It seems that the more basic a recipe is, the more people there are searching for it's perfect version. Everyone wants that moist, fluffy white cake recipe, the dark and delicious one-bowl chocolate cake recipe, and the no-fail go-to white bread recipe.
For me the hunt is always on for the best enriched white bread recipe. I already have a go-to white bread recipe of my own but I have found that most enriched white breads leave me wishing for something more.. or when they are too rich, something less.
I want a bread that is extremely soft, slightly sweet, and has enough richness to let you know that this is beyond your regular weekly loaf but not so much that it risks turning into a brioche or a cake. I want it to be delicious plain, toasted, topped with savory or sweet spreads, and to keep for at least a couple of days before going stale (why oh why does enriched have to go stale so quickly?).
My expectations were high and my list of requirements was long, so it's lucky that extra bread is so easy to give away because our counter was piling high with rejected loaves (still tasty.. just not exactly what I was looking for).
This version is the one that I was happiest with: a soft and silky dough speckled with poppy seeds and enriched with eggs, whole milk, and butter.
One of the secrets to getting a nice soft bread that rises up beautifully in the oven is having a wet, sort of sticky dough. For this recipe part of the flour is added to the eggs, milk, yeast, vanilla and poppy seeds and then the butter is beaten in a few tablespoons at a time. The result looks more like a sticky batter than it does a dough.
But when additional flour is added in little by little, the sticky batter transforms into a silky and elastic dough.
I had gone back and forth on whether to include vanilla extract in the dough. I love the vanilla with the poppy seeds and it's still subtle enough for savory toppings, but I'm listing it as optional because I feel that the recipe is more versatile without it.
However, the dough smells so delicious with the hints of vanilla and yeast while it's rising that I know it'll always be included in my loaves.
After the first rise the dough is divided into two pieces and each one is rolled out into rectangle..
..and rolled up to form loaves. They rise in their bread pans for another hour or so (until they dome at least an inch over the edge of the loaf pan) and then are baked at 350 until golden brown.
A bit of patience with the initially sticky dough goes a long way.. so soft and fluffy.
My favorite way to enjoy this bread is sliced thickly, then served toasted with a smear of salted butter. But you have to really REALLY keep an eye on it while it's toasting. The sugar in the bread causes it to brown very very quickly. It goes from golden brown to a sad black slab in the blink of an eye. So turn down your toaster settings, or just stand there and keep an eye on it, it happens quickly enough that you might as well stick around.
Now that it's over and done and I've eaten an obscene amount of white bread for someone who usually sticks religiously to whole wheat I have to ask myself "is this it? Is this the perfect enriched white bread?"
It's a hard question because I really really like this loaf, I like it a lot more than any other enriched white that I've made. But I can't say that it's perfect, or that I'll quit searching. So this is my perfect-ish loaf (for now).
Enriched Poppy Seed Bread
1 1/3 cups whole milk
1/4 cup sugar
1 1/2 TBSP instant yeast
1 tsp vanilla extract
4 cups flour + 2/3 cup extra
1/2 cup poppy seeds
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/2 cup unsalted butter soft at room temperature
1. Microwave the milk for 1.5 minutes or until slightly warmer than room temperature. Stir in the sugar and then sprinkle the yeast on top. Allow to soak for five minutes.
2. Whisk the eggs and vanilla into the yeast mixture and pour into the bowl of your mixer.
3. Place the four cups of flour on top along with the poppy seeds and salt. Use the paddle attachment to stir until it forms a very sticky batter-like dough. Then stir in the butter a few tablespoons at a time until combined.
4. Scrape down the bowl and push the dough to one side of the bowl. Sprinkle a 1/4 cup from the extra flour over the dough and the bottom of the bowl. Switch to the dough hook and knead for three minutes. While kneading add the remaining flour. Allow the dough to knead for a total of 7 - 9 minutes. If it looks sticky, resist the urge to add more flour, it will smooth out as it kneads. It helps to set a timer so that you know how long you've been kneading for. Towards the end of the kneading it might still be sticking to the bottom of the bowl a bit, but it should clear the sides of the bowl.
5. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place for 1 hour or until doubled in size.
6. Remove the dough from the bowl and knead to deflate it. Divide into two equal pieces and form them into loaves. Place in well-greased 9x5 loaf pans and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for 45 min - 1 hour or until the dough domes and inch or two over the lip of the pan.
7. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bake for 20 minutes, then rotate the pans and cover loosely with a piece of foil (this stops them from getting too brown) and bake for another 15 - 18 minutes. The loaves will be baking for a total of 35 - 38 minutes. They should be brown on top and sound hollow when knocked on the bottom. Remove from loaf pans and allow to cool on wire racks for at least 40 minutes before slicing. This allows the bread to finish steaming itself under the crust and sets the texture of the bread.