If you want a simple bread recipe that makes amazing bread but can be used for buns and cinnamon rolls, you have to try my Daily Bread recipe. Years ago I came across the inspiration for this bread. I think it was before my youngest was born! The original recipe has been lost but if I remember correctly it had double the butter and honey. That would be good I’m sure but I scaled it back and loved the results.
For a while I made 4 loaves of this a week and we used it every day. Fresh bread and butter is a great snack for a herd of hungry kids, mine plus several neighbor kids. It’s also healthier than any prepackaged snacks and much cheaper. In general anything you make at home is going to be healthier and cheaper than any store bought products.
My Bread Method
This post is going to have a lot of photos because I want to show you how I make all my bread. For years I kneaded dough for 5 or 10 minutes as the recipes instructed. Then I started making round sourdough loaves that had dough that was too wet to knead and learned the stretch and fold method. It’s the method I use for all my bread now since it is easy and makes amazing bread. My pizza dough is a great example of a plain (no butter or sweetener) that uses this method.
All you need is a big bowl or container, I usually use a plastic bucket, and a few minutes throughout the day to work with the dough.
I’ll add my tips and tricks after the recipe as usual.
Daily Bread Recipe
- 1 cup water, plus 2 tablespoons as needed
- 1 1/2 teaspoon dry yeast
- 2 tablespoons honey
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
- 3 1/2 cups bread flour
- 2 tablespoons butter
Pour the water into a large bowl or container, preferably one with a lid. Sprinkle the yeast over the water and pour in the honey. I never measure honey, molasses, maple syrup, or oil for most recipes because I don’t want to clean the measuring spoon or cup. Just eyeball the amount and it will be close enough. For a pastry or cake recipe, you may want to measure because they need to be precise. Bread is very forgiving and there’s no need to be exact.
Thoughts on Yeast and Salt
Let the yeast soften for a minute. I don’t worry about all the warnings about water temperature and letting the yeast sit for 10 minutes to “bloom”. If your water is room temperature and your yeast isn’t ancient you should be fine.
Now add the salt, flour, and butter and give it a quick mix. If you’ve read many bread recipes you may have read that you shouldn’t let the salt touch the yeast because it will kill the yeast. This is another thing I don’t worry about. You are about to mix it all together and if salt killed the yeast then it wouldn’t be one of the 4 required ingredients. There’s a lot of myths and legends about bread but really you’re just hydrating yeast and giving it flour to eat so it will multiply and make the bread rise.
In the photo above you can see the dough after the initial quick mix. I stir in the flour just until there are no big pockets of flour. The dough is shaggy and messy looking. Now cover the container and let it sit for 15 or 20 minutes.
After that short rest, get your hand wet and pinch/squeeze the dough to get everything well mixed and begin to work in the butter. As you can see my dough is not smooth and there are visible chunks of butter. This is fine. We are letting time and stretches smooth out the dough.
Now cover the container again and let it rest for 20 minutes or so. The resting periods let the dough relax and give the water time to activate the gluten.
Stretch and Folds
I mentioned the stretch and fold method I use for bread dough. All you do is get your hand wet to keep the dough from sticking then pick up one side of the dough, stretch it up, and fold it over the dough. I bring the container to the sink so I can wet my hand as needed. The stretch and fold action organizes and strengthens the gluten as it develops. You need the gluten to be strong so it will hold the gas bubbles the yeast releases as it feeds on the flour.
Below you can see the first set of stretch and folds. I pull the dough up as far as it will stretch and fold it over on itself. On the first stretch the dough will feel pretty soft and squishy. Stretch and fold the dough three times. By that third stretch you will notice that the dough has tightened up quite a bit. That’s the gluten getting stronger. You will also notice that the dough is smoother and the butter is more incorporated.
Cover the container again for another 20 minute rest.
Second Stretch and Fold Session
Get your hand wet and do your second set of stretch and folds. You will see the dough is really starting to change. It is smoother and may even have started to rise a bit during the rest. At some point you’ll feel a change in the dough. It will be bouncy and elastic. I think of it as coming alive.
By this point the dough will often tighten up so much that you can lift it out of the container on the last stretch. When this happens you know you have some good gluten development going on.
Traditional recipes will tell you to knead the dough for a long time to develop the gluten but really all you need is time. By letting the dough rest between stretch and fold sessions you get all the gluten development you need.
Cover the container again for another rest.
A Word About Texture
The dough texture will change dramatically over the course of your stretch and fold sessions. It will go from a rough shaggy mess to a smooth, elastic, lovely ball of dough. As you go along you may see that it is getting airy and puffy when you uncover it to stretch and fold. There isn’t enough time to fully proof or rise the dough between the stretch and fold sessions but you should start to see a difference.
Now, yeast is a living thing and won’t be exactly the same every time, even with the same recipe. The temperature of the room, the quality of your yeast and flour, and the humidity all affect the dough. That’s the adventure of bread making! If you don’t see a lot of rise when you take off the lid at the point, don’t worry about it. If you forget the dough and it’s doubled in size when you come back to it, don’t worry about that either. It’s all fine. It’s simple to adjust for these things as you learn how to make bread.
