Last night I taught this recipe to a handfull of lovely folk who showed up to learn about bread making. As I said to them, making bread is an art and a science–you have to have the right chemistry but beside that it’s a cultivated talent. I am only at the beginning of this cultivation process, so I taught them the easiest bread I know how to make. This bread is bomb proof. It might be fabulous if you treat it like a pampered only child (of which I was one), or you can treat it like a fourth child and ignore it a little while it develops its own character (notice I said ignore, not neglect…).
This recipe has come to me from my husband, who used to make the bread in the family before I usurped him. It is originally from a trappist monastery, and unfortunately had monastically sparse instructions. I’ve taken some liberties with it and have what I think is a pretty solid recipe now.
Perhaps because this recipe is bomb proof, the resulting bread is hearty and dense. One loaf weighs a whopping 2 pounds–a half pound more than your average store bought loaf of wheat bread, which can’t even be compared to the taste and texture of this homemade loaf. We usually eat our bread as toast, but this bread is also great for sandwiches, or just eating with butter and jam. Any way you enjoy it, you’ll feel good knowing that you made it yourself–and everything tastes better with a little side of pride (except maybe humble pie!).
1 ½ cups water
1 package or 2 ¼ teaspoons of active dry yeast
2 tablespoons honey
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
1 tablespoon olive oil
3 cups whole-wheat flour
In a saucepan, heat the water to about 100 degrees. Remove from heat, stir in the honey, and mix until it is dissolved. Pour the honey-water mixture into the bowl of the mixer and sprinkle the yeast over the water. Whisk the yeast with the water until well combined. Wait for the surface of the mixture to get foamy and bubbly before adding the flour, about 10 minutes. The picture below is what the mixture will look like after the 10 minutes.
Whisk in the all-purpose flour so it is thoroughly combined and then let the mixture sit for a half an hour in a warm spot (75 – 80 degree). The mixture will be very foamy at the end of this time, as it is in the second photo below.
Using a stand mixer, a food processor fitted with a dough blade, or just a wooden spoon, mix in about ½ cup of the whole-wheat flour, along with the salt and olive oil. Continue to add the whole-wheat flour, about ½ cup at a time, to the dough until it is only slightly sticky. Whole-wheat dough is naturally stickier than dough made with white flour, but it should not be so sticky that it comes off on your hands. You will probably not need to add the entire amount of the whole-wheat flour to get this consistency, but you might. Be sure to check your consistency when your hands are clean and dry.
Once you have the correct consistency, knead the dough for a good long time. In a stand mixer or food processor, this will take about 6-8 minutes, but if you do it by hand it will take closer to 10 – 12 minutes of firm, steady kneading. I like to do 5 minutes in my stand mixer and then about 5 minutes of hand kneading so I have a chance to really feel the dough. Eli likes to say that it’s the right consistency when it feel soft and smooth like a baby’s bottom.
Form the kneaded dough into a ball and place in a large, greased bowl. I usually use cooking spray for this, but you can also brush oil on. Spray the top of the dough with oil, too, and set in a warm place (again, 75 – 80 degrees) until doubled in size—about 1 hour.
After the dough has risen, you can either proceed with the recipe or put the dough in the fridge for later. I like to do all this part in the morning and then finish the dough in the evening, but you could start it at night and finish it in the morning if you were so inclined. Do not knock the dough down before cooling it, and make sure it is covered with a towel or plastic wrap before placing it in the fridge.
When you are ready to finish the dough, knock it down by punching it in the center with your fist. Turn the four sides of the dough into the center and knock it down again. If the dough has not been refrigerated, you might do this an additional one or two times. Then turn the dough out onto a floured surface and shape your dough into a long loaf about the size of your loaf pan, which should be about 9 ½ x 5 ¼ x 2 ¾ inches.
For the final rise, cover the pan with a towel again, and set it in a warm place until it almost entirely fills the pan. If the dough was cold this will probably take 45 minutes to an hour.
When it is fully risen, place it in the center of a preheated 350 degree oven for 40 – 45 minutes. About 10 minutes before the end of the baking, spray the loaf with oil or brush it with butter so you get a nice brown crust. Using an instant read thermometer, the center of your loaf should be between 180 and 190 degrees when finished and will sound hollow when you thump it. I like to test my loafs with the thermometer to be sure of doneness, which I do by first turning the loaf out of the pan and inserting the thermometer into the bottom of the loaf so no holes will be visible in the final product. Remove from the pan as soon as it is finished and cool on a cooling rack. Wait at least 15 minutes before slicing, but preferably until it is totally cooled.
The bread can be frozen after it is completely cooled, or can be stored, tightly sealed, in the refrigerator for several days. If you will eat it within a day or two, the counter will be just fine, but longer than that and I find that mine gets moldy or dries out. Keep it tightly sealed, either way. To preserve the bread longer, don’t cut slices until you are going to eat them. This dough can easily be doubled. Just double all the quantities listed in the ingredients and throughout the directions, i.e. when it says to mix the wheat flour in 1/2 cup at a time, mix it in 1 cup at a time, etc.