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.