The next time I decide I’m going to tackle The Perfect Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread the WEEK we’re moving (ergo, our apartment looks like the morning after a tornado/hurricane/thundersnow storm/war battle of the century), please tell me not to do it. Please tell me that’s the dumbest thing you’ve ever heard. Please tell me to instead bake something fun and easy and reliable, like muffins or pancakes or s’mores. Whatever you do, don’t tell me this is a good idea.
This. Is. Why. (enter a serious Debbie Downer face here.) I can’t… I just can’t look anymore.
OK one more time. Goodness, it’s like a train wreck.
I wish I could tell you this was the first batch of loaves I’d made that turned out this way. But no. Oh no. This would be the second (the first, if you can believe it, looked even worse because I neglected to spray the plastic wrap that rested atop the loaves with cooking spray, so I had to pry it off the risen loaves like gum stuck to the bottom of a shoe, resulting in a very odd paint swirl effect on the top of the loaves. And then I went and slashed them down the middle, PER THE RECIPE, and the whole loaf went tumbling down like a deflated bouncy house. Sniffle.). This second attempt was the result of painstaking precautions to make sure I didn’t repeat the first failure, and yet, I couldn’t avoid it. This bread and I just can never be friends. This is why, sometimes, my blog’s name is so apropos. I really do have a love/hate relationship with bread. Harrrrumph.
BUT — when life gives you a crappy whole wheat sandwich bread, what do you do? You make peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Or croutons. Or this outstanding summer panzanella salad, chock-full of fresh seasonal ingredients like crunchy cucumber, sweet cherry tomatoes, aromatic basil and bits of fresh mozzarella. This, of course, was my revelation only after I crumbled into a tiny ball of sadness on my kitchen floor (amidst half-packed boxes, of course) and sobbed like a silly for a solid 10 minutes because I — she who blogs about bread — couldn’t make this recipe work.
I’m just going to come right out and say it — I suck at failure. When something doesn’t go my way, or it doesn’t turn out well (a.k.a. EXACTLY the way I want it to), I kind of freak out. I kind of go all bat-you-know-what crazy and have a moment or two (or three) of serious meltdown-age, especially when it comes to epic baking failures. I’m not proud of it. I can’t sit here and tell you that it makes me feel like a grownup — in fact, I sometimes wonder why I’m 25 years old and cannot seriously handle making an enormous flop in the kitchen. What the hey-hoo is up with that? I may never know. So it was really tough for me to even post this recipe in the first place, because I don’t want to show my mistakes, my scars, my shortcomings. I kind of just want to show you what works.
But that’s not what this blog is about. It’s about the adventures, bruises and all. And it’s about taking one failure and turning it into a refreshing dinner salad. Accompanied by some wine, of course. Because it’s been a long day.
I’m posting the original recipe for this bread with my adaptations in parentheses — if you have any idea why my version failed, TWICE, please let me know (right now I’m guessing it has something to do with using all-purpose flour instead of bread flour; the fact that my kitchen hovers around 80 degrees at all times in the summer; that my oven can’t keep the same temperature for longer than 10 minutes; or that this is just a super finicky recipe, and therefore not very user-friendly)! Or, give this recipe a shot yourself and tell me how it turns out… I highly doubt you can do worse than me.
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Courtesy of Cook’s Illustrated
Yields: Two 9-by-5-inch loaves
For the biga —
2 cups (11 ounces) bread flour (I used unbleached all-purpose flour)
1 cup (8 ounces) warm water, about 100-110 degrees F
1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast (I used 1.25 times that amount, or just over 1/2 teaspoon, of active dry yeast)
For the soaker —
3 cups (16 1/2 ounces) whole wheat flour, plus more for kneading
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 cups (16 ounces) whole milk (I used 1 percent)
For the dough —
1/4 cup honey
4 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons instant or rapid-rise yeast (I used 1.25 times that amount, or 2 1/2 tablespoons, of active dry yeast)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
bread flour for work surface (I used unbleached all-purpose flour)
To make the biga: In a large bowl, combine bread flour, warm water and yeast. Stir with wooden spoon until no dry flour remains, about 1 minute. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and set out overnight (8 to 24 hours) at room temperature.
To make the soaker: In a large bowl, combine whole wheat flour, wheat germ and milk. Stir with wooden spoon until shaggy mass forms, about 1 minute. Turn dough onto lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, about 2 to 3 minutes. Return to bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (8 to 24 hours).
To make the dough: Remove soaker from fridge and break up into 1-inch pieces. Place pieces in the bowl of a stand mixer fixed with dough hook. Add biga, honey, salt, yeast, butter and oil. Stir with dough hook until just combined, about 2 minutes, then increase speed to medium and knead until smooth and elastic, about 8 to 10 minutes. Remove dough from bowl and knead on a lightly floured surface for 1 minute. Shape dough into a ball and place in a large clean, lightly greased bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rise 45 minutes.
Uncover bowl and punch down dough. Fold half of partially risen dough over itself toward the middle, then rotate bowl 90 degrees and repeat. Do this for a total of 8 times. Re-cover bowl and let dough rise until doubled, about 45 minutes.
Arrange two racks in the oven to middle and lowest positions and place a baking stone on middle rack. Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Lightly grease two 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pans and set aside. Punch down dough and divide in half. On a well-floured surface using fingers, press one dough half into a 8-by-17-inch rectangle. With the short side facing you, carefully roll up dough into a log, keeping log taut by tucking it under itself as you roll up. Carefully place log seam-side down in prepared loaf pan. Repeat with remaining dough half. Lightly grease the tops of the loaves and cover with lightly greased plastic wrap. Let rise until doubled, about 1 hour.
When dough is fully risen, place a heatproof bowl or pan on the bottom oven rack. Bring 2 cups water to a boil on the stovetop; pour boiling water into heatproof bowl. Uncover risen loaves and place on baking stone. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees F and bake loaves until dark brown and a thermometer inserted in the bottom of the loaf reads 200 degrees F, about 40-45 minutes. Remove loaves from oven and place on cooling rack. Cool 5 minutes; remove loaves from loaf pans and return to cooling rack to cool completely, about 2 hours.
Yields: About 4 servings
4 cups cubed day-old bread or fresh bread, toasted*
4 cups cherry tomatoes, halved
1 large cucumber, seeded and cut into large chunks
1/2 large red onion or 1 small red onion, chopped
1 bunch fresh basil, torn into pieces
1/4 cup quality olive oil
salt and pepper to taste
1/2 cup balsamic vinegar
8 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut into cubes, or mozzarella pearls
*To toast fresh bread: Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. Place cubed bread on a large rimmed baking sheet. Toast bread in oven 5 to 10 minutes or until just barely toasted and no longer soft. Remove from oven and allow to cool before tossing with remaining ingredients.
In a large bowl, toss bread, tomatoes, cucumber, onion, basil, olive oil, salt and pepper until just combined. Let sit 4 hours at room temperature to marinate.
In a small saucepan over high heat, bring balsamic vinegar to a boil. Reduce heat to a very low simmer and cook vinegar for 10 to 15 minutes until the liquid reduces by half and is syrupy. Remove from heat and set aside.
Toss mozzarella cubes with salad; serve immediately drizzled with balsamic reduction after a long, hard day.