3/4 cup warm water (95 F to 110 F)
2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast (1 (7-gram) package)
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 tablespoons sugar
1/2 cup milk
1 tablespoon vegetable shortening
3 cups all-purpose flour (approximately)
Steps to Make It
Note: While there are multiple steps to this recipe, this bread is broken down into workable categories to help you better plan for preparation and baking.
Mix the Bread Dough
1. Gather the ingredients.
2. Pour the warm water into a large bowl.
3. Slowly stir in the yeast until it is dissolved.
4. Add the salt, sugar, and milk to the bowl. Stir until everything is thoroughly combined.
5. Mix in the shortening and the first 2 cups of flour. The shortening will continue to integrate into the dough while kneading, so it may be small lumps at this stage.
6. If needed, begin adding more flour, 1 tablespoon at a time, until the dough chases the spoon around the bowl.
Prepare and Bake the Bread Dough
Once you have mixed the bread dough, it is time to work it and let it rise (called proofing). This is often the stage that turns many bakers away from homemade bread because it takes time for the bread to rise as well as practice learning how to knead the dough. After making a few loaves though, you'll be a natural.
1. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for about 10 minutes. Add small spoonfuls of flour as necessary, until the dough is soft and smooth (not sticky to the touch). You may not need all of the flour, or you may need a little more. Keep the surface floured to prevent the dough from sticking to the board and your hands.
2. Put the dough in a greased or buttered bowl and turn the dough over so the other side is also greased.
3. Cover and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot, such as an oven with the light on, for about 1 hour, or until doubled.
4. Punch down the dough.
5. Turn the dough out onto a floured board and knead for 5 minutes.
6. Form the dough into a loaf (here are some helpful tips) and set it gently into a greased bread pan.
7. Cover and let rise for about 30 minutes, or until doubled. If your kitchen is chilly or drafty, place the pan in a cool oven with the light on for this step, or you may not get a proper rise. Preheat the oven to 375 F.
8. Score the risen dough by cutting three slashes across the top with a sharp knife. While not essential, this step controls the direction in which the bread expands as it bakes. (If you forget to do it, the bread will taste the same.)
9. Place the bread in the oven and bake for about 35 to 45 minutes or until golden brown.
10. Turn out the loaf of bread and let it cool completely on a rack or clean dish towel before slicing.
11. Serve and enjoy. Recipe Variations
Brush loaves with milk before baking to produce a dark, shiny crust.
Brush loaves with egg white before baking to produce a shiny crust.
Spraying loaves with water while they bake will produce a crispy crust.
Brush loaves with butter immediately after baking to produce a soft crust.
Add flavor with herbs and spices, such as caraway, garlic, rosemary, and sesame seeds. Use about 3 tablespoons total and mix them in with the flour and shortening.
If you'd like to include dried fruit or nuts, stir them in with the initial flour as well. To avoid overwhelming a loaf, start with 1 cup total and increase that on the next loaf if desired.
How to Store and Freeze
Store cooled homemade bread at room temperature in a well-sealed plastic bag for 3 to 4 days.
To freeze, wrap the cooled bread—sliced or whole loaf—in plastic wrap and then wrap it in foil. Label it with name and date and use it within 6 months. For short-term freezer storage of 1 month or less, it's fine to freeze it in a plastic bag or container.