Girl Versus Dough

Round Four — Light Wheat Bread

Light Wheat Bread

If at first you don’t succeed, try an easier recipe. So, in my second attempt to prevail in the wheat bread baking round of fisticuffs (though I have no harsh feelings towards the yummy grains), I decided to choose a recipe that I love because a) I found it on one of my favorite cooking blogs, Smitten Kitchen and b) there is no need for conversions. Though it’s not 100 percent whole wheat (which is what I prefer), the combination of all-purpose and wheat flour is what makes this loaf so light and tasty, leaving out that wheat-y bitterness.

I am in love with this recipe, and I’ll tell you why:

1. There is no need for the “overnight poolish sit.” Just four or so hours, and the loaf is done. This is great for those, like me, who have a hard time being patient. Why am I baking breads again?

2. It’s simple. There’s really nothing in this recipe that requires a professional to intercede in the preparation of the loaf. Even an amateur baker (including yours truly) can accomplish a loaf of wheat sandwich bread with these instructions.

3. You could probably (though I haven’t had the pleasure of trying this yet) take the basics of this recipe and modify it to whatever kind of loaf your taste buds desire at the moment (which is also where the lack of waiting comes in handy): herb bread, white bread, raisin bread, cheese bread even. Of course I say this based on theory, but I plan on testing this in the near future.

The results of my loaf were pretty excellent in comparison to my last wheat bread experience. Though the top of the loaf wasn’t taut enough to be completely domed and pretty all the way across, it was enough to don the appearance of sandwich bread. And let me tell you, I’ve had some of the best sandwiches over the past few days.

Debrief: I’m going to try this recipe again and use 100 percent whole wheat. I’m hoping (cross your fingers!) that it’ll turn out as light, fluffy and delicious, but if not, 30 percent wheat will remain a fantastic alternative.

Light Wheat Bread courtesy of The Bread Baker’s Apprentice (adapted from Smitten Kitchen)

Makes one two-pound loaf

2 1/2 cups (11.25 oz) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour 1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz.) whole-wheat flour 1 1/2 tablespoons (.75 oz.) granulated sugar or honey (I used sugar, only because I didn’t have any honey) 1 1/2 teaspoons (.38 oz.) salt 3 tablespoons (1 oz.) powdered milk 1 1/2 teaspoons (.17 oz.) instant yeast 2 tablespoons (1 oz.) shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature (I used butter, for the same reason that I used sugar) 1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) water, at room temperature

From Smitten Kitchen:

1. Stir together the high-gluten flour, whole-wheat flour, sugar (if using), salt, powdered milk, and yeast in a 4-quart mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the shortening, honey (if using), and water. Stir (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) until the ingredients form a ball. If there is still flour in the bottom of the bowl, dribble in additional water. The dough should feel soft and supple. It is better for it to be a little too soft that to be too stiff and tough.

2. Sprinkle high-gluten or whole-wheat flour on the counter, and transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook). Add more flour if needed to make a firm, supple dough that is slightly tacky but not sticky. Kneading should take about 10 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The dough should pass the windowpane test (this really helped!) and registers 77 to 81 degrees F (I used a meat thermometer and was just fine). Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.

3. Ferment at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.

4. Remove the dough from the bowl and press it by hand into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick, 6 inches wide, and 8 to 10 inches long. Form it into a loaf by working from the short side of the dough, rolling up the length of the dough one section at a time, pinching the crease with each rotation to strengthen the surface tension. It will spread wider as you roll it. Pinch the final seam closed with the back edge of your hand or with your thumbs. Place the loaf in a lightly oiled 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch bread pan; the ends of the loaf should touch the ends of the pan to ensure an even rise. Mist the top with spray oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap.

5. Proof at room temperature for approximately 60 to 90 minutes, or until the dough crests above the lip of the pan.

6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the oven rack on the middle shelf.

7. Place the bread pan on a sheet pan and bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue baking for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the oven. The finished loaf should register 190 degrees F in the center, be golden brown on the top and the sides, and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.

8. When the bread is finished baking, remove it immediately from the loaf pan and cool it on a rack for at least 1 hour, preferably 2 hours, before slicing or serving.

