Before I launch into my wheat bread musings, I want to thank everyone who attended the Food Blogger Potluck last night. This is such a lovely group of people, and the caliber of the food and conversation was excellent. I want to give a special shout-out to DC Thrifty Cook, whose Thai soup was a highlight of the evening. I can’t wait for the happy hour next month. And many thanks to the rest of the planning committee, The Arugula Files, Gradually Greener, Capital Cooking, Dining in DC, We Love DC, Capital Spice, and the Beerspotter.
So, let’s get right to the obvious – the new year is a tough time for baking. I’m fully expecting that the gym will be packed tonight with grumbling exercisers who are reluctantly getting started on fulfilling their New Years resolutions. It’s a time when we put excess aside, vow to change our habits, and turn away from the excess of the holiday season. Cookies and cakes are out. Vegetable soup and steamed fish are in.
However, it’s also incredibly cold in DC, and it’s really a lovely time to have your oven on. So this weekend, in an attempt to start my new year out right, I decided to make some wheat bread. After all, baking doesn’t have to be excessive – it can just be a way to put healthy, basic food on the table.
I used a recipe from Baking with Julia, the excellent cookbook based on Julia Child’s “Master Chef” series, written by expert baker Dorie Greenspan. The recipe is remarkably unfussy, and requires only two relatively short rises, one of which is done in the actual loaf pan. The bread uses a mix of white bread flour and whole wheat flour, which may trouble some health purists, but it results in a loaf that has the hearty taste of wheat, but the softer texture and crisp crust of a white loaf. It uses honey as a sweetener, which I love in bread – it adds a mellow sweetness to the dough, and a honey color to the crumb. Finally, the recipe called for malt extract, which I didn’t have, so I substituted some maple syrup instead.
This is an excellent loaf to start out the year with – it’s simple, tasty, and relatively quick. And it can even help you achieve your New Year’s resolutions. Substitute it for white bread and voilà – you’re already eating healthier, less-processed food. Use it to make sandwiches for lunch and cut down on your spending. And if one of your resolutions is to learn to bake, then this is an excellent recipe to cut your teeth on.
Basic Wheat Bread
Adapted from Baking With Julia, By Dorie Greenspan
Makes Two Loaves
2 1/4 cups warm water (between 105° and 115°F)
1 tbs active dry yeast
1/4 cup honey
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 tbs canola oil
1 tbs maple syrup
1 tbs salt
Note: if you have a smaller electric mixer (4 quarts or less) I suggest cutting this recipe in half and only making one loaf. I have a 5 quart Kitchen Aid mixer and this recipe was even a little too big for that.
Pour 1/2 cup of the water into the bowl of a heavy duty electric mixer fitted with a dough hook, and add the yeast and honey. Whisk to blend. Let sit 5 minutes, until creamy.
In a large bowl, whisk together 3 and 1/2 cups of the bread flour and the whole wheat flour until combined.
Add the remaining 1 and 3/4 cups water, oil, maple syrup, and half the flour mixture to the yeast mixture. Turn the mixer on the lowest speed and mix to moisten the flour (so it won’t fly around everywhere when you begin mixing). Add the rest of the flour and mix on low speed. Increase speed to medium and beat until the dough comes together, scraping down the sides of the bowl as necessary (if it does not come together, add up to 2 tbs more of the reserved white bread flour). Add the salt and knead on medium speed for about 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. You can also hand knead the dough on a lightly floured work surface for 8-10 minutes. Even after properly kneaded, it will still be slightly sticky.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a ball. Place in a large buttered or oiled bowl and turn over, so that the dough is covered in the oil. Wrap the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let rise until doubled in bulk – around 1 1/2 hours.
Butter two 8 and 1/2 by 4 and 1/2 inch loaf pans and set aside.
Deflate dough and turn onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide in half. With your hands or a rolling pin, shape each half into a 9 by 12 inch rectangle. From the top, fold the dough 2/3 of the way down the rectangle. Fold again so that the top edge meets the bottom edge. Pinch the seam together. Turn each roll so that the seam is in the center of the roll, facing up, and turn in edges of each roll just enough so that the rolls fit into the loaf pans. Pinch seams to seal. Place rolls in loaf pans, seam side down. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and let rise until they double in size, about 1 hour.
Preheat your oven to 375°F. Bake loafs for 35 minutes, until golden. Remove loafs from pans as soon as they are out of the oven and let cool on a rack. Slice when bread is almost completely cool.