I have been on a search for years for the perfect homemade sandwich bread. WHEAT sandwich bread. I came across a lot of issues in this search. Most wheat breads come out kind of dense. Or they taste funny. Or, if they taste fine, they have a weird aftertaste. Then, I happened across this recipe. I have to admit that I waited a few months before trying it. I now make it nearly every week, except for the summertime. It just makes my house too hot. I make it about once every other week to once per month in the summer months. I am trying to talk the hubby into letting me have an outdoor oven.
This recipe is a little complex, which is why I waited to make it. It is totally worth it. The bread comes out soft and not too crumbly. It is easy to cut and does not have that odd taste that has put me off in the past. I will post the original recipe with notes on my notes in italics.
This recipe does have a few steps. It is time intensive in that respect, though each step should not take longer than 15 – 20 minutes to complete. I usually make up the biga and soaker somewhere around 4pm the day before I plan on baking the bread. The biga and the soaker need to rest for 8 – 24 hours. Especially the biga. I have used the soaker within 4 hours and my bread turned out just fine. The biga does need to sit and yeast up for a decent loaf. I am sure that “yeast up” is a completely technical term somewhere. Or at least it is in my head.
With a lot of recipes, I am willing to use cheaper ingredients. Bread is NOT one of those. My preferred flour is Bob’s Red Mill or King Arthur. I generally use Bob’s Red Mill Whole Wheat and King Arthur Bread Flour. I also splurge on my milk. For this recipe I use Pure Eire Non-Homogenized Whole Milk. It might be my imagination, but I am pretty sure this milk has the perfect fatty content that makes this bread perfectly springy.
So, yes, I am willing to buy what I consider quality ingredients for this bread. By my calculations, each loaf is approximately $2 to $2.50. Which still beats out the $4 – $6 cost at the store.
Best Ever Homemade Wheat Bread
Original recipe from Cook’s Illustrated
2 cups (11 ounces) bread flour
1 cup (8 ounces) warm water, about 100-110 degrees F
1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast (I round it and even throw in a dash more)
3 cups whole wheat flour, plus more for kneading
1/2 cup wheat germ (I like to use ground flax-seed. This is also an optional ingredient. I have added nothing and had perfectly fine results.)
2 cups whole milk
1/4 cup honey
4 teaspoons table salt (3 tsp works fine)
2 tablespoons instant or rapid-rise yeast (I round mine out)
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened (I use 4 tbsp)
2 tablespoons vegetable oil (This can be cut down or cut out. I do like the texture of the bread better with at least 1 tbsp of oil added.)
bread flour for work surface
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. (I combine the water and yeast before mixing it into the flour.)
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. (My dough usually rises much faster during the 2nd rising. Learn from my mistakes. Do not let your bread turn out like this. Check it every 15 – 20 minutes during the second rising. The bread will still turn out fine, your work area will just be a mess.):
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.