Extra punches: Though the recipe calls for instant yeast, I used (by accident and by default) active dry yeast and water slightly above room temperature and had no issues whatsoever. I also used bread flour as opposed to all-purpose flour, but I’m sure you could tweak quite a bit of this unfussy recipe and still get away with a great-tasting bread.

Round Three — 100 Percent White Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Bad news, folks. Bad, bad news.

I decided, in the early stages of my adventure, to try my hand at my favorite type of loaf – 100 Percent White Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread. From the beginning, my toes tingled at the thought of baking my very own sliced bread in the kitchen, one that looks like the store-bought kind but renders infinitely more taste buds. I couldn’t wait to have my space smell like warm, whole grains fresh from the field (of course, mine weren’t that fresh, but if I could have a wheat field in my backyard, I’d consider it).

But then, just as I started dreaming of my kitchen as a giant wheat sandwich… I was crushed by the failure of this recipe by my hand. It failed. I failed. And so began my first experience in the difficulties of bread baking.

While prepping this handsome-looking bread, my suspicions were growing when the dough was awfully… slippery. It began with an overly-moist poolish, continued with an overly-moist dough, and when I plopped it on the counter to get ready to put it in the loaf tin, it melted like a Flubbery ooze all over the surface (much like my mood the minute I observed the demise of this dough).

Perhaps I used too much water.

I think I was trying to accomplish too much in one fell swoop. I had to convert measurements from grams to cups/teaspoons/tablespoons/etc., and that’s where things got dicey (why can’t we all just get along under the metric system?). It’s a shame, because this recipe seemed so simple and the results would have been fantastic. Bah humbug.

Debrief: I’m not giving up, but I think I’ll look for a recipe without needing to do conversions (if anyone knows how to correctly convert this, let me know!). I guess this is the downside of the art.

100 Percent White Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread courtesy of (with my conversions below: original measurements on Bread cetera)

Poolish: 1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour 1 1/3 cups water 1/16 tsp active dry yeast

Dough: 3 1/3 cups whole wheat flour 1 ¾ cup water 1/10 cup dry milk powder 1 ¾ tsp. active dry yeast 1/10 cup salt Little less than 1/3 cup honey Little over half cup of butter

From Bread cetera:

The evening prior to baking, the ingredients of the poolish are mixed and allowed to ferment overnight at 70°F until mature, about 12 hours.

The next morning, the flour, dried milk powder, instant yeast and salt are combined. To the bowl of a stand mixer is added the mature poolish, water, honey and 125 g (.9 cups) of the flour mixture. Using the whisk attachment, the combined mixture is then whisked on speed 3 until lightly aerated, about 1 to 2 minutes. The whisk attachment is then replaced with a spiral dough hook, the rest of the flour mixture is added and all the ingredients are mixed on the lowest speed (stir) until a homogeneous dough is formed, about 3 minutes. The mixer speed is then increased to speed 3 and the dough is mixed to medium gluten development, about 3 minutes. While the mixer is still running, the butter is then added piece by piece and mixing is continued until all the butter is incorporated and a smooth dough is obtained, about an additional 3 minutes.

The dough is then placed in a lightly oiled, covered container and is allowed to ferment at 72ºF for 1 hour. Halfway through this 1 hour fermentation, the dough is given a fold.

After the first fermentation, the dough is divided into two pieces and each piece is lightly rounded. After a rest of 15 minutes under a plastic sheet, the dough pieces are formed into (batard) loaves as shown here and placed into buttered loaf pans.

The loaves are then placed into a small homemade proof box and allowed to undergo their second fermentation at 78ºF for 1 hour. The loaves are then baked in a 350°F oven for 50 minutes, with steam being supplied during the first 10 minutes of baking.

Round Two — Multi-Grain Focaccia with Herbs and Garlic

multigrain focaccia bread with herbs and garlic

In my second adventure down Bread Baking Lane (ouch – too cliché? Better than “Breadtown,” which I thought about using), I decided to concoct another Food Network recipe (because I heart them) for Multi-Grain Focaccia With Herbs and Garlic. I didn’t have to search for it – it found me. Fresh garlic. Chopped thyme and rosemary. Whole-wheat flour and freshly shaved cheese. My heart was aflutter. And 14 and a half hours later, it was a reality – a haloed angel of yeasty deliciousness, baked and glowing in anticipation for me to take a bite (or two, or three).

