Over the last few weeks, I have blithely joked with my wife and my Zoomed students that there are only two ways this self-isolation goes in terms of our physical well-being: either we walk, jog, bike, and online Pilates ourselves into super-fitness or we pack on the pandemic pounds and eat ourselves into oblivion.


Honestly, I much prefer the latter option.


Though I am not one to troll the blogosphere to check out everyone’s quarantine cuisine, I know from my computer conversations with my students, and from my wife’s texts with her friends that so many folks are retreating to their kitchens for comfort.


As I have written in previous columns, we desperately miss going out to eat at our favorite Savannah spots, but I have loved spending even more time with my pots and pans since the planet shut down, whipping up some familiar dishes and also doing a little experimentation.


Many years ago, at The BBQ Joint in Easton, Maryland, my wife and I split a skillet chocolate chip cookie, baked in a six-inch cast iron pan and served hot with a scoop of vanilla. We needed dessert about a week ago now, and this little treat was the perfect way to use my grandmother’s baby skillet, which my mom entrusted to me when I was 25.


On Sunday morning, I made cherry almond scones, and I recently gave the replication of Gallery Espresso’s perfect mile-high brownie a fourth attempt: B+.


In the past two decades, I have gone through countless bags of APF and bread flour, trying my best to become a baker. Like any hobby, this pursuit of proficiency has resulted in dozens of inedible duds, but all along, I have enjoyed the process as much as the products.


Perhaps no other home-baked good am I more proud of than my sandwich loaf, the culmination of more than five years of trial and error. And error and error.


Obviously, there are thousands of variations of white bread baked in an 8.5 x 4.5 inch loaf pan, and I tried amalgamations of more than I could eat before I landed on this one. If this particular aisle at the grocery stores goes “I Am Legend” over the next month, take heart. You can bake yourself a loaf.


There are very few aromas more heartwarming and hunger-making than that of freshly baked bread. Any morning that begins with a cup of tea and a slice of toast is a life victory. When your huddled household needs a pick-me-up, I encourage you to give this recipe a go. It will work, and the loaf will not last the day.


THE DRY


As mad scientist baker, I tried dozens of mixtures of flours before settling on what seems to work and to taste best. Whatever ratios you use, know that 450 grams of total flour is your mark. APF is fine, and you can certainly use it and only it for this bread. I always have white bread flour on hand and even whole wheat bread flour and have found that almost any amounts of the three that adds up to 450 grams are fine. My go-to ratio is 200-200-50 of APF-white bread flour-whole wheat bread flour, but I often just whisk together 300 grams of white bread flour and 150 grams of APF.


Baking purists will blanch at the fact that I do not even sift the flours. You certainly can, which will, no doubt, make an even lighter loaf, but no one wants to clean a proper pastry sifter.


The only other dry ingredient is two teaspoons of instant yeast. I am a SAF Red man, but one of those little Fleischmann’s Active Dry sachets will do just fine.


You can also add one teaspoon of Kosher salt to the flour and yeast now, but because salt can inhibit yeast’s growth rate, I mix it in later.


THE WET & THE SWEET


This is where the recipe gets a little sticky, pun totally intended.


For about two years of Loaf Bread R&D, the only liquid I used was water. Now and then, I added between a tablespoon and a quarter-cup of milk powder. These versions turned out okay but were a bit bland and were prone to breaking apart after two days when sliced. You are welcome to use water, though those concoctions need more sugar or even malt powder to enrich the dough.


Instead, use good ol’ milk, whatever kind you have in the fridge. Depending on the humidity in your kitchen and the proportion of your flours, warm up 10 to 12 ounces in the microwave in a measuring cup. Into the tepid milk, add, stir, and dissolve up to a tablespoon of white sugar or honey: yeast loves to munch on something sweet to wake up.


A note: so many yeasted bread recipes have that first step of blooming the yeast in the warm wet ingredients. That instruction is okay, I guess, but bakers novice and pro always run the risk of ‘killing’ the little fellas in liquid that is too hot. If the yeast is good, it will come to gas-filled life later on without the separate bloom.


THE FAT


All baked goods need some bit of fat to hold together, which is another reason that I have found milk a more stabilizing liquid than water. For this single loaf, between one and two tablespoons of added fat are enough. You choose, all of one or half the total amount of two: unsalted softened butter, shortening, or canola oil. Plop this right into the big bowl of dry.


As for ingredients, that is it.


Pour the majority of the wet into the dry. Use your tilt-head stand monster or your hand-held gizmo, using dough hooks for either, and mix until the shaggy mess comes together, scraping down the sides as needed. Depending on how many little bits of flour refuse to join the party, drizzle in a bit more wet and continue to ‘whazz’ (thank you, Jamie Oliver) the mass until a nice big ball forms. If you used any whole wheat flour, chances are you going to use all twelve ounces of the milk, lest the dough turn out too stiff and stodgy.


If you have held off on adding the salt, cover the bowl with a towel or even a dinner plate and let the dough rest for about twenty minutes. Do not wash the dough hooks yet.


At that point, add between a teaspoon or two of Kosher salt, which is a half-teaspoon to a teaspoon of table salt, and turn on your mixer again for another couple minutes.


TO KNEAD OR NOT TO KNEAD?


If you like kneading, who am I to stop you? I am just letting you know that you do not have to, at least not with this bread. A good four minutes of electric mixing (total) will develop enough gluten in this simple, slightly enriched dough, but if you want the workout, sprinkle a little flour on a clean counter and go for it.


Regardless, our doughy friend needs a nap now. Lightly oil that big bowl and give the dough ball a roll around before covering it with that tea towel or plate. Go watch an episode of Psych or walk the dog around the neighborhood.


Baking is about patience as much as it is about precision. No matter what kind of bread you try making at home, enjoy the fact that it is a mixture of working and waiting, often with more of the latter.


After about an hour, the first rise will have happened. Remove the dough from the bowl and gently stretch it out on your clean counter, roughly to the width of a laptop, trying not to press too much air out of it. Trifold the two sides into the middle, like you are folding a letter to put into a business envelope, and tuck the entire mass together into an oval mound.


Preheat your oven to 350 and lightly coat a loaf pan with cooking spray. Set the dough into the pan, seam side down, and use the knuckly sides of your hands to press it down a bit. Cover the pan with that same tea towel and go watch another episode of Psych.


In another hour or so, the tea towel will be proudly rounded, the second rise of the dough pushing it up above the rim of the loaf pan by more than an inch. Pop the pan into the oven, middle rack, and set the timer for 35 minutes. Easy to remember: 35 at 350.


Stay inside for the next half hour and enjoy the first whiffs of your homemade bread.


When your oven dings, remove the baked loaf but leave it in its pan for about fifteen minutes to cool slightly before turning it out onto a clean counter or a piece of parchment paper. Cover it again with that same tea towel to prevent the top from drying out too quickly.


Depending on the size of your family, three hours hence, you will have nothing but crumbs. Toast a slice. Use it for chicken salad sammies. Hide a hunk for four days and use it to make French toast.


As for me, Gallery Espresso brownie: Attempt #5. Stay posted.