A space has never been so important in a food name. Sweet bread is vastly different than sweetbread.
Sweetbread, of course, being the thymus gland of an animal (delicious in Po Boys) and sweet bread being an actual loaf of bread that happens to be sweet.
It can be confusing in writing, but it’s much more confusing in speech.
A recent conversation I had with Betsy:
Bets: What are you cooking today?
Nick: Sweet bread.
Bets: Awesome! My favorite. I can’t wait to try it!
Many hours later…
Bets: I thought you said you were make sweetbreads?!
Nick: Sorry. I should’ve been more specific. I was making sweet space bread.
It turns out though that sweet bread is also a wonderfully delicious thing and one that I’d never made before it won the poll last week. I was really happy with how it turned out!
1) Start sponge by mixing starter ingredients in a medium bowl. Stir until it makes a smooth batter. Cover and let sit at room temperature for 60-90 minutes, until the sponge is very foamy.
2) To make dough, combine sugar, salt, powdered milk, and butter in large bowl or with a paddle attachment in a stand mixer. Combine until smooth.
3) Mix in eggs, one at a time, and extracts.
4) Mix in the sponge and flour and switch to the dough hook. Mix on medium with the dough hook until the dough is very supple and soft. If it is at all wet or sticky add more flour by the spoonful. Alternatively, you can knead by hand on a floured surface until the desired consistency is reached. This will take 10-12 minutes with a mixer or 15-16 minutes by hand.
5) Add dough ball to a lightly greased bowl, cover and let ferment until it doubles in size, about 2 hours.
6) Remove dough from bowl and divide into two pieces. Form each piece into a tight round ball (a boule). Lightly oil two 9-inch pie pans and place one boule in each pan, seam side down. Cover loosely and let rise for another 2-3 hours, until the dough doubles in size.
7) Brush loaves with egg wash.
8) Bake loaves at 350 degrees for 50-60 minutes until they are a deep brown and sound slightly hollow when thumped.
9) Remove from the oven and let cool on wire racks. Let cool for at least 45 minutes before slicing.
Adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice.
Making the Starter
Like a lot of real bread recipes, this loaf involves a starter. Don’t worry, this particular starter is really easy and doesn’t take days to make. You just need a few ingredients.
Mix these all together with some water and let it ferment for 60-90 minutes until it gets nice and foamy. This also has the added benefit of making sure your yeast is nice and lively.
After the rise time, it should be really foamy and on the verge of collapse.
Making the Dough
If there is one book for which I’m very afraid to alter the recipes, it’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice. The recipes are so specific that I just always feel like I’m committing some sort of cardinal sin if I change them.
So I feel obligated to disclose two changes that I made to this recipe. One I made on purpose and one I made on accident. Neither change made for a bad loaf.
First, I used 4 tablespoons of butter in my recipe while the original recipe called for 2 tablespoons of butter and 2 tablespoons of vegetable shortening. I made this change on purpose because I didn’t have any vegetable shortening!
Second, the original recipe called for lemon extract but I used almond extract in my version. The only reason I made this change is because I apparently cannot read.
Regardless, the one ingredient in this recipe that Mr. Reinhart says you 100% cannot substitute is powdered milk. I get that. It gives the final loaf a very specific flavor and texture. It’s not really negotiable.
To start the dough, add the butter (or butter and shortening if you’re using both) to a bowl with the salt, sugar, and powdered milk and kind of work them together with a large spoon.
You could also add them to a stand mixer and beat them with a paddle attachment. You basically want to cream them together and I did kind of a piss poor job of it. Ideally, it would be one creamy texture.
Anyway, then add your eggs one at a time, and the extracts and continue to mix.
Once all that is mixed together, add your starter that has been foaming away along with your bread flour and water.
While you can definitely make this recipe with a stand mixer, I went ahead and made it by hand just to be different.
If you do use a mixer, switch to the dough hook after you get your ingredients together and stir it on medium for 10-12 minutes until the dough ball is a nice, soft texture.
If you’re doing it by hand, stir everything together until you get a rough ball. Something kind of like this…
Scoop this out onto a lightly floured counter and start kneading! Here’s the bad news… this will take 15-16 minutes depending on your kneading skills. If the dough gets sticky at any point, knead in another spoonful of flour.
The resulting dough ball should be very smooth and soft and easy to work with.
Once you get it there, add it to a lightly oiled bowl so it can rise!
The First Rising
Let the dough rise until it about doubles in size. This should take about two hours. This dough is incredibly soft and easy to work with. It actually reminded me of doughnut dough…
A Strange Step
I was a bit confused about the next step. Actually, I’m still confused by it so I shoudln’t use past tense. The recipe calls to divide the dough into two even pieces and form loaves of dough. Makes sense, but then it says to add those boules to lightly greased pie pans.
I’m completely at a loss as to why you have to bake these in pie pans, but here it goes.
The Second Rising
Once you’ve put your dough balls into the pie pans (seriously you can just use sheet pans as far as I can tell), cover them loosely and let them rise a second time.
Again, they should double in size which will take another 2 hours or so.
Then brush each loaf with a light coat of the egg wash.
Baking and Cooling
Bake these guys at 350 degrees for about 50-60 minutes.
After about 30 minutes they will start to get very browned. Have no fear. They won’t burn. Just let them keep cooking until the full 50-60 minutes is up. They should sound slightly hollow when thumped when they are done. If you’re in doubt, let them bake for another 5 minutes.
When you pull them out, let them cool on a wire rack. These are really pretty!
I loved the crust on these loaves. After you let them cool for about 45 minutes, you can slice into them to reveal a nice crust and a very soft crumb which is awesome.
As you might guess, the dough is slightly sweet but also has great flavor from all the different extracts.
This bread is great on its own with some butter but is also good as toast with a dab of Nutella.
I hadn’t made a good loaf of bread in awhile so I was really happy with how these turned out!