Earlier this week I got together with a couple great friends who share my love of cooking and baking, and we had an all-day baking extravaganza!  My friend Christy generously volunteered her amazing kitchen with double ovens and tons of counter space as the location for our fun.  Sarah and I brought over lunch since Christy donated the space.  Sarah made a fantastic soup and salad, and I contributed this bread.  It was a great meal in the midst of a fun and busy day.  (More on the baking day later – we made lots of goodies, but I think Sarah’s apple turnovers put everything else to shame.  Wow!)

This bread was wonderful.  The interior is very soft and flavorful, and it has a nice crust.  The hearty texture makes it ideal for dunking in a bowl of soup.  The recipe yields two loaves so I made one normal rectangular loaf and one braided wreath loaf.  My only complaint is that my regular loaf did not achieve the height I was hoping for – decent, but not great.  I probably should have made sure it was in a warmer location for the rise.  When I went to take these loaves out of the oven, I got preoccupied with eating dessert (haha – so like me :) ) and they baked a few minutes longer than they should have, but I don’t think it made too much of a difference.  I will definitely make this again, and it is a great way to use up buttermilk if you have some on hand without a purpose!

Buttermilk Honey Bread
Yield: 2 loaves (rectangular or free form)

3/4 cup warm water (105-115 degrees F)
1 tbsp. instant yeast
1 tsp. sugar
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, warmed to take off the chill (or brought to room temperature)
2 tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
3 tbsp. honey, warmed until runny
1 tbsp. salt
6 – 6 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 egg beaten with 1 tbsp. milk or cream (for egg wash)
Sesame seeds or poppy seeds for topping (optional)

In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the water, yeast, sugar, buttermilk, butter, honey, salt, and 4 cups of the flour.  Mix on low speed just until a dough has formed.  Switch to the dough hook.  Continue mixing on low speed, adding the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time until a smooth dough is formed that clears the sides of the bowl.  Continue kneading on low speed until dough is smooth and elastic, about 4-5 minutes.  Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, turning once to coat, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.  Let rise at room temperature until doubled in bulk, about 60-75 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and gently punch it down.  Grease two loaf pans (if using).  Divide the dough into two equal pieces and shape as desired.  (To shape into a braided wreath, follow the instructions in this post.)  Cover the loaves lightly with plastic wrap or a clean kitchen towel and let rise until fully doubled in bulk, about 45 minutes.

Twenty minutes before you want to bake the bread, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F.  Center a rack in the oven.  Just before putting the loaves in the oven, brush the tops with the egg wash and sprinkle with topping, if desired.  Place the pans on the center rack and bake about 45 minutes, rotating 180 degrees halfway through the baking time.  If the tops brown too quickly, cover loosely with aluminum foil.  Remove the loafs immediately to a cooling rack.  Let cool completely before slicing.

Source: adapted from Rosa’s Yummy Yums