Recipe: Buttermilk Bread

I had some leftover buttermilk in the fridge the other day. Normally, I would make a few dozen cranberry-lemon scones with it, but we had so many sweets in the house leftover from Thanksgiving that I decided to do something a little more on the savory side.

After finding and liberally adapting a buttermilk yeast bread recipe, I have to say I am really pleased with the way mine turned out. Substituting olive oil for butter helped make this bread achieve a less sweet flavor.

Buttermilk Yeast Bread
Yield: 2 loaves

1 envelope yeast
1/4 cup warm (100 degrees F) water
pinch of ground ginger
6 cups white flour
1/3 cup white sugar, divided
1 tsp. salt
3/4 tsp. baking soda
2 cups warm (about 100-110 degrees F) buttermilk
1/4 olive oil
1 egg yolk
1 tsp. cream or whole milk

Using a small whisk, mix the yeast in the warm water with a pinch of ground ginger and a teaspoon of sugar in a small bowl. Leave it to proof or "bloom" for about 10 minutes.

In a separate bowl and using a large whisk, stir the rest of the sugar with 6 cups of flour and the salt and baking soda. Divide the flour mixture in half by spooning out about 3 cups and setting aside.

Pour the yeast mixture into the bowl and stir quickly with a wooden spoon, and immediately following, pour in the warm buttermilk. The batter may seem very lumpy. Continue stirring until it smooths out. Add the olive oil.

When the batter seems relatively smooth, add more dry ingredients, about a half a cup at a time, stopping before the last half cup. This is when I gauge the bread. It should be elastic and warm to the touch. If it starts to seem at all like hard rubber, you've added too much flour. Better to err on the side of sticky wet bread dough than one that is stiff.

If you want, you can turn out the dough onto a floured surface and knead it a few times, but I honestly find this step is where I typically go wrong and incorporate too much flour. Really, the bread will be just fine if you don't knead it!

Using either a few drops of olive oil or a pad of butter, grease a ceramic bowl that is at least twice the size of the dough. Cover and leave in a warm place (if it's not warm, you're wasting your time!) for about 90 minutes.

After 90 minutes, punch down the dough gently and divide it in half. Grease two loaf pans and put one piece of dough in each. Cover again and leave in a warm place for about 40 minutes.

Preheat oven to 375-400 degrees F and set one rack on a fairly high notch.

In a small bowl, beat together the egg yolk with a splash of cream or milk. Brush this all over the top of the bread.

I like to put the bread into the oven right on a baking sheet to catch any drips or spills.

The cream and egg yolk will brown nicely, but are susceptible to burning. Once it turns dark golden, almost brown, the bread is done — about 25 to 30 minutes. If the bread doesn't seem quite done but the tops are too dark, cover the tops loose with aluminum foil while it finishes baking.

Cool completely before trying to remove the bread from the pans.