I finally found out why powdered milk is in so many bread recipes: it softens the crust. Are there other, vegan ways to do that? Yes. The simplest magic ingredient is potatoes. There are lots of ways to add them, from using leftover mashed to adding a small potato you've cooked for the purpose along with its water. Google it and you'll find lots of ideas. I had a bag of Bob's Red Mill Potato Starch in the fridge, so I replaced the powdered milk with that, and it worked wonderfully. Here's my recipe:
Soft White Bread
1 c + 1 T water, room temp
1 t salt
3 T margarine or oil
1 - 2 T agave syrup or white sugar
3 c flour (all-purpose, bread flour, white whole wheat, or whole wheat if you want brown bread)
1/4 c potato starch
2 t bread yeast
Mix all ingredients together with a spoon. When it becomes too thick to mix, start kneading it with your hands. Smoosh it, fold it in half, rotate it a quarter turn, moosh and fold again. Do this until the dough feels "smooth and elastic," as they always say, and it's not sticky. If you're finding it hard to fold and smoosh, add a T or two more water, and knead that in very well until it's incorporated.
Mold into a ball, put in a big bowl (I usually use the same huge, heavy bowl in which I mixed and kneaded it) and put a clean dishtowel over the top to protect it from dust and bugs. Set it in a warm place, ideally about 80 degrees. You can turn on the oven to warm it, then turn it off. (But make sure it's not too hot! Comfortable for you is comfortable for the yeast. If you couldn't sit in there, the yeast can't either.) Or you can turn on the oven and set the bowl on top of the stove where it feels cozy. Best of all, if you have a woodstove or fireplace, you can set the dough near it.
Leave it to rise for 45 minutes to an hour, until it's "doubled in volume" as they always say; or until, when you press your thumb lightly into it, the dough doesn't spring back. I usually use the latter method, as it's easier to judge.
Punch it down, and roughly shape it into a loaf. Grease a loaf pan. If you don't have one, you can shape the dough into a ball or loaf and put it on or in anything else—a cast-iron skillet, a cookie sheet. The shape will be a little irregular, but it will still be good.
Set the dough to rise for another 30 minutes. While it's rising, preheat the oven to 350 degrees. (So the dough can't rise in the oven this time, obviously.) Bake for about half an hour, until top is lightly browned and sounds hollow when you tap on it. Cool it on wire rack for about ten minutes before turning it out of the pan so it will come out more easily. Let cool completely before slicing if you can—but I never can! It's just a bit more crumbly if you slice it when it's hot.
|Pyotr Konchalovsky, Breads and the Tray, 1912|