Buttertop bread: reworking a supermarket classic

IMG_7076

Ah, buttertop bread.

Aunt Millie’s in the Midwest, J.J. Nissen in New England, Home Pride (part of Hostess Brands, which also makes Wonder Bread) – all offer their own versions of this white sandwich bread with its distinctive vertical crease down the center.

Looking for air bread? You’ve found it.

Now, I’m not dissing air bread. It has its place – and that place is childhood, when you’re exchanging soupy rice cereal and strained peas for “real” food: squishy white bread.

(Along with Cheerios, the breakfast cereal most appreciated by moms for its role in promoting fine-motor skills in the toddler crowd.)

Soft white bread is non-threatening. Its taste is mildly sweet, but mostly bland; it’s easily gummed, for those with a paucity of teeth; and unless Baby has a wheat allergy, it’s full of easy-to-digest ingredients.

Problem is, it’s not really very good for sandwiches. It’s just too… airy. Sliced tomatoes quickly turn a pretty BLT into a haphazard collection of bacon, lettuce, and soggy, crumbled bread.

And hot roast beef with gravy? Fuhgedaboudit.

Still, there’s something very attractive about tender white sandwich bread with a golden, buttery crust: e.g., buttertop bread.

Hey, kids, never mind the bread aisle – let’s make our own!

Now, one caveat: if you’re used to the super-squishy, ultra-soft buttertop bread at the supermarket – this ain’t it.

This bread has marvelous flavor, with pleasantly mild sweetness; and its crumb is fairly soft. But it’s got a crusty crust, and it’s not super-moist. In other words, this isn’t the air bread you used to wad up into a ball and throw at the obnoxious boy across the table from you at school lunch.

Here’s the deal: Sugar is hygroscopic, which means it attracts and holds water. So the sweeter you make your bread, the drier it feels in your mouth (because the sugar is hogging all its moisture).

Which is why homemade panettone is often quite dry. And why your cinnamon buns are delicious when they’re hot out of the oven, but quickly become stiff/hard, and maybe a bit dry, as they cool.

The solution? Reheating. As soon as you reheat bread, both the sugar and starch (which is also hygroscopic) release their liquids. And the bread becomes soft and moist again.

But you’re not going to reheat your loaf of buttertop bread every time you serve it, right?

The solution (part 2)?

Toast.

Either that, or a sandwich with moist filling: e.g., egg salad, tuna salad, a BLT. This loaf is plenty sturdy enough to hold up to a nice juicy slice of tomato.

And now, a word from our sponsor (that would be us) about SAF Gold instant yeast.

“SAF Gold…? What’s the difference between that and my usual SAF Red?”

SAF Red is an all-purpose instant yeast widely used by professionals everywhere – including the bakers in the King Arthur Bakery and test kitchens.

SAF Gold, another SAF variety, is an “osmotolerant” yeast, perfect for sweet breads, and any dough with a high amount of sugar.

SAF Gold works best when the amount of sugar is between 10% and 30% of the amount of the flour, by weight (this is called a “baker’s percentage”).

So, for a 3-cup-flour loaf (12 ¾ ounces flour), you’d choose SAF Gold if the sugar is greater than 3 tablespoons (1.3 ounces) , or up to about a heaping ½ cup. Understand that the greater the amount of sugar, the more slowly your dough will rise.

How does SAF Gold work? Sugar likes to absorb water (as I mentioned above); and when sugar’s in bread dough, it pulls water away from yeast, leaving the yeast thirsty. The yeast cells in SAF Gold are bred to require less liquid to function; so they’re better able to withstand sugar’s greedy ways with water.

SAF Gold is best used in sweet breads; it won’t do well in “lean” doughs (low in sugar and fat).

But if you’re baking any kind of sweet bread or rolls – sticky buns, cinnamon rolls, a sweet braid, challah – give SAF Gold a try. It’s great to be able to reduce rising times from 3 or 4 hours down to 60 to 90 minutes – especially when your dough includes eggs, milk, or other perishable ingredients.

OK, let’s get going with this Buttertop Bread.

I thought this would be a simple recipe. Eggs, milk, sugar – what a light, tender bread this’ll be!

Or maybe not. My first attempt was underbaked. Hey, the crust looked nice and brown; it must be done.

I pulled it out of the oven, turned it out of the pan, and watched as it quickly and emphatically settled into a misshapen wad of hot dough.

Buttertop Bread, Take 2: I figured the best way to make the bread’s signature crease in the top was to shape the dough into two logs, and settle them into the pan side by side. They’d come together as they rose, with the top retaining just a crease.

Well, that was the plan, anyway…

Enough with the false starts!

Did you know that by clicking anywhere on this block of pictures, you can enlarge them to full size? Go ahead, give it a try; it’ll work for any of our photos.

