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)?
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!
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.
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.
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