I know what you’re thinking – 14 and a half hours! What kind of crazed person has that kind of time and/or patience? Well, generally, I don’t. I really don’t. I am actually quite notorious for my busied/hurried state of being; just ask my husband. But in this case, 12 of the 14 hours were spent sleeping and living life outside of the kitchen while I waited for the poolish to be ready.

What on earth is poolish, you are now asking. Good question. I won’t be snobbish and pretend that I knew right away. I may or may not have Googled it, and discovered it’s a fancy term for a starter, or the mother dough (that’s right, the mother dough. Like the Mother Ship, or the Mother Land of Doughdom. Ha.). And though it seems like a frightening thing to prepare, it was the easiest part of the recipe. A little bit of oats, a dash of yeast, a heap of flour and a splash of water, and let sit for 12 hours or overnight. Voila! A poolish.

When the poolish was ready, I mixed all the dry ingredients (all-purpose and wheat and oat flour, oh my!) and made a valley in the center of the bowl where the poolish would go. In goes the poolish, mix with a wooden spoon, and wait. Then plop the dough on a floured surface, fold like a business letter, and wait. Fold again, and wait. And wait. And wait some more.

Finally, the dough was ready for baking. Instead of using two identical pans, I used a 15 by 9-inch pan and an 8-inch square pan, to see which would have a better presentation. After chopping up garlic, stripping thyme and rosemary sprigs and shaving strips of parmesan using a potato peeler (yes, I’m innovative. Really, I don’t have one of those fancy mandoline slicers, though I do covet one), I divided the dough into the pans laced with olive oil, pressed into the dough the garlic, thyme and rosemary and sprinkled on top coarse sea salt and the cheese shavings. Into the oven, and in 20 minutes, I was in the aforementioned heavenly state. I mean, truly. Not to toot my own horn here, but this was the best focaccia – nay, the best bread – I have ever digested in my 22-year existence. A soft center, an ever-so-slightly crunchy crust and a medley of fresh herbal-garlicky-cheesy-salty goodness embedded into the uppermost layer?

Speechless. I am now speechless (until I finish this last piece).

Debrief: There’s no need to use jelly roll, ¼ sheet or 9-inch square metal pans for the focaccia. Both of the pans I used worked well. It’s simply a matter of preference in terms of how you want the bread to look. Next time, I might try 9-inch round cake pans. I’d also consider reducing the amount of salt called for to ¾ of a tablespoon, or even half a tablespoon, to avoid pockets of overly-sea saltiness. I will warn you, these ingredients can get pricey when you have to buy more than what’s necessary for just two loaves (especially the flaxseed meal, the oat flour and the cheese, which is why I substituted Parmesan for the true Parmigiano-Reggiano). But trust me, you’ll want to make more.

Multi-Grain Focaccia With Herbs and Garlic courtesy of Food Network Kitchens

Poolish (pre-ferment):

1 cup whole-wheat flour ½ cup steel-cut oats, sometimes called Irish or Scotch oats (I found/used Irish oats) ¾ cup water Pinch active dry yeast


2 ¼ cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus additional as needed ¾ cup whole-wheat flour ½ cup oat flour ¼ cup flaxseed meal 2 ¼ tsp active dry yeast 2 tsp fine salt 1 ¾ cups warm water (110 degrees is ideal) ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil Cooking spray


6 garlic cloves, roughly chopped 2 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, chopped (2 tsp) 1 sprig fresh rosemary, chopped (2 tsp) 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 tbsp medium-coarse sea salt 3 oz. Parmigiano-Reggiano, shaved into large pieces (I used freshly-shaved Parmesan instead as a cheaper, but just as tasty, substitute)

From Food Network Web site:

Equipment: two pans, either jelly roll, 1/4 sheet, or 9-inch square metal (or any pans you have in the kitchen)

To make the poolish: Whisk the whole wheat flour, steel-cut oats, water and yeast in medium bowl. Cover with plastic and set aside at room temperature for 12 hours or overnight.

To make the dough: Whisk the all-purpose, whole wheat, and oat flour, flaxseed, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Make a well in the center and pour in the poolish, water, and olive oil. Stir the wet ingredients into the flour with a wooden spoon to make a very sticky loose dough. Cover with a kitchen towel and let stand for 30 minutes.