Place the following ingredients in a mixing bowl:

3 cups (12 3/4 ounces) King Arthur Unbleached All-Purpose Flour
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons potato flour or 1/3 cup dry potato flakes
1/4 cup sugar
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast, SAF Gold instant yeast preferred
1 large egg
2 tablespoons soft or melted butter
3/4 to 7/8 cup lukewarm milk

Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients together until you’ve made a smooth, though somewhat sticky dough.

If you’re uncertain about the amount of milk to use, start with the lesser amount; you can always add more as you go along.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl, or an 8-cup measure, which allows you to track the dough’s progress as it rises.

Cover, and allow the dough to rise for about 90 minutes; it should become quite puffy, though it may not double in bulk.

Lightly grease a 9″ x 5″ loaf pan.

Yes, a 9″ x 5″ pan, not an 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ pan. Did you know that the mere 1/2″ increase in dimension results in a pan with 30% greater capacity? Trust me, you don’t want to bake this bread in the smaller loaf pan.

Gently deflate the dough, and shape it into a 9″ log. Place it in the prepared pan.

Using a sharp knife, cut the loaf vertically down the middle from one end of the pan to the other, almost but not quite to the bottom of the pan.

Cover the loaf with lightly greased plastic wrap (or a shower cap), and allow it to rise until its top has crowned about 1″ over the rim of the pan, about 45 to 60 minutes. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.

Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes, until it’s golden brown. Tent it lightly with aluminum foil after about 15 minutes of baking; because of its somewhat higher sugar content, this bread tends to over-brown if not covered.

Remove the bread from the oven…

…and brush it with melted butter. Easier still, simply run a stock of butter over the top surface; it’ll melt as it hits the hot bread.

Cool completely before slicing. Store bread, tightly wrapped, for several days at room temperature; freeze for longer storage.

Enjoy toasted, with tuna salad, peanut butter and grape jelly, or your favorite childhood filling.

Note to self: this bread would be awesome in a club sandwich…

Read, bake, and review (please) our recipe for Buttertop Bread.

Print just the recipe.

PJ Hamel
About

PJ Hamel was born in Wisconsin, grew up in New England, and graduated from Brown University. She was a journalist in Massachusetts and Maine before joining the King Arthur Flour Company in 1990, where she's been ever since. Author or co-author of three King Arthur ...

comments

  1. larrym17

    This bread looks wonderful and brings back many childhood memories of the only bread my mom use to make. I always envied my classmates that had the soft, white bread. My husband loves this bread and begs for me to make it. I will make it today. Thanks KA for always bringing me such fond memories.

    Reply
  2. AnneInWA

    PJ-

    It was the plan to bake more bread today for the kiddos school lunches, and what do I find…this heavenly looking bread. PB&J—YES PLEASE! I will be trying this one out on my family today. I will be quadrupling this, how should I adjust the yeast? Also, did you take the temp of the bread with your thermapen when it was finished? I think I rely way to much on the thermapen, but it is a necessity! I am guessing around 190 degrees?

    Thanks again PJ! I will let you know how it turns out!
    It is my instinct to deter you away from quadrupling a yeast recipe. Try doubling the batch first and see how that works. You will not need to adjust the yeast amount and you can increase the salt by 1/2. Enjoy! ~Amy

    Anne, I agree with Amy – try a double batch first, just to see how it works AND how you like it. And yes, 190°F at the center is just right. Enjoy – PJH

    Reply
  3. Ricardo Neves Gonzalez - SENAC Rio - Petr[opolis R.J. - BRAZIL

    This amazing bread is like one I bake here from an old American bread book which Stella Standard calls Delicate White Bread. The recipe in that book ( Our Daily Bread ) is amazingly soft. The only difference is that Stella provides a sponge before starting the bread dough, with raw sugar. And of course Stella’s bread doesn’t have that curious shape you teach us in this post. But I baked this KAF version of delicate white bread and it turned out AMAZING!
    Really a bread for master TOASTS!!!! The toasts are great specially in thin slices!!

    Ricardo, thanks, as always, for the feedback. I’m glad you’re enjoying the bread – what do you put on your toast? Something exotic, I’m betting… PJH

    Reply
  4. Genoveva

    It looks great. Since today it is so bad weather that it doesn´t feel like summer, I am going to do it right now. Thanks for the recipe

    Reply
  5. Anne

    This recipe starts with, “Mix and knead all of the dough ingredients together …” – a good way to bake anything, I think. There are always occasions where only a loaf of sandwich bread will do. Lately I like to experiment using the gluten-free loaf pan. I don’t bake gluten-free at all but the pan gives me a loaf that is straight-sided, and yields smaller slices.

