Summer comes and its time for me to bake. Nothing makes a hot kitchen hotter, but its worth it. Also, the heat helps the bread rise faster, making it quicker to cook. Although in my fantasies I make complicated sour-dough and hearty country loafs with extra large holes, in reality I do a really good job with the more simple breads. One of the easiest to make is plain old white bread. Although I often make it in a loaf pan, you can bake it really quickly if you form the bread into an baguette shape. The following dough recipe will work either way. I use olive oil instead of butter, because its easier. Having said that, either will work.
I should add that am not a purist, and believe in the power of the food processor. Food processors allow for a very quick kneading. Although this is not important if you are great at figuring out the proportions of bread and water to use every time, most of us are not. The brand of flour, humidity, how the flour is stored, and other factors really affects how much flour is really in that "cup" of flour you just added. I find that feeling the dough after kneading is the single best predictor of how the bread will ultimately taste.
This bread can be made in well under 3 hours. It lasts for several days because of the oil and milk.
All purpose unbleached flour: have five cups ready
Active dry yeast, one packet (you can use "rapid rise" yeast as well)
Two teaspoons salt plus a bit more
1 cup warm (100 degrees or so) water with a little sugar thrown in
extra half cup of water
3/4 cup milk
2 tablespoons olive oil
EQUIPMENT YOU WILL NEED
Decent food processor (preferred) or Kitchen Aid (with bread hook)
Jelly roll or cookie sheet
Proof the yeast in the cup of warm water and allow to bubble. This is not strictly necessary if you use "rapid rise" yeast but I do it anyway. Add 2 1/2 cups of flour and the salt to the food processor. Add the proofed yeast, oil and milk, another 1/4 cup of water and mix until you get a liquidy dough. Add flour slowly and continue to process until the dough just pulls off the sides of the food processor. Knead for about one minute. Feel the dough with your fingers. It should be tacky to the touch but not overly sticky. It should also be quite soft. Add a bit of flour and redo if it is to sticky and add a bit of water if it is to firm and hard. Remove the dough to a covered, greased bowl and let rise around one hour, until doubled in size.
Place the dough on a floured work surface. Punch down. Roll the dough like a jelly roll to form a long tube about 2.5" in diameter. Cut this tube in half so it will fit in the oven. Be very careful to pinch down the corners as much as possible so your bread doesn't unroll like a jelly roll when it cooks. If you look at the photo, you can make out the seams of this process.
Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Let the bread rise about 45 more minutes. Place in the oven and cook until light brown (about 30 minutes, although it depends on the diameter of the loaf, so watch the thing!! The bread should make a hollow sound when thumped on the bottom. Let rest for at least 20 minutes prior to cutting.