James Beard Buttermilk Loaf

I’m on a big bread kick right now. Evidence Pic #1:

buttermilk bread03
Buttermilk Loaf

This homemade bread obsession is mainly because I want to become more scientific about the whole process; to really understand the why and how of the steps involved and to accurately forecast the end results. I’ll post my various observations/recipes over the next month, or until it gets too hot to bake indoors.

Last month I received the classic James Beard bread book as a gift, with the suggestion to start with the Buttermilk bread recipe. Now’s the time to mention that I’ve been conditioned since an early age to dislike white bread. My mom had a strict “No Wonder Bread” policy in the house growing up. What that really means is that we had no factory-made fluffy white bread that could be squished and rolled into a small ball hanging out in the house, ever. It is one of those food rules that I’ve carried into adulthood, despite not always making healthy meal decisions on a daily basis.

Despite my initial trepidation I decided to go with the white bread recipe. Two reasons for this: 1. Buttermilk is always my friend and 2. Any warm bread fresh from the oven is also my friend. Plus it makes sense to go with the first recommendation, right?  Upon opening the physical cookbook (a used copy) I noticed  a handwritten edit to this particular recipe, an edit that was hard to avoid because it was written over the original type in bold pen. The markings on the page called for a 1/2 tablespoon salt instead of, well, something else.  I assumed it was 1 tablespoon because any more than that sounded absurd, and no proper recipe book would have a measurement reading of less than 1/4 tablespoon without switching to teaspoons. This is before I realized that the recipe already has a life of it’s own on the internet and has posted on a lot of recipe sites and blogs. The recipe calls for 1 tablespoon, which many seem to think is excessive.

I went with the edited version of 1/2 tbsp. The recipe is very straightforward if you are used to baking homemade loaves.: proof the yeast, add the ingredients, knead for 10 minutes, let it rise, punch down and shape, rise again, bake, eat.

As you can imagine, this bread is excellent fresh out of the oven. The pillowy softness balanced with the crunchy crust and was perfect with butter and jam. The buttermilk was very apparent and had an excellent tangy flavor when eaten warm. Unfortunately after a day or so it seemed to have lost that special tang, eventually toasting up like basic white bread. (…and making the soft-pillow texture move towards boring bread territory. Dare I even say Wonder Bread territory?)

Because of the quick falloff in quality, I would suggest repurposing the bread leftovers around day 2. Maybe throw stale chunks in a food processor to make bread crumbs, toast squares in the oven to make salad croutons, or soak thick slices in an egg/milk batter to make decadent french toast.

I think my cookbook edit of 1/2 tbsp seems to be appropriate, though I would definitely try 1 tbsp next time to be sure. It might also depend on the type of buttermilk used.

Besides the salt measurement debate, there is another point brought up elsewhere online that I would like to agree with here: the dough in this recipe can easily make 2 loaves instead of 1. The pictures I took here are a perfect illustration of this opinion. The loaf was crazy high – in fact it was almost twice as high as the bread pan. Next time I will maybe try 2 free form loaves and adjust the time as needed.

buttermilk bread02

buttermilk bread01
This barely fit in one loaf pan.

Recipe Credit: James Beard’s Buttermilk Bread

Kitchen Mess: 2 out of 4. I’d say this is a typical amount of breadmaking mess- ending with 2 bowls, a bread pan (maybe 2?), and a flour-covered spot from kneading. Really the part I hate cleaning the most is the cooling rack.

Recommended For: Buttermilk lovers, anyone in need of both a half loaf of fresh bread and a cup or two of fresh breadcrumbs

Not Recommended For: Anyone who likes to wait a day before eating a slice of bread. (is there anyone out there who does this, really?) 


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