    What follows is unrelated to this post (sorry), but I would like to ask PJ this question: They sell this croissant with a pretzel glaze at our neighborhood farmers’ market. Quite good and could not be found elsewhere in the city. I was told this pretzel glaze has a Germanic origin and usually could be found around communities with large population of German immigrants, such as in Pennsylvania. Now I am very curious what makes up this pretzel glaze. Can you help, PJ?

    Anne, could you describe the pretzel glaze? A real pretzel glaze is made with lye, which is tricky to use for a home baker. Sometimes, though, it’s a simple cornstarch/water glaze, which creates a shiny, dark crust. Is this perhaps what you’re referring to? PJH

    Reply
  6. Air Bread

    I married an Israeli & as a result we had many Israeli visitors to our home in San Francisco. One Israeli told me about moving to New York and “discovering” the East Coast equavalent of our Wonder Bread. She didn’t think it was bread as it was so light and airy compared to the bread in the Middle East. She was eating 1-2 loaves every day and couldn’t understand why she was gaining so much weight – after all it was almost all air!

    “Light as air” doesn’t always mean low-calorie, does it? Think soufflé – or mousse. Thanks for sharing here – PJH

    Reply
  7. Anne

    PJ, thanks for your response to my question. Let me see what else I can tell you about this pretzel croissant.

    The dough of this croissant is less flaky, with a bit more ‘body’ than the familiar French variety. Its taste is less buttery, too, but still rich. The glaze, as you alluded to, is dark, mahogany-colored, and shinny, and is all over the surface of the roll, except on the ‘seams’. But it’s not a thick glaze. More like as if the roll were brushed over with this dark watercolor. In the mouth the taste of the glaze reminds me of something from a bag of pretzels sold at grocery stores – a snack that is so often part of the ‘party-mix’. But this pretzel favor does not carry to the dough, only in the glaze.

    To me this glaze is surely something different and assertive. I think the dark color and that hint of pretzel taste might make a good change to some dinner rolls or sandwich buns. Maybe even good on a rye loaf. It might not be something of universal appeal, I am afraid, which explains its obscurity. But then this pretzel croissant is no doubt something unique to this baker/vendor.

    I think the croissant baker/vendor knows she has something unique as well. The breads she sells are mostly whole-grain loaves, dense but good; and these pretzel croissants. I often buy just one croissant and eat it right away as I walk around and survey the produce and other goodies at the market. Certain mornings when things were quiet around her stall, I tried to get her tell me more about this croissant. “It’s a croissant with pretzel glaze.” What is pretzel glaze? “It’s a glaze you put on pretzels.” That’s about all she would give away. Then this past weekend she actually mentioned this glaze is commonly used at German bakeries, in Pennsylvania…
    What could you make out of this?

    Anne, I’d say I’m pretty sure this involves dipping the croissant in a lye bath – lye is what gives pretzels that dark, shiny mahogany color, and distinctive “pretzel” flavor… It’s tricky, unfortunately, so we don’t advise bakers to try this at home. PJH

    Reply
  8. Cindy

    In my KAF recipe file I had another version of Buttertop Bread whose recipe I much preferred – it recently disappeared with another one of the online “improvements”…sigh. I contacted the Baker’s Hotline to receive the original recipe, but received no reply. Although the recipe made one loaf, with no tweaking I have used it to do two leaves and left off the butter topping. (Yes, I guess this takes it out of the “buttertop” category. And I’m sure it must save me at least 6 or 8 calories!) I guess I’ve reached the point where I don’t appreciate the so-called new and improved, in either recipes or technology. The older recipe did not call for milk and used more potato flour; PJ, is there any chance you could find this one? Many thanks –

    Sure, Cindy – email me at pj.hamel@kingarthurflour.com and I’ll send you a copy of the older version. Thanks for your feedback – PJH

    Reply
  9. Georgia

    Made it yesterday with some spelt & wheat bran added – wonderful for the breakfast today! Your recipes work just as fine in Russian odd summer =)

    Reply
  10. Sarah

    I wouldn’t quadruple the recipe, either. But when I need to make lots of bread all at once, I just set up 2, 3, or 4 recipes one after another, in separate bowls, They rise in sequence, and I bake them in sequence. Gets the job done without having to change recipes.

    I bake all my family’s sandwich bread…. I’ve developed my own method for getting a nice symmetrical shape with a quasi-crease on top. I shape a single log for each bread pan, and push it well into the corners of the pan. Let it rise to the top of the pan, then gently shake it and push it down gently into the corners of the pan again. It will be fairly flat on top. Then I take sharp kitchen shears and SNIP SNIP SNIP SNIP down the top of the loaf from one end to the other, cutting about 1/2″ deep. I smooth out any pointy or ragged edges of the cuts with my finger, then into the oven it goes. (I smooth the pointy edges because they will bake into sharp points which tear the bread bags.) I should note that I generally bake bread that includes rolled oats in the dough (1 cup for two loaves) – this makes the bread a bit sturdy but very reliable and able to withstand the cutting across the top without deflating. My bread makes outstanding toast, heavenly bread pudding, and to-die-for BLTs.

