2½ cups warm water (about 105° F)
1 tbsp. active dry yeast (1 packet)
1 tbsp. sugar
6 to 6½ cups all purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
¼ tsp. unsalted butter, room temperature
Additional melted butter for brushing (a few tablespoons)
In mixing bowl (stand mixer if you've got one), pour ½ cup of water. Stir in sugar and yeast. Allow to sit for 5 minutes until foamy.
Add the rest of the water and 3 cups of flour. Stir until well blended. If using a stand mixer, pause occasionally to scrape down the sides.
Add the rest of the flour, the salt and butter and stir with the dough hook or with a heavy wooden spoon (so it doesn't break). Do this until the dough is well combined and shaggy.
Continue to knead with the dough hook, stopping occasionally to remove the dough from the hook. If kneading with the stand mixer, knead for about 8 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. If kneading by hand, knead for 10 to 15 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic.
If using the stand mixer, remove the dough from the bowl and knead a few times by hand.
See the footnotes for the "window test" to see if your dough is properly kneaded.
Shape the dough into a ball and return it to the bowl. Cover the bowl with a lint free tea towel and put in a warm (not hot) place for 1 to 1½ hours until the dough doubles in size.
Butter two 4½" x 8½" bread pans.
Punch the dough down and divide into two equal halves.
Pat each piece into a rectangle that's about 9" x 12" (a bit bigger than a letter sized piece of paper).
Starting at the narrow side, fold the bread in thirds like a letter. Try to avoid catching air between the layers. Pinch the seam shut and place seam side down in the loaf pans, tucking the ends in.
Cover with the towel again and allow them to rise a second time until the loaves puff up over the tops of the pans (about an inch or so).
Heat the oven to 375° F.
Place the loaves on the center rack. Bake for 30 to 35 minutes until the loaves are golden brown and make a hollow sound when tapped with a finger.
Immediately turn the loaves onto a rack. Brush tops with melted butter. Allow to cool completely before slicing (about an hour).
You can substitute olive oil for the butter. The taste will be quite different.
What is shaggy dough? It will be slightly sticky but not anything you have to fight to get off your fingers. The surface of the dough will look a bit rough.
To perform the "window pane" test, pinch off a 2" ball of dough and stretch it out between your fingers. If it can stretch until you can easily see light through it without tearing, it's been fully kneaded.
The amount of flour you use will depend on temperature, humidity and a lot of other variables. With practice, you'll be able to feel when there is the right amount of flour. The dough should feel smooth and very slightly sticky. It shouldn't feel too stiff.
If you don't allow the bread to completely cool before slicing it, when you open the loaf, the moisture will evaporate and the bread will dry out.
You can wrap a sliced loaf tightly in aluminum foil and freeze it for up to a month. To thaw it for immediate use, microwave each slice individually for 20 seconds. Or you can remove the entire loaf from the freezer and allow to thaw for three hours before using.
The size of the loaf pans can make a big difference. I've used 5" x 9" pans and my loaves have turned out flat. Using the right sized pan causes the bread to expand upwards instead of outwards.
This is based on Julia Child's white sandwich bread recipe.