Just So Good
This is probably my all-time favorite thing to make in a kitchen. Or if not that, then the thing I have made the most consistently in a kitchen over the last 10 years. “It’s just so good.” That’s what my wife said when I asked her how she would describe it. It’s soft inside with a tasty, buttery outer crust, and so yummy fresh out of the oven smeared with lots of butter and jam, butter and honey, or just plain butter. One of the best parts about this bread is sharing it. Every couple of weeks I used to make 4 loaves and invite all of my friends over for “bread night” and together we’d go through all 4 loaves in an evening. They all started calling it “Jon Johnson Bread”. Since I’m now married and my wife makes it too, we just call it “Johnson Bread” at this point. No one doesn’t like this bread. (Except for the gluten free eaters in our life. We’ll experiment with some gluten free bread options in future posts). If you’re looking for a great bread recipe that works every time (if you follow the directions), go ahead and give this a shot.
50 Years in the Making
The recipe and process for making the bread described in this post can be traced at least as far back as my grandmother on my mom’s side. We’re not sure exactly where she got it from but my mom said she started using it around the time she got a magic mill and a Bosch mixer. I think at the time, a magic mill was some sort of wheat grinder (when I look it up today, the magic mill actually looks a lot like a Bosch mixer, and doesn’t seem to grind wheat at all…). She experimented with the recipe over time and eventually my mother used it as well and added her own variations to it. By the time I started using the recipe it included phrases like “3 handfuls of sugar” and “add flour and mix until right consistency to make loaves” (without actually specifying the amount of flour to add). During the last 10 or so years I’ve been working with the recipe, making my own changes and variations to it, and making the ingredients and instructions a bit more precise. So at this point it has passed through three generations before making its way to you in its current form.
Tools of the Trade
With the right tools, making this bread can be really easy, and so satisfying. And by “the right tools,” I mean a Bosch mixer or a Kitchenaid stand mixer. I like the Bosch and my wife loves the Kitchenaid. We currently own a Bosch mixer and not a Kitchenaid, but I’ve used both and both work great for this recipe. If you don’t have one, you can still make this bread, but it’s going to involve a bit more work hand kneading the dough. I made it like that for years, and let me tell you it is so much more fun to make when you can just throw it all in a mixer and let it do the hard work for you.
In addition to a mixer, you’re going to need a digital kitchen scale. I’m only going to list the flour measurements in pounds because cup measurements of flour can vary greatly depending on who’s putting the flour into the cup, whether it is packed or not and how much, etc. If you haven’t cooked using a digital kitchen scale before, let me show you how easy it is. Pretty much every model has a button called “tare” or “zero” that you can use to incrementally add ingredients without adding up measurements in your head. Here’s how it works. Let’s say you need to put 2 lbs of whole wheat flour and 1 1/2 lbs of white flour into a bowl (which you will need to do for this recipe). First put the empty bowl on the scale and then press “tare” or “zero.” The scale will now read zero again. Now start pouring whole wheat flour straight out of the bag into the bowl (no measuring cups needed!) until the scale reads 2 lbs. Then push “tare” or “zero” again and the scale will read zero again. Finally, start pouring white flour straight out of the bag until the scale reads 1 1/2 lbs (or more likely it will look like 1:8 for 1 pound 8 ounces). And that’s it. Every time you press “tare” or “zero”, the scale discounts the weight of everything already on it and only measures additional items added after that point. If you can find a whole recipe with weight measurements, you can use a single bowl and no measuring cups or spoons for a whole recipe. It’s a beautiful thing.
So if you’re a baker or want to be and can swing it, do yourself a favor and go shopping. Here are some links to get you started:
What follows is the basic recipe, but it’s not exactly how we make bread most often. Keep reading below to see our favorite variation that makes it even better, but don’t be discouraged if the variation looks like too much work; just enjoy this version for now.
Makes 4 loaves.
- 1 cup sugar
- 1/2 cup butter (salted)
- Extra butter for buttering the pans and the baked loaves
- 5 tsp salt
- 2 Tbsp yeast
- 1 egg
- 4 cups hot water
- 1 1/2 lbs white flour
- 2 lbs whole wheat flour
- Bosch or Kitchenaid mixer
- Digital Kitchen Scale
- Put 4 cups of hot water in the mixer bowl and add one stick of butter straight from the fridge.
- After about 30 seconds (during which the hot water will soften the butter and the butter will cool the water just enough so that it doesn’t kill the yeast), add the yeast and then the sugar.
- Wait a minute or two for the yeast to get frothy looking. Add salt and egg.
- Combine all of the flour (1 1/2 lbs white and 2 lbs whole wheat) in a separate bowl. Transfer about 4 cups of it to start with into the mixer bowl. Start the mixer on a low speed using the dough hook attachment (both Bosch and Kitchenaid have a version of this) and let it run until the flour is mixed in.
- Transfer the rest of the flour into the mixing bowl and mix at a medium speed for 5 minutes.
- Move the dough into a large bowl (I use the bowl I just had the flour in) and place a moist towel over the top so the dough doesn’t dry out while it is rising. Set a timer for 45 minutes.
- While the dough is rising, get out 4 bread pans and brush the inside of them with a thin layer of softened butter.
- After the dough has risen for 45 minutes to an hour, divide it into 4 pieces (you can pull it out of the bowl, set it on a clean counter top, and divide it with a knife), form each piece into a loaf (you can knead it a few times if it helps), and put each into a buttered bread pan. Optionally, you can divide the pieces further into three per loaf and braid them into a braided loaf. Place a moist towel over the pans to prevent drying and let the dough rise again in the bread pans for about an hour. I usually set a timer for 45 minutes and start preheating the oven to 350 degrees once the timer goes off.
- Once the dough has risen in the pans, place them in the oven on the bottom rack and bake at 350 degrees for 35 minutes.
- After removing the pans from the oven, immediately remove the loaves from the pans and brush butter liberally on the tops and sides.
- And the last step is sharing the bread! It won’t keep for more than about a week unrefrigerated because it has no added preservatives. You can keep extra loaves in the freezer (wrapped in plastic first), but you can also just take a loaf to your neighbors.
Our Favorite Variation
If you are lucky enough to live near an LDS Home Storage Center, then you can try out our very favorite version of this bread. The only difference is that instead of 2 lbs of whole wheat flour from the store, you need to use 1 lb of home ground hard red wheat and 1 lb of home ground hard white wheat. You can buy the wheat in no. 10 cans or in even bigger bags from an LDS Home Storage Center (find one near you here). You’ll have to grind the wheat yourself using a flour mill. There are hand crank versions and electric versions. You’ll generally get a finer flour (and better bread texture) with an electric flour mill. This one works great for us:
After you’ve ground some flour, you can keep it in the freezer in a gallon bag, or even just in the pantry. Simply substitute 1 lb hard white wheat flour and 1 lb hard red wheat flour instead of the 2 lbs store-bought whole wheat flour in the recipe above and you’ll be enjoying our very favorite version of our very favorite bread.