper or spatula, carefully lift the dough into the greased loaf pan. Repeat with the other dough log, then cover both with a greased piece of plastic wrap and allow to rise until the dough rises to about 1″ above the side of the pans in the middle. Preheat oven to 350° F. Bake for 45 – 50 min total, but after 25 min of baking, rotate pans front-to-back in the oven and loosely cover with a piece of aluminum foil if necessary (if bread is already well-browned), to prevent the top from over-browning. Bread should reach about 185° internal temp in the centre. Remove bread from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for a couple of min. Run a sharp knife around the edge of the bread and carefully remove the loaves to a cooling rack. Allow to cool for 1 hour before slicing.
Cheddar and Herb (Makes 1 loaf):
2 c shredded sharp cheddar cheese
1/4 c minced herbs (parsley and chives are good choices)
Spread shredded cheddar and herbs evenly over the surface of the dough. Starting with the shortest side, roll the dough up jelly-roll style and pinch the seam together.
Parmesan, Garlic and Herb (Makes 1 loaf):
1 1/2 c freshly grated Parmesan
1/2 t garlic powder (or about 2 t minced fresh garlic)
1/4 c minced herbs (parsley works well)
1/4 c butter, at room temp
Spread softened butter over the surface of the dough. Sprinkle evenly with Parmesan, garlic and herbs. Press lightly with the palm of your hand to press the toppings into the butter. Starting with the shortest side, roll the dough up jelly-roll style and pinch the seam together.