Below you can see the change in texture after each stretch and fold session.
Proof is a fancy way of saying to let the bread rise which is what we are going to do now. Two factors for a good proof are temperature and humidity. In the summer it’s fine to let the dough proof on your counter but in the winter that may be too cold. I often set my container in the oven with the light on to proof.
If other people in your house use the oven be sure to put a note over the controls so no one turns the oven on for anything. I learned this after someone preheated the oven with a batch of yogurt in it. Not fun!
Humidity is another important thing to keep in mind. If the dough is uncovered it will form a crust over the top where it’s exposed to air. The crust will stop the dough from rising since it’s not strong enough to break through that dry crust. You can cover it with plastic wrap, a lid, a wet dish towel, or a plate. Anything will work that protects the dough from dry air.
I put the lid on my bowl and set it in the oven with the light on. After 20 or 30 minutes I checked the dough to see if it was doubled in size. Usually you can plan on 1 to 1 1/2 hours to fully proof the dough. You know it’s ready when it’s doubled in size and is very puffy and airy. It should jiggle when you shake the container.
Final Fold and Bench Rest
Once your dough is proofed and ready, you have a final stretch and fold before you shape it. The dough is very puffy and smooth. It’s finally ready to start shaping!
This step is called a bench rest. If you are dividing the dough you will do it before the bench rest. Give it a couple stretch and folds then let it sit on the counter while you prep the pan. The bench rest lets the dough relax so you can shape it but it isn’t long enough for it to rise. It should sit on the counter for 10 minutes or so.
The goal of shaping is to get the dough tightened up and ready for the last rise before baking. I’m baking this bread in a buttered loaf pan so the shaping isn’t as critical as a free form loaf would need. There is something called a “gluten cloak” that you can often see on a well-shaped loaf of bread. It is a smooth tight layer of dough on the outside of the shaped dough. Again, this is more important for a loaf you aren’t baking in a loaf pan. It helps the bread keep its shape when it’s rising and baking.
To shape the dough just fold it over on itself a few times. You can see that I’m just stretching it up and over and pinching it together. Below you can see that I’ve flipped the dough over and I’m pulling it towards me to smooth it out and tighten up the top of the dough. The dough should have enough tension for you to shape it this way as long as you don’t have too much flour on the countertop.
Final Proof and Baking
Now you can set the dough into your buttered loaf pan and let it rise for the last time. Again, pay attention to the temperature and humidity. I usually cover the pan with a large tupperware box to keep it from drying out. If you use your oven then carefully take out the proofed dough when it’s time to preheat the oven. Once the dough is very puffy and about an inch above the top of the pan it’s ready to bake.
It can have some big air bubbles like my loaf did and that’s fine. That happens when your yeast is very active. Sometimes you might let it proof too long and it flops over the side of the pan. Don’t worry, just reshape it and let it proof again. It’s annoying but if you bake it when it overflowed the pan it won’t turn out very well.
Baking Daily Bread
Once you decide the dough is proofed enough, preheat your oven to 350 degrees and put the rack in the middle of your oven. Gently set the bread in the oven and set a timer for 30 minutes. Check the bread when the timer goes off and see if it’s done or if you need to bake it longer. I tap the bread gently and if it sounds hollow then it’s done. If it’s a nice dark golden color that’s another good sign.
When it’s done, set it to cool in the pan on a rack. Sometimes I take it out of the pan after 10 minutes or so and cool it completely and sometimes I cool it in the pan. A very difficult but important part is letting the bread cool. My people hate this part. If you slice a loaf of bread while it’s hot it will dry out terribly and not keep well. The cooling time is actually part of the baking. The starch in the bread finishes setting up, or gelatinizing, as it cools. This keeps a good structure and gives the bread the right texture.
A Few Bread Thoughts
That was a lot of instructions and a lot of photos! I’m sure it sounds like it is pretty tedious and time consuming and like you can’t leave your house all day just to bake a loaf of bread. You have to believe me when I say that each of the steps takes longer to describe than to actually do. The times can be shorter or longer depending on your schedule.
When I’m making bread I just keep a loose time frame in the back of my head and when I happen to be in the kitchen I do a stretch and fold. I may do 2 stretch and fold sessions or 4. If I have to run an errand I may stick the container in the fridge and pull it out for the next step when I get home.
Sometimes the dough takes an extra long time to proof and it’s not ready to bake by the time I’m ready for bed so I cover it and stick it in the fridge. In the morning I get it out and shape it or bake it. Baking bread is a flexible process and as you gain experience you will get a feel for it.
The fact is, sometimes your bread will be amazing and sometimes it won’t. Sometimes it will look like a photo from a cookbook and other times it will look like a child made it. That’s all a part of it and it’s still nearly always delicious. Especially with butter!
Tips and Tricks
- Substitute part whole wheat flour for the bread flour.
- Use white sugar or brown sugar in place of the honey.
- Divide into 6 pieces and shape into balls for hamburger buns.
- Divide into 8 pieces and shape into logs for hot dog buns.
- Brush the top of the baked loaf with butter for a soft crust.
- Double the recipe to make two loaves.