Thursday, February 25, 2010

Homemade sandwich bread your kids will actually eat

For years I avoided making my own bread. I had irregular success with it--sometimes it worked, sometimes I got a charred lump of something that might once have been Play-Doh. Then I discovered the no-knead bread recipe, and lo, bread-making was always a 100% success. Ever since, all my homemade breads have been of the artisanal loaf variety. I use that bread for everything--sandwiches, toast, croutons, French toast, everything. Lately I've been experimenting with adding different flavors--fresh rosemary, whole wheat flour, cracked peppercorns, etc.--to the dough.

However. Children will not eat free-form artisanal bread dusted with parmesan and fennel pollen. I have no idea why. Seriously, I'm not being sarcastic. I can understand some hesitation at the crust, but bread is bread, right? Apparently not. Suddenly all my bread-making efforts were for naught, when faced with a 10-year-old who proclaimed that "REAL" bread was white, flavorless, had no crust, and came from a plastic bag.

Some further investigation yielded that he would happily eat peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwiches for every meal, every day. "Well," I thought, "at least PB&J is marginally nutritious." Certainly it's a lot more nutritious than the frozen processed crap he gets at his other home. But the poor kid's bloodstream is already about 87% high-fructose corn syrup, so I stocked the pantry with organic peanut butter and homemade strawberry and blackberry jam. No high-fructose corn syrup in sight. (And, p.s.--if you peel the label off the homemade blackberry jam and tell the kid it's grape, he'll eat it.)

But the sandwich bread was still problematic. I'll be damned if I buy Wonder Bread for ANYONE. If you've looked at the list of ingredients on a loaf of white bread recently, it resembles the documentation of the Geneva Peace Accords. A couple of months ago, I bought a package of plain old white hamburger buns from Sam's, used some, and tossed the remaining few into the pantry. Last week, I unearthed them, hiding behind a jar of macaroni, and discovered that in the intervening months they. had. not. changed. at. all. Not one bit. They weren't moldy, they weren't stale, they were exactly. the. same. I was horrified. My homemade bread, sans all chemicals and preservatives, starts to go stale within a matter of days. And God knows how long those buns sat on the shelf at Sam's before I bought them. I didn't want to buy a loaf of white bread filled with all those chemicals and preservatives and high-fructose corn syrup, regardless of the 10-year-old star of approval, but I also knew any bread would have to come out of a plastic bag.

So, I went to Whole Foods and bought one of those organic, preservative-free loaves of white bread. Cost: $4.99. The last time I paid $4.99 for a loaf of bread, it had truffles in it. But he ate it, happily, complete with organic peanut butter. So I kept the plastic bag that bread came in. And I turned to this recipe, courtesy of my favorite frugalist at The Simple Dollar, for a wee bit of bread-making deception.

And it worked! The recipe produced a loaf of soft, evenly dense white sandwich bread, with a very soft, thin crust. I sliced it into relatively even slices, slid it into the plastic organic bread bag, and threw it in the fridge. He ate it happily, with organic peanut butter.

Now if I could only get him to eat the crusts.

Anyway, the great thing about this recipe (other than the pictures, which are very helpful) is that it will in fact produce a loaf of white sandwich bread that is near-identical to Wonder Bread, without all the sawdust and carcinogens. Plus it actually tastes like bread. Some notes on the recipe: you do actually have to knead it for 15 minutes. This breaks down the glutens and helps the loaf to form that smooth, evenly dense grain that sandwich bread has (unlike the big open weave of artisanal bread). And I would recommend letting it rise in the loaf pan a little longer than it calls for. The very center of my loaf still had the telltale fold in it, but I just ate those slices myself. A little more rising would have taken care of that.

Cost: using the flour and yeast I bought in bulk...maybe 30 cents? A vast improvement over $4.99. That's even an improvement over $1.19 Wonder Bread.

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