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Basic bread recipe for sandwiches and focaccia (and pizza)

It’s been years since I baked yeast-based breads. Glad I’ve picked up the habit again! Having focaccia to snack on, or just a decent loaf for sandwiches, makes for comforting (not to mention tastier and fresher) eats. The dough is versatile, so I also use it for pizzas.

Three cookbooks aided me in my rediscovery of bread making:

  • Bread, by Eric Treuille and Ursula Ferrigno, for ideas on weight proportions in the British edition of the publication. A beautiful D.K. book, catering to my visual food porn desires. Also contains intriguing suggestions on crazy flours and grains to experiment with. I have the earlier 1998 UK edition; I haven’t seen whether the more recent 2007 US edition would include weight measurements.
  • Cookwise, by Shirley Corriher, for tips on kneading by machine and sponge development (a.k.a., pre-fermentation). She goes a bit too crazy with a multitude of ingredients for just a basic loaf, but it’s still informative and interesting reading. Especially the fact that the sponge step doesn’t always require hours or days!
  • Joy of Cooking: 75th Anniversary edition, by Rombauer, Rombauer-Becker and Becker. The basic white bread recipe satisfies with a small number of straightforward ingredients. But far too much salt! (That was easy to fix, though.)

yogurt bread

I use weight measurements for the flour. This is much more reliable for me, since I’m terribly inconsistent with handling flour by volume: scooping with a spoon or cup, remembering (or not) to level with a knife, remembering (or not) to avoid shaking it down to level, etc. Really, a scale is both convenient and easier to use. If I had to guess at the volume I use, I’d say somewhere between 3 1/2 and 4 1/2 cups of flour. See? How could I have confidence (or trust) in such a wide range, where it could mess up the bread’s texture? At least when it comes to baking.

I have yet to use a bread machine (although I wouldn’t mind trying one out), but my mixer helps with the mixing and kneading. If I knead by hand, it takes me about 8 to 10 minutes to obtain the nice gently sproingy texture. (Compared with the 5 to 7 minutes in the mixer.) I notice that I do use more flour with the manual method, out my semi-conscious desire to avoid sticky stuff on my hands. But then I sometimes end up with a drier dough, with weird, stiff streaks in the baked loaf. (Hmm, I could weigh out what I use for kneading by hand…er, maybe later, when I’m in a more scientific, less impatient mood. 😉

Using the mixer is tidier, too. The best speed seems to range with the model. For my smaller, home-sized one, a speed between 2 and 3 worked. (I have a 9-cup tilt-head KitchenAid stand mixer of the Artisan series.) Any setting at 4 or higher resulted in the dough crawling up the hook, with frequent stops to scrape it off. I shouldn’t need to scrape dough off the hook or down the bowl more than once or twice.

This recipe makes enough for two small loaves or two 12-inch pizzas. Here I focus on making focaccia or bread loaves for sandwiches. I’ll upload a pizza recipe in a few days, and perhaps a future article on using additional, non-wheat flours.

If you’re planning ahead, you can place the dough after the first long rising in plastic zip bags and freeze. It ought to remain good for a few weeks in the freezer. To use, defrost in the refrigerator overnight, or at room temperature for at least 3 hours, then proceed with shaping.

barley bread


  • 18 ounces (1 pound + 2 ounces) high-protein all-purpose unbleached white flour; I’ve used flours by King Arthur and Bob’s Red Mill. Bread flour is great, too; either way, try to find a wheat flour with at least 11% to 12% protein.
  • 1 1/2 cups warm water, at 110F to 120F degrees
  • 1 tablespoon sugar, divided (added at different stages)
  • 1 packet dry active yeast; I’ve recently used SAF’s Gourmet Perfect Rise Yeast (available at Trader Joe’s) with success.
  • 1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt
  • 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus extra for the rising bowl; feel free to use a milder oil, if you prefer, like safflower oil.

Focaccia toppings

  • Sautéed slices of onion, shallots or garlic
  • Herbs dredged in oil, such as basil leaves, rosemary, thyme, etc.
  • Or plain, which makes for yummy sandwiches when sliced horizontally 😀


  1. Place half the flour and half the salt into the bowl of your mixer.
  2. Dissolve 1 teaspoon of the sugar in the warm water, then sprinkle in the yeast. Wait a few minutes to watch for bubbles, ensuring that the yeast is alive. Pour this into the bowl. If my yeast has been recently purchased, I tend to skip this proofing step and dump it directly into the mixer, followed by the warm water and 1 teaspoon sugar.
  3. Using the paddle attachment, mix at low then medium speed until everything is incorporated, usually just a minute or so. If needed, scrape down the bowl in the middle of mixing.
  4. Remove the paddle, and allow the batter to develop a sponge: Cover the bowl with a towel and set aside for 30 to 90 minutes. In the meantime, lightly grease a large bowl for the long rise.
  5. To the sponge, add the remaining flour, salt, sugar, and 2 tablespoons olive oil.
  6. Insert the hook attachment. Mix at low speed (setting 1 or just below 2) until well incorporated, scraping down the sides of the bowl once, if needed.
  7. Start the kneading process by increasing the speed to low-medium (setting 2 or 3). Knead for about 5 to 7 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. (I found that less time is needed for higher protein bread flours, else they result in a rubbery or stiff baked product.) It should spring back slowly after being poked.
  8. Scrape the dough into the greased bowl. Turn the dough over to lightly coat it with oil. Cover with a towel and set aside to rise for 1 to 2 hours in a warm place, until doubled in size. Alternatively, if you’re gonna be busy, let the dough rise for a longer period in the ‘fridge, with the bowl covered with plastic wrap —anywhere from 4ish hours to overnight.
  9. Punch down the dough, and let it rest for 10 to 15 minutes. At this point you could freeze it for later use, or shape it.
  10. Shape into a loaf for focaccia or sandwich bread. I tend to end up with oval, circular or vaguely squarish-shaped forms about 3/4 to 1 inch thick, or thinner for focaccia, which I place on a silicone or parchment paper lined baking tray. But feel free to use an oiled pan instead.
  11. Do a second long rise for 1 to 1 1/2 hours. Again, cover with a cloth and keep in a warm place. During this step start preheating the oven to 400F degrees.
  12. For a plain loaf, slash the top with a sharp, clean razor, to provide expansion during baking. For a focaccia, go ahead and do that finger-dimple-thing before adding toppings, if you want. I don’t do this because prefer avoiding the annoying dense spots which could result. (Perhaps thinner pokes with a razor would be better?)
  13. Bake the bread in the oven until the surface is golden, about 25 to 30 minutes. You should also hear a hollow sound when tapping the loaf. Cool for at least 30 minutes before slicing and consuming.

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