Buttermilk White Bread

First published in 1973, Beard on Bread by James A. Beard is a classic that got many of us of a certain age interested in the art of baking bread. The fact that the book was still in print in 2008 when I bought my 1995 paperback edition attests to its popularity. It does, however, share a major shortcoming with nearly every other American cookbook: all the measurements are by volume in Imperial units. This makes the recipes needlessly difficult to reproduce accurately and almost impossible to scale successfully.  So, I have taken to adapting—reverse engineering, if you will—my favorite recipes from this book into baker’s percentages and gravimetric metric units. You need not become completely fluent in the metric system to use these recipes; just buy a digital scale that reads in metric units. In fact, you can even buy a baker’s scale that lets you work directly from baker’s percentages.

The first step in converting the recipe is to change the volumetric units to metric weights.

 

Ingredient

Recipe amount

Metric weight

Active dry yeast

2 packages

14 grams

Granulated sugar

1 Tablespoon

12 grams

Warm water

½ cup

113 grams

Unbleached bread flour

4 cups

508 grams

Salt*

1 Tablespoon

17 grams

Unsalted butter

3 Tablespoons

42 grams

Buttermilk

1 to 1½ cups

240 to 360 grams

* assumes table salt, kosher salt has a somewhat different density.

 

Now one can calculate the baker’s percentages of the ingredients. I chose to use the lower amount of buttermilk which results in a hydration ratio of 69%, which is about right for this sort of bread. Also, I converted the buttermilk to equivalent amounts of water and dry buttermilk powder. I rearranged the order of the ingredients to make the baker’s percentages clearer.

 

Ingredient

Metric weight

Percentage

Unbleached bread flour

508 grams

100%

Warm water

353 grams

69%

Buttermilk powder

30 grams

6%

Granulated sugar

12 grams

2.3%

Active dry yeast

14 grams

2.7%

Salt

17 grams

3.3%

Unsalted butter

42 grams

8%

 

Since I want to scale up the recipe, I need to calculate the total percentages. They come to 191.3%. To make four 500-gram loaves, then, I need 1045 grams of flour (2000g/1.913). The baker’s percentages let me easily calculate the needed weight of each of the remaining ingredients. And I rearranged the ingredients again, this time into the order they are used. Note my usual caveat: the Imperial units are roughly equivalent to the metric ones but the two are not interchangeable.

Ingredients

 

Water

721 grams

3¼ cups

Granulated sugar

24 grams

2 Tablespoons

Dry yeast

28 grams

4 packages

Unsalted butter, melted

84 grams

5½ Tablespoons

Unbleached bread flour

1045 grams

8 cups

Buttermilk powder

63 grams

½ cup

Salt

34 grams

1¾ Tablespoons

Method

Weight the first four ingredients into the bowl of a heavy-duty stand mixer and stir to combine. Add the dry ingredients and knead with the dough hook for about 10 minutes on the recommended power setting. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface—it will be rather sticky—and with floured hands form into a ball.  

Pour enough oil into a large earthenware or glass bowl to just cover the bottom. Add the dough and roll it around so that it is evenly coated with the oil. Cover loosely with a piece of plastic wrap set directly on the dough and cover the bowl with a kitchen towel. Set aside to proof until doubled in size, about one to one and a half hours depending on the temperature.

At the end of proofing, punch down the dough and divide it into four equal parts. Form the loaves and place them in lightly-oiled pans. Cover with a towel and allow to rise again until the dough is just above the sides of the pan.

Bake in a preheated 190°C (375°F) for about 40 minutes. (I use the convect pastry setting on my convection oven). The best way to determine doneness is with a thermometer; the center of the loaf should be between 95°C (200°F) and 100°C (212°F).

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