Turn the dough out of the bowl onto a well-floured work surface or prep mat. Coat your hands with flour and press dough into a 12 by 8-inch rectangle (long side towards you). Using a bench scraper (or pancake turners, as I used), fold the dough as you would a business letter. (The dough is very wet and this may seem odd, but just move quickly with the scraper and fold one end of the dough over the other. Make sure you brush any raw flour from the surface of the dough before you fold over the second end). Spray with cooking spray and cover with a kitchen towel. Let stand 30 minutes.

Fold the dough again like a letter, and rest for another 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 425 degrees F. Divide the olive oil among two pans and swirl to coat the pan. Divide dough in half and transfer a piece to each pan, turn dough over to coat both sides with oil, then press dough evenly into the pans. Scatter the garlic, thyme, and rosemary over the top and press the toppings into the dough with your fingers. Sprinkle with sea salt and scatter the cheese on top. (See Cook’s Note.)

Bake until golden brown, about 20 to 25 minutes. Slip focaccia from the pans and cool on a rack.

Cooks’ Note: The focaccia dough can be tightly wrapped and refrigerated at this point for up to three days. Bring to room temperature for about two hours before baking.

Round One — Basic Bread Dough

Basic Bread Dough

I’m starting with the bare essentials. Flour. Yeast. Water. Some salt and some sugar, and extra virgin olive oil, and I find myself prepared for a basic bread dough, courtesy of the orange Croc-clad Mario Batali.

I began, in my neurotic enthusiasm, going exactly according to the recipe. I tried, however, to mix the batter with a KitchenAid stand mixer dough hook, aptly named for its crooked curvature. It didn’t work at all. So I grabbed the heavy lump of dough out of the mixing bowl and kneaded it with my hands for about 15 minutes per the recipe’s request – quite the workout for a kneading novice (but I’m sure Mario could roll the dough with only his pinky). The dough miraculously developed into a large ball on the cutting board. I plopped it in a bowl lightly-coated with EVOO, covered it with a kitchen towel and let it sit on the counter for two hours until it swelled to twice its original size. I punched it down the middle and divided it into two nonstick loaf pans.

Instead of baking it right then and there, I decided to let it sit overnight in the refrigerator, because a little birdie once told me the “overnight fridge sit” was important, and… it wasn’t. In the morning, the bread ceased to rise again and I was left with vertically-challenged loaves. Nevertheless, I put them in the oven for about 25-30 minutes at 400 degrees (a tip from another, more knowledgeable birdie, because the original recipe didn’t divulge anything about actually baking the dough). And the results? Aromatic pouches of olive oily goodness, save their modest appearance. A very basic bread, indeed, but a good first effort. The bread would be fantastic by itself or as a sidecar to breakfast, with fresh butter or jam (like the cherry and peach preserves we bought from Sleeping Bear Orchards. Or with olive oil and parmesan? Yes, please. (P.S. My family devoured one and a half loaves of this bread within the first four hours of its life. I think we’re in desperate need of some good dough.)

Debrief: In the future, I’d suggest dividing the dough into the loaf tins before it rises and then let it sit. I’d also skip the overnight refrigeration, or at least put the dough in the fridge before it rises in the first place if you can’t bake it right away.

Basic Bread Dough courtesy of Mario Batali

½ cup warm water 3 tsp dry yeast 1 tsp salt 1 tsp sugar 4 cups high-gluten flour 4 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil

From Batali: Place warm water in a warm mixing bowl and add yeast. Stir to dissolve and let stand 3 minutes. Add salt and sugar and stir through. Add flour and olive oil and mix, using hands until you can knead the dough without it sticking to your fingers. Add more water, if needed.

Wash and dry hands and remove ball to cutting board. Knead the dough, occasionally dusting with 1 teaspoon flour, until a firm, smooth homogenous ball is formed, about 15 minutes. Place ball of dough in a lightly oiled mixing bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel and allow to rise in a warm place until its size is doubled, about 2 hours. Punch down and divide into two pieces.

Dough is now ready for use.

Extra punches: Bake bread at 400 degrees for 25-30 minutes in two nonstick loaf pans. Remove from oven and serve warm.