buttermilk sandwich bread + the best BLTs

buttermilk sandwich bread + the best BLTs

This is a story about bread and my never-ending quest to figure out why the fuck it is so hard to get right. A couple of weeks ago, I started my own sourdough starter and named it Sam. Sam, was doing well, progressing the way he should, and then one day started smelling less like sourdough and more like alcohol which points to the signs of potentially way overactive yeast, or I wasn't feeding it frequently enough. Nevertheless, I decided I would try to make some sourdough sandwich bread with Sam. The dough was super slow to rise and when baked was short and squat with no distinct sourdough flavor. Naturally, I was fucking upset. I put a lot of time and effort into Sam and so of course I was pretty down on myself and my supposed baking abilities. So, I scrapped Sam and started over with Sour Doug. More on Sour Doug hopefully in future posts if successful. Needless to say, I was feeling pretty down in the dumps this weekend. I had gone to the farmer's market and picked up some really nice cured bacon from a local farm, plus ripe tomatoes and some butter lettuce with the intention of making sourdough BLTs. Now, my weekend meal plans were scrapped and I was pissed, frankly. 

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Not one to give up that easily, I decided that I would try my hand at a different sandwich bread so that my bacon hadn't been purchased in vain. Also, I really wanted BLTs--the bacon was calling to me. I had leftover buttermilk from making a peach-blackberry cobbler (recipe coming soon) and so I figured I would try my hand at some buttermilk sandwich bread. I had pretty low expectations of myself considering my previous failed attempt. I cobbled together a basic recipe based on ratios from some of my previously successful breads and decided I wanted this recipe to be a "dump everything in the stand mixer" kind of thing. I was over high-stakes baking this weekend. I had been reading up about the right dough texture for sandwich bread and came across something called the windowpane test. In essence, the gluten in the dough should be activated and very elastic. In theory, you should be able to pull a piece of the dough and it should be able to stretch until very thin, almost see-through, and yet be difficult to puncture. 

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To achieve this texture, the dough was mixing in my KitchenAid for at least 15-20 minutes. At first I was worried the dough didn't have enough flour and just as I was ready to add more, the dough started coming together and cleaning up the sides of the bowl. The end result was smooth, shiny and elastic enough to pass the windowpane test. BINGO. Freaking finally. I let the dough rise in a warm spot for about an hour and half, then chilled it for another hour so it would be easier to work with. I rolled the dough into a tight log and placed it into a greased 9x5 loaf pan, covered it and let it rise for another hour or so. I baked the loaf first at 375 for about 15 minutes, then dropped the heat to 325 for another 20-30 minutes. I will tell you, I almost never solely navigate by proposed baking times. With bread, unlike cake, it is so difficult to tell when the center is finished baking that I always use a thermometer. I highly recommend this step as it will keep you from having gummy, under-baked bread centers. Nothing is sadder than a seemingly perfect loaf of bread until cutting into it only to discover that the inside is absolute crap. You're looking for the middle internal temperature to be about 195 degrees F. 

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As soon as the loaf came out of the oven, I brushed the top GENEROUSLY with melted butter to achieve a softer crust. I waited patiently for the loaf to cool. I sliced into the loaf and lo-and-behold, perfect sandwich bread. A light crumb, but not too tight. Flavor was spot on. Soft, but sturdy enough to hold up to even the most meat-laden sandwiches. Halle-frickin-lujah. There are few better feelings in the world than successes after many failures. Nothing restores one's self confidence quite in the same way. As it turns out, I am not shit at baking bread. Sour Doug might not be the starter to survive, but one will soon. And I will be ready for the next loaf when it does. 

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In the meantime, make this bread. And make a really freaking good sandwich with it. I decided on a BLT because it is perfectly classic and delicious on soft, slightly buttery bread. I used a little ghost pepper powder and brown sugar on the bacon for just a hint of spice. Harissa mayo. Fresh, ripe tomato. Butter lettuce. Hardly a more perfect combination. 

BUTTERMILK BREAD:
makes one 9x5 loaf

225g buttermilk
1 egg
20g granulated sugar
7g yeast (1 envelope)
400g bread flour
30g dehydrated whole milk powder
10g salt
113g (1 stick) butter, divided

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook attachment, weigh buttermilk, sugar and yeast. Let sit for 5-10 minutes. Add egg, bread flour, and milk powder and mix on low until combined. Once dough has come together, add salt. Add 55g (about half the stick) diced butter, a couple of pieces at a time until all the butter has been added. Increase speed to medium and mix for 15-20 minutes, until dough pulls away from the sides and is shiny and smooth. Transfer dough to a greased bowl and cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm location for about an hour and a half. Move dough to the fridge for one more hour. 

Remove dough from the bowl and press into a flat rectangle the same width as the loaf pan. Starting at the edge closest to you, roll dough into a tight log and place in greased loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise one more hour.

Preheat an oven to 375 degrees F. Place bread in the oven and bake for 15 minutes. Reduce oven temperature to 325 degrees F and bake for 20-30 more minutes or until the internal temperature registers at 195 degrees F on a probe thermometer. Melt remaining butter and once loaf is removed from the oven, generously brush the top and sides of the loaf with melted butter. Let loaf cool, remove from loaf pan and slice into 3/4 inch slices. Bread can be refrigerated for 1 week or frozen for 1 month.

THE BEST BLTs:
makes 4 sandwiches

8 slices buttermilk bread (recipe above)
12 slices good, thick cut bacon
1/3 cup dark brown sugar
1/8 teaspoon ghost pepper powder (optional)

8 butter leaf lettuce leaves
2 ripe tomatoes, sliced

1 cup mayonnaise
1 tablespoon harissa paste (recipe below or store bought)

Mix together harissa paste and mayonnaise. Set aside until ready to use. 

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Line a rimmed baking sheet with aluminum foil. Lay strips of bacon on baking sheet and sprinkle with brown sugar and ghost pepper powder (if using). Bake for 15-20 minutes until desired doneness. Transfer bacon to a paper towel lined plate (save your bacon fat!).

Lightly toast slices of bread and spread harissa mayonnaise on both slices. Top with 3 pieces of bacon, 2 lettuce leaves and 2 slices tomato. Enjoy!

HARISSA PASTE:
makes 1 cup

10 dried guajillo chilies, stemmed and seeded
6 dried chile de arbol chilies, stemmed and seeded
1 teaspoon caraway seeds
1 teaspoon coriander seeds
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
4 garlic cloves
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup olive oil

Soak dried chilies in boiling water and let stand for 30 minutes or until softened. While chilies are soaking, toast spices in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant. Grind spices with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle. Add chilies. garlic, salt and ground spices to the bowl of a food processor. Process until a paste forms. With the food processor running, stream in the olive oil. Place paste into an airtight jar and store in the fridge for up to 2 months. 

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