The quintessential American sandwich loaf — tall and domed, with a fine, snowy-white crumb and a light brown crust — is a supermarket staple.
Since it’s eaten so often, we wanted to develop a recipe that wasn’t just better than bouncy plastic-wrapped bread, but the best — an impressive loaf that was a worthy base for sandwiches.
For this bread’s soft crumb we needed to include a fair amount of fat; we used whole milk for a majority of the liquid and then enriched the dough further with 2 tablespoons of melted butter. These amounts were enough to tenderize the bread without making it too rich.
A couple spoonfuls of honey gave the bread the faint sweetness we’d expect. But because our dough contained milk, butter, and honey, the crust was prone to browning before the inside was done. We tested oven temperatures of 350 F, 375 F and 400 F and found that the lowest temperature gave us the soft crust we wanted and avoided a doughy interior. Still, we felt that our loaf was a bit dense.
We experimented with letting the loaf proof longer, until it reached a full inch above the lip of the pan; the increased rise produced an airy crumb and a bigger loaf. This additional rise also meant we could eliminate slashing the loaf because it wouldn’t expand much more in the oven.
Nixing the slashing gave our finished loaf the smooth top of supermarket bread. The test kitchen’s preferred loaf pan measures 8 1/2-by-4 1/2 inches; if you use a 9-by-5 inch loaf pan, increase the shaped rising time by 20 to 30 minutes and start checking for doneness 10 minutes earlier than advised in the recipe.
American sandwich bread
Start to finish: 4 to 5 hours, plus 3 hours cooling time
Rising time: 2 1/2 to 3 1/3 hours
Baking time: 35 minutes
Key equipment: 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pan, water-filled spray bottle, instant-read thermometer
2 1/2 cups (13 3/4 ounces) bread flour
2 teaspoons instant or rapid-rise yeast
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3/4 cup (6 ounces) whole milk, room temperature
1/3 cup (2 2/3 ounces) water, room temperature
2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
2 tablespoons honey
Whisk flour, yeast, and salt together in bowl of stand mixer. Whisk milk, water, melted butter, and honey in 4-cup liquid measuring cup until honey has dissolved.
Using dough hook on low speed, slowly add milk mixture to flour mixture and mix until cohesive dough starts to form and no dry flour remains, about 2 minutes, scraping down bowl as needed. Increase speed to medium-low and knead until dough is smooth and elastic and clears sides of bowl, about 8 minutes.
Transfer dough to lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form smooth, round ball, about 30 seconds. Place dough seam side down in lightly greased large bowl or container, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Grease 8 1/2-by 4 1/2-inch loaf pan. Press down on dough to deflate. Turn dough out onto lightly floured counter (side of dough that was against bowl should now be facing up). Press and stretch dough into 8 by 6-inch rectangle, with long side parallel to counter edge.
Roll dough away from you into firm cylinder, keeping roll taut by tucking it under itself as you go. Pinch seam closed and place loaf seam side down in prepared pan, pressing dough gently into corners.
Cover loosely with greased plastic and let rise until loaf reaches 1 inch above lip of pan and dough springs back minimally when poked gently with your knuckle, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Adjust oven rack to lower-middle position and heat oven to 350 F. Mist loaf with water and bake until deep golden brown and loaf registers 205 F to 210 F, 35 to 40 minutes, rotating pan halfway through baking.
Let loaf cool in pan for 15 minutes. Remove loaf from pan and let cool completely on wire rack, about 3 hours, before serving.
Nutrition information per serving: 85 calories; 16 calories from fat; 2 g fat (1 g saturated; 0 g trans fats); 4 mg cholesterol; 179 mg sodium; 15 g carbohydrate; 1 g fiber; 2 g sugar; 3 g protein.