The Classics – Sandwich Bread & PB&J
As far back as I can remember I’ve been watching raindrops collect and fall, splash and splatter, appear and disappear, moving in some unrecognizable pattern as they slide down a soaked window.
It doesn’t matter how down I may feel, what despair I may find myself in or what has gone awry. This dance, so mundane, so typical and constant, so expected and so normal, always brings a smile to my face. Maybe it’s because it reminds me of the moments I could get lost in storm watching through these rain-dusted windows as a kid.
Perhaps it’s because I can still sit at the feet of the rivers of light pouring through the rain and feel the warmth tickle my skin. Maybe it’s because the things we often ignore are beautiful, the most beautiful things around us. And they just slip by all too often.
I can stare past these clinging raindrops at 26 and suddenly hear my brother asking if I’m coming out to play, my father asking if I’ve finished my homework, or mom calling me to grab my PB&J for lunch. Even now I can hear the judgmental questioning of my family and friends and him. Why are you just standing there? What are you looking at? What are you waiting for?
Yet here I still stand today, staring at the raindrops. I can’t move. I just stare and watch. I’m lost for a moment in this simple sight. It’s like being in a dream. A dream where your feet are cemented to the earth.
And then seconds or minutes or some amount of time I haven’t counted go by and the raindrops fade and evaporate into nothingness. The dance just stops.
For just a moment I was transported back to the most comfortable place on earth – my childhood. Finding that moment, that key that can take you back is invigorating. It’s worth every ounce of chase we put into it.
There have been few foods that have had such a lasting presence in my life like the peanut butter and jelly sandwich (or in this case the pecan butter and jelly sandwich). The seductively sweet treat that is packed with protein and nutrients – ok and also packed with sugar and fat – is always making a lunchtime appearance with me. And while the nut butter and jam or jelly you choose can make a huge difference, the most important aspect for me is the sandwich loaf.
Sandwich bread: Without a good loaf of sandwich bread most of your lunches will be lost, including the famous PB&J. Making it at home is not only easy (at least on the scale of yeast bread difficulty) but it yields a product that in my opinion is much tastier than any store bought loaf – not to mention it’s missing all those preservatives and other junk processed foods seem to be full of. My sandwich loaf contains a mixture of bread flour and whole wheat flour. The whole wheat flour gives this bread a delicious, nutty flavor – plain white bread is a bit bland for my liking.
As with any yeast dough, be sure to pay attention to the times in this recipe, and don’t rush any step. Waiting until something has doubled in volume means just not that – “close enough” is never a good idea in making bread. The same goes for temperatures. Yeast can be temperamental so it is best to stick to the recipe.
Sponge: This dough calls for making a sponge (a portion of the dough left to ferment) to be refrigerated for a 24 hour fermenting period – yes that’s right a full day. Leaving a sponge to ferment for a period of time gives the bread more flavor. For a sandwich loaf that contains minimal flavor-adding ingredients, this extra flavor is essential. You’ll thank me after spending two days on this bread. If you don’t have a full 24 hours don’t worry, you can ferment a dough for as little as just four hours – though the yeasty bread flavor will not be as pronounced. For ease of reading, the sponge ingredients are separated from the remaining bread ingredients.
Whole Wheat Sandwich BreadPay attention to ingredient, rising/proofing and baking temperatures. Pay attention to rising/proofing, baking and cooling times.
This recipe can act as the base for many loaf breads. Try adding your favorite spices, herbs, or nuts to the dough.This recipe yields 1 sandwich loaf (9×4″).This recipe is intermediate. See the recipe difficulty key for more information.This recipe will take 7 hours plus up to 24 hours for fermenting.
Sponge: 4-24 hours
First Rise: 2 hours
Second Rise: 2 hours
Final Proof: 1-2 hours
Baking: 50-60 minutesStore at room temperature in an air-tight container. This loaf should last 3-4 days. Never refrigerate bread. To store longer, freeze the baked loaf, wrapped in an airtight container, for up to a couple months.
Stand mixer and dough hook
Proofing tub or Large bowl
9″ loaf pan
Cast iron skillet or heavy-duty pan (optional)
8 ounces whole milk
1/2 teaspoon active yeast
2 ounces honey
4 ounces bread flour
2 ounces whole wheat flour
Remaining Dough Ingredients:
4 ounces bread flour
2 ounces whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon active yeast
2 ounces unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 teaspoon salt
1. Heat the milk to the scalding point (at least to 150°F). Set aside to cool to 110°F. Oil or butter the proofing tub or large bowl and set aside.
2. In proofing tub or large bowl, dissolve the yeast in the warm milk (105-115°F). Add the remaining sponge ingredients. Mix well until the sponge is homogenous. Cover the container and let ferment for 4 to 24 hours in the fridge. Remove the sponge from the fridge for the last 2 or 3 hours to bring it to room temperature.
Note: You can skip the fermenting time if you’d like and go straight to mixing the dough. The longer your ferment the dough, the more flavor the bread will have.
3. After the sponge has fermented, remove the mixture to the bowl of a stand mixer. Add the remaining dough ingredients. Knead the dough for 7 to 10 minutes (at medium-low speed; 3 or 4 on a KitchenAid) until the dough is smooth but still a bit tacky to the touch.
Tip: Test the dough by stretching a portion of it out. It should remain intact and become translucent before breaking or tearing.
4. Oil or butter the proofing tub again. Place the dough in the tub, cover, and let rise until doubled in volume, ideally in an area of the house free of drafts and around 90°F. This should take around 2 hours.
Tip: If your house is an ice box, preheat the oven at 400°F for 1 minute – no longer. Turn the oven off after a minute – the inside of the oven should now feel just barely warm. Allow the dough to rise in the warm oven with the door closed.
5. Once the dough has doubled in volume, punch down the dough and knead it with your hands for a few seconds. Place the dough back in the tub and cover. Allow to rise until doubled in volume again. This will take about 2 hours.
6. Once the dough has doubled in volume again, punch down the dough and knead it gently for a few seconds with your hand. Let it rest, covered, for 20 minutes.
7. After the dough has rested, roll the dough out into a rectangle about 12×9″ on a lightly floured surface. Fold the dough lengthwise, like your would a letter, folding the right third towards the center, then the left third to the center over the right third. Pinch the two ends to seal them together. Roll the folded 9×4″ length of dough into a cylinder, stretching the dough slightly and pressing it firmly as you roll. The idea here is to roll the loaf as tightly as possible. Once the dough is rolled up, pinch any loose flaps together to keep them from pulling apart. The dough should be about as long as the loaf pan.
8. Lightly butter the loaf pan. Place the rolled dough into the loaf pan, cover, and let rise until a little less than doubled in volume. The top of the loaf should be about 1″ above the loaf pan.
9. In the meantime, place a cast iron skillet at the very bottom of the oven and have a wrack at the lowest possible position above the skillet (optional). Preheat the oven to 325°F. You should preheat the oven at least an hour before baking.
10. Place the loaf pan in the oven on the bottom rack and immediate throw a handfull of ice into the cast iron skillet. Shut the door immediately.
Note: This ice or steaming step creates a quick burst of steam in the oven which helps give the bread a fluffy interior and crispy crust.
11. Bake for 50 to 60 minutes until the crust is golden brown and the loaf sounds slightly hollow if you knock on it.
12. Remove from the oven and let cool in the loaf pan for 20 minutes. Remove from the pan and let cool on a rack until completely cooled.
Note: The cooling process is a vital part of bread baking. Cutting into the dough before it has cooled can reduce the crumb quality.
Nut Butter: Homemade nut butters are one of the easiest spreads to make on your own – assuming you have a food processor that can handle the task. Most nuts are high in natural fats and oils (pecans, walnuts) and don’t require any other ingredients. Other nuts lower in fats and oils may require a little oil or extra fat to give a good texture. The longer you leave the food processor running, the creamier the nut butter will become. I like roasting the nuts before hand as it increases the flavor and can help release some of the oils in the nut.
Pecan ButterChoose any nut you like for this recipe. This recipe requires a food processor. This recipe can act as the base for just about any type of nut butter. Some may require the addition of oil. If so add no more than a few tablespoons of oil made from the nut you are processing.This recipe yields 20 ounces of nut butter.This recipe is easy. See the recipe difficulty key for more information.This recipe will take 20 minutesStore in an airtight container in the refrigerator. It should last up to a month, depending on the variety of nut.
20 ounce jar
1 pound pecans (or any nut of your choice)
1. Preheat the oven to 350°F.
2. Arrange the pecans in a single layer on a baking sheet. Roast int he oven for 5 to 10 minutes, taking care not to let them burn or brown.
3. Place the nuts in a food processor. Run the food processor constantly at it’s highest speed, scraping down the sides occasionally if necessary, until the nuts turn into a chunky or creamy consistently.
4. Pour the mixture into an airtight container.
5. Once doubled in volume, punch down the dough and knead it with your hands for a few seconds. Place the dough back in the tub and cover. Allow to rise until doubled in volume again. This will take about 2 hours.
Jams, Jellies and Preserves: Jams, jellies and preserves, while simple, are a bit tricker than making nut butter. The only difficult part is knowing how long to boil it. Fruits all have different amounts of pectin (a naturally occuring substance that gives fruit their ability to thicken or jam up as they are cooked). Certain fruits like grapes may require 35 minutes of boiling while blueberries only 10 minutes. Since lemons are high in pectin, I suggest adding a tablespoon or two lemon juice to help the process along.
Canning: I’ll be the first to admit that I’m a tiny bit afraid of canning. So when I make jam I only make a jar or two at a time – just enough that will keep in the fridge for a week or two. If you want to can or jar your jam, this recipe scales easily. I’ve always found the ratio of 2 parts fruit to 1 part sugar plus a tablespoon of lemon juice to work well. If you do jar your jam, follow the instructions on the jars or jamming kit.
Strawberry Jam abChoose any fruit you’d like. Be careful though as the boiling times will change.
This recipe can act as the base for many different jams, jellies or preserves.This recipe yields 20 ounces of jam.This recipe is easy. See the recipe difficulty key for more information.This recipe will take 20 minutesStore in an airtight jar in the refrigerator. It should last 1 to 2 weeks..
Heavy bottomed pot
20 ounce jar
1 pound strawberries
8 ounces sugar
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1. Remove the tops of the strawberries. Cut them into halves or quarters depending on the size of strawberry chunks you want.
2. Put the strawberries, sugar and lemon juice in a heavy bottom pot. Mash half of the strawberries, leaving the other half in quarters or halves. If you want jelly, mash or blend all of the fruit.
3. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium heat and boil until thick enough to coat a spoon. This will take about 15 to 25 minutes depending on the moisture content in the strawberries and the heat.
4. Pour into a jar and let cool completely in the fridge.
Testing Jam Consistency: I like to keep a baking sheet in the freezer while boiling jam. When the jam is thick and coats a spoon, place a little jam on the sheet and place back in the freezer for a minute or two. Remove and check the consistency. The jam should feel cool or cold. If it is thick like jam, it’s ready to go. If it’s still thin, leave it boil a little longer.