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White Mountain Bread

From The Bread Bible by Beth Hensperger

Yields 2 9×5 inch Loaves
-1/2 C. Warm Water (105-115 degrees F)
-1 Tablespoon (1 Package) Active Dry Yeast
-Pinch of Sugar
-1 ½ C. Milk (at 105-115 degrees F)
-3 Tbs. Unsalted Butter, Melted (Vegetable Oil can be used in place of the butter)
-3 Tbs. Honey
-1 Tbs. Kosher Salt
-6 C. Unbleached All Purpose Flour, or Bread Flour (I used AP Flour, which worked just fine)

Pour 1/4 cup of the warm water into a small bowl or 1-cup liquid measuring cup.  Sprinkle with yeast and sugar over the surface of the water.  Stir gently a few times with the handle of a small spoon or mini whisk to moisten evenly.  (Leave the spoon or whisk submerged in the mixture if a lot of yeast has stuck to it.)  This mixture is sometimes referred to as a slurry.  Let rest at room temperature (75-80 degrees F) for about 10 minutes.  Within a few minutes the yeast will begin to bubble into a thick foam and double to triple in volume.  If you wish to slow things at this stage of proofing, use a lower temperature water, about 80-100 degrees F.  While the yeast is proofing, assemble the rest of the ingredients and equipment on your work surface.  Place the flour at the side of the work surface for easy access during kneading. 

In a large bowl using a whisk or in the bowl of a heavy-duty electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the remaining water, milk, butter, honey, salt, and 1 cup of the flour.  Beat hard until creamy, about 3 minutes by hand or 1 minute in the mixer.  Stir in the yeast mixture.  By hand or on low speed in the electric mixture, add the remaining flour, ½ cup at a time, until a soft dough that just clears the sides of the bowl is formed.  Switch to a wooden spoon when necessary if making by hand.  The dough will be slightly stiff and sticky. 

If kneading by hand, turn the dough out onto a slightly floured work surface.  Using a plastic scraper to begin the first knead, if desired, begin by folding the top edges in halfway toward you.  Push away with the heels of the hands and then give the dough a quarter turn to keep the area to be worked directly facing you.  As you pull back, use your fingers or the scraper to lift the farthest edge of the dough and fold it back toward you to lay it over itself, and push again, allowing the dough to slide across the work surface where it will absorb the flour it needs.  Repeat the pushing, turning, and folding sequence, developing a comfortable pace and rhythm and observing the dough as well as feeling it firm up in your hands.  Dust with flour as needed.  Knead until smooth and springy, a total of 1-3 minutes for a machine mixed dough or 4-7 minutes for a hand-mixed dough. 

If kneading by machine, switch from the paddle to the dough hook and knead for 5 to 6 minutes, or until the dough is smooth and springy and springs back when pressed.  If desired, transfer the dough back to a floured surface and knead briefly by hand.  Each batch of dough is unique and presents minor variables at the time. 

Place the dough in a lightly greased deep container.  Turn the dough once to coat the top so that the plastic wrap does not stick and the surface does not form a crust.  Cover completely with a piece of plastic wrap, lying loosely rather than tight around the sides to leave room for expansion.  Note the level of dough on the container.  Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 ½ to 2 hours.  Press a fingertip into the top of the dough to see if the indentation remains.  If it needs to rise more, the indentation will fill back in quickly.  Do not worry or rush if the dough takes longer.  The dough may be refrigerated at this point, covered tightly with a double layer of plastic wrap, for up to 18 hours, if desired. 

Turn the dough out onto a slightly floured work surface to deflate.  Lightly grease the bottom and sides of 2 9×5 inch loaf pans.  Without working the dough further, divide it into 2 equal portions with a metal scraper or a knife.  Pat each portion of dough into a long rectangle; it does not need to be exact.  Fold the dough into thirds, overlapping the 2 opposite ends in the middle.  Beginning at the short edge, tightly roll up the dough jelly-roll style into a log that is about the same length as your pan.  Pinch the ends and the long seam to seal.  While placing the loaf in the pan, tuck the ends under to make a neat, snug fit.  The log should be of an even thickness and fill the pans about 2/3 full.  Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise again at room temperature until the dough is fully doubled in bulk and about 2 inches over the rims of the pans, about 45 minutes. 

Twenty minute before baking, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Remove the plastic wrap and, using a serrated knife, with a quick motion of your wrist make a long slash lengthwise, no more than ¼ inch deep, to create a long groove that will spring open, giving the dough room for expansion.  Immediately place on the center rack of the oven and bake for 40-45 minutes, or until the loaves are golden brown in color and the sides are slightly contract from the pan.  If you give it a tap with your fingers, the loaf should sound hollow.  Transfer the loaves from the pans immediately.  Gently set each loaf on its side or on a wire or wood cooling rack.  For proper cooling, air must circulate all around the loaf, so leave plenty of room between the loaves and at least 1 inch of space under the rack to keep the crust from getting soggy.  Be sure to let the loaves rest for at least 15 minutes, to allow excess moisture to evaporate so the center will not be doughy and to finish the baking process.  Loaves are best slightly warm or at room temperature. 
Storage: At room temperature or in the refrigerator, the loaves should keep for up 3 days.  Either wrap them in plastic wrap and foil, slice them and put the slices in a zip-top bag, or set them in a bread box.  An alternative option is to freeze the loaves; just wrap in plastic wrap and foil once cooled completely, and place in freezer