This recipe was given to me by one of my long-time students, Bobby Freeman. We share a mutual appreciation for things homemade and he's got loads of bread baking experience. What I love about this recipe is that the ingredients are simple in comparison to store bought sandwich bread. It makes two lovely, versatile and customizable loaves.
1 package active dry yeast
2 1/2 C distilled or bottled water
1 tbs sea salt
2 tbs olive oil
1 C whole wheat flour, 5 3/4 C bread flour
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in water. Add the salt, oil and 4 cups of flour. Mix until smooth. (You can also add herbs, chopped olives, etc at this point). Stir in enough remaining flour, 1/2 C at a time to form a soft dough. Don't worry if you don't use all of the flour, you probably wont.
Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, 8-10 minutes. Place in a greased bowl (use olive oil), turning once to grease the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until at least doubled, about 1-3 hours depending on your conditions.
Punch dough down. Turn onto a lightly floured surface; divide dough in half. Shape each into a loaf. Place in two oiled 9x5" loaf pans. Cover and let rise until almost doubled, 30-60 minutes.
Bake at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes or until deep golden brown and bread sounds hollow when tapped. Remove from pans to wire racks to cool. With oven mits, you can turn the pan and the loaf will fall out of the pan into your other hand, tap the bottom and if it sounds hollow you are good, if not put it back in the pan and bake a bit longer.
Once you master this, you could add fresh chopped herbs, or chopped olives or both. You can also experiment with different flours, or adding more whole wheat to basic white flour, add a touch of rye flour, pumpernickel flour, etc for a more artisanal loaf.
Kneading bread; push dough with heel of hand, then turn 90 degrees, fold in half and repeat. After about 5 minutes it will get sticky and you will have a tendency to keep adding flour, which is ok to a point, but every time you add flour so it won't stick to your hands, you are making the loaf denser. So only add flour when the dough starts to pull apart, not just when its sticky.
When you divide the dough and put into the pan, cover it with shrink wrap with olive oil spread on the side of the shrink wrap that goes against the dough and make a little tent so that the bread can rise up to the shrink wrap. Without the olive oil, if the dough rises and touches the shrink wrap it will stick to the plastic and collapse. With the olive oil, if it touches the plastic it won't damage the dough. It should be about 2/3 of the way to the top, let the bread rise again until its well above the top of the pan maybe 1 inch or more, then it's ready for the oven.