This is an extremely forgiving loaf with a nice crumb structure and sweet whole wheat flavor profile. You can substitute spelt, rye or ground oat groats (the name for oat berries)for up to half of the hard wheat but if you go much beyond that your bread will become crumbly and dense.
Play around with the ingredients to get the flavor, structure and schedule you prefer. Raw honey will make your loaf denser while sugar will make it lighter. Buttermilk or kefir will give your bread more of a tang than using the splash of whey in milk. Using less yeast means you can stretch the rising time out longer which decreases the amount of gluten remaining in the bread after baking and gives you a longer-keeping bread with a different flavor profile. Using a finer grind will give you a higher, lighter and better toasting loaf while a coarser grind will give you denser bread that makes for sturdier sandwiches.
This recipe calls for both a sponge (a bit of dough with yeast added to it) and a soaker (a mixture of flour, liquid and in this case, salt.) The sponge, which is also called a pre-ferment, begins an overnight fermentation process that will develop the flavor profile of the loaf. The soaker hydrates the full fiber flour, improving the texture of the loaf with enough salt to thwart premature enzyme activity. Enzymes are like digestive stew, separating the sugars from the starch molecules. By slowing down the enzyme activity you are ensuring there will be plenty of starches left for the yeast in the preferment to feast on when the sponge and soaker are combined in the morning. It is a little more work to make two doughs but I’ve tried this recipe every which way and making a separate sponge and soaker will take your bread to a whole new level. It’s well worth the extra few minutes.
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
This makes either two 9″ loaves or three 8″ loaves. You can also use the dough to make hamburger buns, cinnamon rolls or breadsticks.
3 1/2 cups (about 17 ounces) whole grain flour (I use hard red wheat)
1 teaspoon sea salt
1 1/2 cups milk plus 2 Tablespoons of whey or vinegar (or you can substitute half buttermilk, yogurt, or kefir for the milk and whey but your bread will be tangier)
Mix all ingredients to form a ball. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave it on the counter to soak overnight.
3 1/2 cups (about 17 ounces) whole grain flour (I use rye or emmer)
1/4 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cup filtered water plus 2 Tablespoons whey or vinegar
Add all of the Sponge ingredients to the bowl of a stand mixer and knead using the dough hook for several minutes until it forms a dough. Let it rest for 5 minutes to give the whole wheat grain flour a chance to hydrate then knead it for one more minute.
Cover the bowl and let it sit on the counter overnight.
If you won’t be making bread the next day you can put the soaker and sponge in the fridge for several days but bring them to room temperature before making bread, which takes several hours to do.
When you are ready to make the bread combine the soaker and sponge and add:
1 teaspoon sea salt
2 Tablespoons butter (optional)
Up to 5 Tablespoons honey or organic cane or brown sugar depending on sweetness desired
2 1/4 teaspoons instant yeast
Knead this all in the bowl of stand mixer using the bread hook for about 6 – 8 minutes, or by hand for 10-15. Wait until your dough has been kneading about 4-5 minutes before adding more water or flour to get the right texture. You want a dough that sticks to your hands just a tiny bit but is easy to knead by hand. If using a mixer, the dough should stick to the bottom o f the bowl but not the sides.
Check the final dough by taking a small piece of dough and stretching it out to perform a “windowpane test”. Your dough should be elastic enough to stretch, creating a window you can see light through without tearing. This ensures the gluten in the bread has developed enough to create a nice loaf.
Shape the dough into a ball and return it to the bowl. Cover the bowl with a plate and leave it to rise in a draft-free place until you can poke your finger into the dough and the indentation from your finger does not fill in. I let mine rise in the oven with the light on for some warmth but you can also let it rise on the counter, it just takes longer. Mine takes about 1 1/2 hours for the first rise in a 66 degree house. If you find it is taking too long for you, try increasing the amount of yeast.
After the first rise, shape your loaves (see below), then cover them with the tea towel and let them rise again, about 45 minutes this time. They will continue to rise in the oven.
With experience you’ll figure out how high they should look in your pans before baking. If you get bread with large holes in the top you know you let them rise too long. If the crumb is dense you did not let them rise long enough. You may end up with several loaves that you save to make breadcrumbs, bread pudding or croutons out of but the experience you are gaining is immeasurable.
If you do happen to let the bread rise too long you can take a serrated knife and slash the tops before baking to keep them from rising up more.
At this point I remove the tea towel (remember I had my loaves rising in the oven already) and turn the oven to 350 F. Once the oven is up to temperature I set the timer for 35 minutes. Your bread is done when it’s nicely browned and sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom of the loaves. The edges should also pull away from the sides of the pan slightly like a cake does and the loaves should register 190 – 195 degrees Fahrenheit when you stick a thermometer in the bottom of them.
Remove the loaves from the pans and place them on a wire rack to cool completely before you slice them.
Homemade bread will last for several days before it might start to mold so be sure to pre-slice and freeze any bread you don’t plan on eating in that time frame. You can pop it in the toaster to thaw and/or toast it when you want it.
- divide the dough in two
- grab one ball of dough in both hands with fingers encircling
- gently slide both hands towards the underside of the dough, smoothing and elongating as you go. Repeat several times as necessary
- place each loaf in a well buttered loaf pan to rise