- 1 cup warm water
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 1 cup milk (any kind)
- 2 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted
- 2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1 tablespoon salt
- 5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour, divided
- Neutral-tasting oil, such as canola
- Cooking spray (optional)
Proof the yeast. Make sure the water is warm to the touch. If you can’t comfortably hold your finger in the water for several seconds, wait for it to cool. Pour the water into the bowl of a stand mixer or large bowl and sprinkle the yeast over top. Let stand for 5 minutes until the yeast is dissolved.
Start the dough. Place the milk, butter, sugar, and salt in a medium bowl and stir to combine. Transfer to the bowl with the yeast, add 1 cup of the flour, and stir until it forms a loose, lumpy batter.
Add the flour. Add 4 1/2 cups of the flour, reserving the remaining cup if the dough is sticky during kneading. Stir until a floury, shaggy dough is formed.
Knead the dough. Using the dough hook attachment on a stand mixer on medium speed, knead the dough for 8 to 10 minutes. (Alternatively, knead the dough by hand on the counter.) If the dough is bubble-gum sticky against the sides of the bowl or the counter, add extra flour a tablespoon at a time until it is no longer sticky. The dough is kneaded and ready when it is smooth, feels slightly tacky, forms a ball without sagging, and springs back when poked.
Do the first rise. Remove the dough from the stand mixer bowl. Clean and dry the mixing bowl. Coat with a thin film of oil. Form the dough into a ball, place it in the bowl, and turn it to coat all over with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel and let the rise in a warm spot until doubled in volume, about 1 hour.
Shape the dough. Sprinkle a little flour on a work surface and place the dough on top. Divide the dough into 2 equal pieces and shape each piece into a loose ball. Let the balls rest for 10 minutes.
Do the second rise in the loaf pans. Grease 2 (8 by 4-inch) loaf pans with oil or coat them with cooking spray. Shape each ball of dough into a loaf (see Recipe Notes below for instructions or this tutorial for photos) and transfer to the loaf pans. It’s important that the surface of the loaves be stretched taut; this helps them rise and prevents an overly-dense interior. Let the loaves rise a second time until they start to dome over the edge of the pan, 30 to 40 minutes.
Slash the loaves and bake. Using a serrated knife, make a long, shallow slash down the center of each loaf. Place them in the oven. Immediately turn down the heat to 375°F and bake 30 to 35 minutes. Finished loaves will be dark golden-brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove the loaves from the pans onto wire racks and let cool completely before slicing.