Nothing could make me happier than seeing how much interest there is in baking right now, and especially bread making. Baking consistently brings joy to my life, but I don’t think anything gives me as much comfort and sense of satisfaction as making bread. All kinds of bread, from sandwich breads to rustic loaves, yeasted breads to sourdough, whole grain loaves to sweet, enriched doughs.
I’ve wanted to share a basic recipe on Instagram stories for a while now, but I’ve been stumped about what/how to share. The truth is that I love making bread, but I still consider myself a novice, and I don’t have too many original recipes. I also don’t have any tips, tricks, or techniques that feel like my own, or like insider knowledge. Everything I know about making bread is something I’ve learned by reading, practicing, and reading some more.
A couple weeks ago, though, I made the same veganized version of King Arthur’s favorite sandwich bread that I’ve been making for a couple years. I don’t have to do much to veganize the recipe, except that I use vegan butter and a 50:50 mixture of plant milk and water (as opposed to all milk). I also tend to use bread flour when I make it, rather than all purpose. (Though I’ve definitely made it with all-purpose when I didn’t have any bread flour on hand.)
It’s barely my creation, but I’ve made it enough times that it has the feel of something personal and cherished.
Every time I cut a loaf open for the first time, I have to pause and smell the buttery interior and marvel at how light and fluffy the crumb is. It’s really the ideal sandwich bread: soft, easy to slice, perfect for making toast, and with a crumb that’s tender but also tight enough to hold any and all of your sandwich fillings in place.
I know from experience that, when you’re just starting out with bread making, it’s easy to get overly ambitious quickly. You want to experiment with fancy techniques; you want to start making the most authentic artisanal loaves at home; you want to use any and all of the cool alternative and whole grains.
It’s understandable, but in my experience, bread making is a marathon, not a sprint. It took me so long to get comfortable with the mechanics of kneading dough, knowing what to look for in a bulk rise and in proofing, learning how to adjust moisture and fat with the type of flour used. I’m still figuring out exactly how long my bread should be left to rise in my apartment, since ambient temperature can be really important.
So I think there’s a lot to be said for starting with a recipe that is forgiving and reliable, and this recipe is it. I’ve had loaves that had better rise and a slightly more even crumb than others, of course; that variability is just part of bread making. But for the most part, it has never let me down, and it lends itself to the most authentic vegan BLTs I’ve ever had (I make them with my smoky tempeh strips from Food52 Vegan and vegan mayo).
If you don’t have bread flour at home, that’s fine. All purpose will also work well. I don’t personally recommend substituting a whole grain flour here, because the point of this loaf (for me) is its perfectly fluffy, light crumb, and whole wheat flour will change that. But I hope to share one or two of my sandwich loaves that incorporate whole grains—like this maple oatmeal bread—soon.
I wrote so much about the comforts of bread baking in 2017, when I first started to explore it, that there’s not much else for me to say. But I will say that, when life is at its most overwhelming, uncertain, and unpredictable, bread baking is the kitchen act that gives me the most solace, the greatest sense of knowing how to take care of myself.
I hope that this fluffy, fragrant bread—and any delicious sandwich you create with it—will do the same for you. Happy Friday, friends.