I don’t think it is a big deal if other people buy sandwich bread pre-sliced in a soft plastic bag from some factory bakery that specializes in long shelf lives. But I do think it’s a shame that someone like me who: a) enjoys, nay, loves baking bread, b) always remarks that if something has no flavor, it’s probably not worth the calories, c) works from home, meaning that the 15 minutes of labor and four hours of idle time that goes into making a delicious loaf of light whole wheat bread is more than doable, and d) owns two of the best bread-baking books out there still buys that pre-sliced stuff all of the time.
This week I decided “no more!” And I set out to find a whole wheat bread recipe would be soft but tough enough for sandwiches and have such an amazing flavor that I’d no longer find that tasteless bagged stuff worth buying. You know, just a few stipulations. Not surprisingly, I had look no further than Peter Reinhart, whose Bread Baker’s Apprentice has not one but two whole wheat sandwich breads. In the end, I rejected the 100 percent whole wheat version, though I might get to it down the road, as I have to admit that I don’t need my sandwich bread to be that earnest and it felt like more work than I wanted to put into a bread that I essential use as a peanut butter and jelly vehicle. While we’re being honest and stuff.
But his Light Wheat Bread sounded perfect. With 33 percent whole wheat flour, it’s a lot like the softer wheat sandwich breads we are used to, while also managing to be the only recipe in the book that requires no preferment. Which basically means you get to make an awesome Reinhart-quality bread in a tiny fraction of the time. Win-win!
Oh, and it’s perfect. It’s sturdy but not stiff, and has an excellent chewy crumb. It slices really well, whether you like thick or really thin slices and it freezes even better. I put the sliced bread into the freezer (the best place for more than two days of fresh bread storage, in my opinion) and have been able to toast pieces up as I need them this week — which, of course, has turned out to be a lot. Because when your sandwich bread tastes this good, you find a lot of excuses to use it. I’ll tell you about a good one next time.
Bread-phobic? Check out my tips for beaming and bewitching breads before you start.
Light Wheat Bread
The Bread Baker’s Apprentice
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
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
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) water, at room temperature
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 and registers 77 to 81 degrees F. 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 (as in, original recipe says 90 minutes, I walked into the kitchen at 60 and said “whoa!” as it had almost risen too much; clearly final rising times vary), 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 (yeah, good luck with that), before slicing or serving.