First, I wish I could say I was a good enough cook that I figured this out on my own, but sadly that is not the case. Bread has always eluded me, and I've long suspected that their is a conspiracy among successful bread bakers. I've been sure that they leave out some key method or ingredient that will doom the novice to failure, keeping their hold on the baking of good bread secure.
But now, thanks to this forum, I have joined the ranks of accomplished bread bakers. I thought it might be helpful to summarize what I blatantly stole from more experienced members here, and write in one thread what I pulled from several other threads:
Thanks to Roller for his recipe on Amish white sandwich bread:
Which I tweaked ever so slightly, and followed stand mixer instructions thanks to Mdboatbum and his detailed instructions for soft rye bread:
Here it is:
- 2 cups warm bottled water (110 degrees F / 45 degrees C)
- 2/3 cup white sugar
- 2 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
- 1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
- 1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
- 1/4 cup vegetable oil
- 6 cups bread flour
Turn just the light on in the oven so that it gets to about 75° - 80°. Warm the water on the stove or in the microwave to the proper temperature.
Mix the water, sugar, vital wheat gluten and yeast by hand using a whisk in the stand mixer bowl. Let proof for up to 10 minutes until it becomes very foamy.
Place the mixing bowl in the stand, then using the paddle attachment mix in the oil, salt and 4 cups of the flour on speed #1 until it comes together to form a sticky batter, about 2 minutes.
Change out to the dough hook and add one more cup of flour (5 cups total at this point). Mix this on speed #2 until very well mixed, about 5 minutes. If the weather is extremely dry, this might be enough flour. Usually however, it's not, and the dough remains stuck to the side of the bowl.
Add a quarter cup of flour at a time, kneading a minute or 2 between additions, just until the dough pulls away from the bowl.
When it pulls away from the sides / bottom of the bowl there is enough flour.
Knead on #2 until it looks satiny, about 10 minutes.
Window pane test - tear off a golf ball sized piece of dough and try to make a tiny pizza with it. If it stretches and forms a thin membrane through which you can easily see light, it's done kneading. If it tears too easily, give it another 2 or 3 minutes.
Take the dough out of the mixing bowl and roll it into a tight ball, turning it under itself until you have a smooth tight skin on the outside. Transfer to a clean, oiled bowl, turning it over a couple times until the dough ball is evenly coated with oil. You'll want the seam side down and the smooth skin side up. Cover it with a clean kitchen towel or loosely with plastic wrap and put in the warmed oven for an hour or so until it doubles in size.
When it's doubled in size, turn it out on a lightly floured surface (just enough to keep if from sticking) and punch it down to work out any large bubbles. Divide your dough into 2 equal sections (I cut it with a knife) and form into loaves, again turning it under itself until it forms a tight skin. Put these into 2 lightly oiled loaf pans and let sit again in the 80 degree oven until it's an inch or so over the sides of the pan, about another hour.
Once the 2nd rise is completed remove the pans from the oven, then turn the oven on and preheat to 350°. Take your sharpest knife or a razor blade and make 3 shallow diagonal slashes across the tops of the loaves. Gently brush melted butter on the top.
Bake at 350˚ for APPROXIMATELY 30 minutes. Start checking the internal temperature at around 25 minutes and bake until it reaches 200˚-205˚. Lower temp will give a slightly denser, moister loaf. Higher temp will give a lighter loaf. The top should be brown and the bottom should sound hollow when thumped.
Allow to cool for 30 minutes.
And the results:
Thanks to everyone here for sharing their knowledge, so that even helpless individuals like myself can become successful bread bakers.