    I love reading everyone’s questions, answers, and ideas here. I learn so much!

    Reply
  11. cartvl219

    When I lived in Mass. I sometimes bought store brand Butter-top Cracked Wheat Bread at Stop&Shop. Made sandwiches with bologna. The bread was good with other things as well but that was my favorite. I’ve never been able to quite duplicate that bread myself. Maybe it’s time to give it another try.
    Carolyn

    I love trying to clone certain store-bought breads, Carolyn -but really, the air breads are the toughest, as they usually have lots of chemicals to produce that texture. Good luck! PJH

    Reply
  12. waikikirie

    Can’t wait for the temperature to go down so that I can get bake to some serious baking. This recipe will be one of the first ones I’ll be firing up the oven for. Hope everyone is staying cool and enjoying their summer.

    Reply
  13. "Christian T"

    Followed the directions (mostly!) and made no substitutions. Used bread machine dough cycle for mix, knead and first rise. Slit nearly to bottom as in directions. Used my “proof box” for second rise. (Microwave with cup of boiling water in corner.) Baked to 196 degrees. Next time I’ll slit only down an inch or so. My final bread looked like PJ’s two log version.

    An edit of the following two paragraphs from the text above needs to be in the shop section with the SAF Gold description. And/or in the recipe section with this bread.

    ——————–
    SAF Gold works best when the amount of sugar is between 10% and 30% of the amount of the flour, by weight (this is called a “baker’s percentage”).

    So, for a 3-cup-flour loaf (12 ¾ ounces flour), you’d choose SAF Gold if the sugar is greater than 3 tablespoons (1.3 ounces) , or up to about a heaping ½ cup. Understand that the greater the amount of sugar, the more slowly your dough will rise.

    Reply
  14. mamsis

    I know I should probably not comment until after I bake THIS bread, but I have been baking your Yeasted Banana Bread recipe and find it to be a very soft and light bread – even my “Wonder bread only” husband likes it for bologna sandwiches. It’s even better with peanut-butter and jelly and is wonderful as cinnamon toast, too. Plus, it uses up that last banana or two that no one will eat because it’s too browned. I highly recommend THAT recipe…and the Gold yeast. Thanks for all you do for us bakers!

    Reply
  15. Stephanie

    I SO appreciate that you share the misses before you go on to share the final, perfect version of the recipe. It saves me a lot of heartache! I probably would have tried placing two logs in the pan as well. I’m going to share this recipe with my sister. We both love home made bread, and our husbands are stubbornly clinging to their beloved soggy airy store bought brands.
    Keep persevering and the men in your life are sure to come around! ~Amy

    Reply
  16. Stephanie

    As to Anne’s question about the glaze – I’ve had some success using a solution of baking soda dissolved in warm water when making home made pretzels. It does help the crust get that deeper brown color and the more substantial crust of a pretzel versus bread. But those croissant/pretzel hybrid rolls sound amazing, something for a great ham sandwich with a punchy mustard and pickles. Thanks again!

    Reply
  17. jtee4short

    Thanks for the “outtakes”, they were laugh-out-loud! I was just telling my neighbor sandwich bread was what I wanted to try next. (I’m a newbie at this baking thing!) For the vertical cut, would the lame work? I have serious doubts about the sharpness of my knives!

    We want y’all to know that our baking journey has speed bumps too! The lame would be great to slash the top of this loaf. Happy Baking! Irene @ KAF

    Reply
  18. kfreshwater

    For a minute there I thought you had looked over my shoulder on one of my bad baking days. This is the bread I made seven loaves a week of when my kids were small. I still have the recipe but it’s to labor intensive compared to the new recipes. The 60’s were busy baking days.
    Now my question is: All my bread pans are cast iron and I’m not about to get rid of them but they are 8.5 X 4.5. I sometimes find they either grow bread like crazy or if I try to divide the dough into two pans it isn’t enough. Evidence of that is sitting on my counter as I write.
    What can I do to adjust any recipe to be compatable with that size pan? My favorite go to recipe is Walter Sands.

    Oh yea, on running the cube of butter over the top of the bread I bet you meant a stick of butter and not a stock of butter. Right?

    Thanks…S.F

    Thank you very much
    You were busy back in the day! Whew, 7 loaves and they were probably hand kneaded, too. Cut this recipe by 25% and you should get a nice sized loaf in your 8 1/2″ x 4 1/2″ pan. S.F. Enjoy! Elisabeth

    Reply

Post a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *