Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Mrs. Whitebread Suburbs

White bread has gotten a bad reputation, so bad that "white bread" is used as a pejorative term these days, indicating something bland and boring, or stupidly naïve. But, if you grew up, as I did, on the East coast of the United States, back when Pepperidge Farm was a one-woman phenomenon wrapped in waxed paper, you know that white bread can be something wonderful.

Mrs. Rudkin made her first loaves of white bread because her husband was having allergic reactions to store bought breads. Others tasted her bread and begged her to increase her production. She initially delivered her loaves by hand to New York city customers, taking the train in from her Connecticut home, until her bread became so famous that she had to open her own bakery and give up the bread run.

After many years, she sold out to Campbell's Soup for what seemed like a fortune back then (reportedly $3.2 million) and, sadly, Pepperidge Farm white bread has gone downhill ever since. It has become the same gooshy loaf you get in any other industrial brand, an insult to the original. 

I was fortunate that, as a young bride, someone gave me a copy of her 1963 cookbook, in which she gives her original recipe for firm, delicious white bread. For years when First Husband was in grad school, I made our bread from this recipe because it was much cheaper than buying bread. Then, when he graduated and we both had jobs, I kept making it because it is so much tastier. 

I have fallen out of the habit of bread making now that I live in California where good breads of any stripe can be purchased at the supermarket, but last week I got the yen for that very special Pepperidge Farm taste, so I hauled out my bread pans and went to work, kneading and raising, shaping and baking two of these flavorful loaves. It takes the best part of an afternoon to do that, but the results are far beyond worth it!

The toast was transcendental. The sandwiches were superior. Those loaves disappeared in no time, reminding me why it was that I used to make six at a time and wrap them for the freezer. The ingredients have never changed, but I have somewhat simplified Mrs. Rudkin's process, so I'll give you the recipe as I make it, and hope you enjoy every single white bite.

Standard White Bread, process adapted from The Pepperidge Farm Cookbook, by Margaret Rudkin.

1/2 cup milk
1-1/2 cups warm water
3 Tablespoons butter
3 Tablespoons sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1 package dry or cake yeast
5-1/2 cups unsifted flour (about) or 6-1/4 cups sifted flour (about) (I use unbleached white flour and I don't sift, but I do kinda fluff the flour with a spoon before measuring)

In a small saucepan, add milk, water, and butter and heat until little bubbles form at the edges; butter need not completely melt. You want it to be good and warm but not hot enough to kill the yeast. If it gets too hot to leave your finger in it for several seconds, set it aside to cool before adding it to the dry ingredients.

In the bowl of a food processor fitted with the dough hook, combine the 2 cups of the flour and the rest of the dry ingredients, and whirl a few times to mix thoroughly.

Pour the warmed liquids into the food processor and mix, scraping down the sides a couple of times to include all the flour. Pulse a few times to thoroughly mix this slurry.  Add the rest of the flour by cupfuls and process until the dough forms a cohesive mass - when the lid is removed, it should be shiny and only a little sticky. If still quite sticky, add a bit more flour, a little at a time.  Let the machine knead for a minute or two, once the desired stickiness is reached.

Oil a large bowl and move the dough into the bowl, turning to coat all sides in the oil. Cover and put in a warm, draft-free place for about an hour, until the bread has doubled in bulk.

Punch down the dough and knead briefly on a countertop or board to remove any large air bubbles. Divide the dough into two pieces, shape into long loaves, and place in oiled loaf pans about 9 by 5 by 3 inches. Cover again and leave to rise for another hour or two, until the loaves fill the pans and begin to rise above the rims.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F, 20 minutes before loaves are ready to bake.

Bake at 400 degrees F for 25-30 minutes. Remove loaves from pans and cool on a rack. Wrapped in plastic, they keep well in the fridge. Or wrap for freezing and they will keep well for 3-4 months.

Sliced, this bread is firm and elastic, with a dense, fine crumb.


Blogger Greg said...

Nothing beats home baked bread. I love the rustic cutting board and knife.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013  
Blogger cookiecrumb said...

It's just beautiful. Beautiful.
We only eat white bread, except for those times we need rye (mainly to eat with butter and radishes).
Those whole wheat bullies can just go drown in their açaí berry cleanse.

Wednesday, July 24, 2013  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Greg, it's true - and the scent in the house when they come out of the oven! Heaven!

Cookiecrumb, ha! You are funny! I like some whole wheat, too, but this is special. Lots of home memories for me in Pepperidge Farm.

Thursday, July 25, 2013  
Blogger kudzu said...

Oh, into the Way Back Machine! Do you remember those little half-loaves of Pepperidge Farm, or were they sold only in New York where such things were profitable? P.F. made wonderful sandwiches, just the right thickness per slice. I always remember that James Beard's recipe for onion sandwiches rimmed in chopped parsley required "good commercial white bread, such as Pepperidge Farm". Thank you for this recipe...I may even be moved to bake, once the hot weather dissipates.

Friday, July 26, 2013  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Kudzu, what fun to share PF memories with you. My favorites for this bread are cucumber sandwiches with very thin slices of the bread. Perfect summer lunch.

Friday, July 26, 2013  
Blogger Buzz Baylis said...

My life experience is such that I recall how the Campbell's Soup purchase of Pepperidge Farm didn't improve the baked offerings at all. That scared me at a young age and the take away was that so-called progress isn't always what it is cracked up to be.(sigh)

Friday, July 26, 2013  
Blogger Zoomie said...

Buzz, right you are! But luckily, we can make our own PFarm!

Saturday, July 27, 2013  

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