Finally, I’m sharing the bread recipe I promised!
Our family – especially me and the kids – eats a lot of sandwiches. Sandwiches are the easiest option for lunch (Ever tried warming up leftovers for five children? Not fun.) and so naturally we go through a lot of sandwich bread.
I’ve always wanted to make my own sandwich bread, but I’ve never been happy with the recipes I’ve tried. I’m fine with going to a bit of work to make bread, but I want it to be good, and not just good when it’s hot from the oven. I wanted a sandwich bread that:
- Slices well
- Has good flavor (even after a couple of days)
- Has great texture (even after a couple of days)
- Is as light and fluffy as store-bought bread
- Doesn’t require specialty ingredients like extra gluten
- Is at least mostly whole-wheat
Well, I have finally found a recipe that meets these requirements! It’s adapted from Cook’s Illustrated’s Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread recipe – I’ve simplified it a bit since I felt like some of their steps yielded only minor improvements, and I wanted something that I thought I could reasonably make on a regular basis – say, a couple of times a week.
I’ve been making this bread for about a month now, and aside from one last-minute purchase that I can recall, it has completely eliminated “sandwich bread” from my grocery list! Everyone likes eating it a lot more, and no one complains about the heel or the crust like they do on store-bought bread. It’s not 100% whole-wheat, but it at least tastes just as wheaty as the 100% whole-wheat bread I’d buy in the store, and frankly I think that my 70% whole-wheat homemade bread without preservatives is just as nutritious as the 100% whole-wheat stuff from the store.
This bread recipe is simple, but it does require some inactive preparation time. It won’t be on your table in an hour, but I hope you’ll try it anyway. While a quick yeast bread recipe sounds like a good idea, when you prepare a yeast bread quickly, it usually creates a product that’s delicious when it’s fresh but not that great in a day or two. (If you have recipes like that, by all means – make them and enjoy! But, the steps and time in this recipe are necessary to create a product that has both great texture and great flavor even after a few days days.)
The soaking and rising time in this recipe are necessary to develop the texture and flavor, so don’t skimp on them – at least not the first time you try it!
Here’s the recipe and some additional tips:
The Wheat Bread Recipe That Made Me Stop Buying Sandwich Bread
For the biga:
2 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup warm water (100-110 degrees)
1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
For the “soaker”:
3 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
2 cups milk (I always use whole milk)
For the dough:
1/4 cup honey
4 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons instant yeast
6 tablespoons butter, softened
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
Additional flour for kneading
Mix the biga ingredients (flour, water, and yeast) in a small container, cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and allow to sit at room temperature for at least eight hours and up to 48 hours. (Frankly, I have no idea what would happen if it sat longer but I’ve gone this long with no adverse affects.)
Meanwhile, mix the soaker ingredients (flour and milk) well in a lidded container and refrigerate for 8+ hours. (This softens up the grains which helps with the texture, and I hear there may be some health benefits, too.) Your soaker and your biga will be doing their thing for the same amount of time, so mix them up at the same time.
Once your biga and soaker have rested for at least eight hours, you can begin making the dough. Add the biga to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with a dough hook, then tear the soaker into large chunks and put in the bowl. Allow to mix on low until just combined, then add the rest of the dough ingredients (honey, salt, yeast, butter, and oil) and knead until thoroughly combined, and then allow it to continue kneading for ten minutes.If, near the end of the ten minutes, the dough is still very wet, add additional flour a few tablespoons at a time. Allow it to thoroughly knead the dough after adding flour, then add additional if necessary. This dough is best when it is not completely following the dough hook and is still slightly sticky.
When the dough is finished being kneaded, spray two large bowls with cooking spray. Divide the dough into two pieces and place in oiled bowls, then cover and allow to rise at room temperature for 60-90 minutes or until doubled in volume. Then, grab one edge of the dough and fold it to the middle, then turn the bowl and fold the next edge to the middle, repeating until all of the dough has been folded to the middle; then flip it over so that the folded edges are on the bottom. Cover again and allow it to rise again for 60-90 minutes or until doubled in size.
After the second rise, spray two bread pans with cooking spray. Form a loaf shape, tucking the edges underneath, and place in the greased pans. Cover (here’s how I do it) and allow to rise for 60-90 minutes or until the bread dough is nice and tall above the pan.
About 30 minutes before the loaves will be ready to bake, preheat the oven to 400°. Place an empty round metal cake pan in the bottom as the oven preheats. When the loaves are ready, slash a line down the length of the bread with a sharp, serrated knife. (I slashed the loaf on the right in the above picture a little deeper than is ideal.) Place the loaves in the oven and pour a cup of hot water into the cake pan.
Bake for 35-40 minutes or until tops of loaves are deep brown. Remove the loaves from the pans and allow to cool on a wire rack. Enjoy!
Additional Tips for The Wheat Bread Recipe That Made Me Stop Buying Sandwich Bread
- I keep this bread on my counter, with a large plastic container turned upside down over it or in a large plastic container with the light not-tightly closed, for 3-4 days. I’ve never had it go moldy, though I do live in a very dry climate. I personally do not like the texture that homemade bread gets when you store it in the refrigerator, so I highly recommend storing it at room temperature in a manner that gives it some air (hence the recommendation for a large container) but that doesn’t allow the air flow in your home to dry it out. (I’m thinking I need a breadbox, because isn’t that what I just described?)
- If you can’t use an entire loaf or loaves in 3-4 days, cut off what you won’t use and freeze it; then allow it to thaw at room temperature when you are ready to use it. I recommend waiting to slice it until it’s thawed, rather than doing it ahead of time, but you could slice it before freezing – just know that it will dry out some.
- You can do either of the first two rises in the refrigerator. I’ve done it overnight and it’s been great – a long, cool rise helps develop flavor so there’s not a particular reason not to. Just remember that if you’ve had the dough in the refrigerator, when you take it out and put it into loaves and let it rise, it’s going to take longer to rise because it’s starting a lot colder than room temperature. Though I admit to doing it from time to time, speeding up the rising process by putting it in a warm place (like a warmed-up-and-turned-off oven) does prevent some of the good flavor and texture from forming and decreases the margin for error by a lot.
You could potentially mix this by hand if you want a workout. Centuries of housewives have mixed bread by hand, so I’m not going to tell you it’s not possible – but, this is a pretty wet dough and if you knead it by hand, you will probably have to incorporate more flour than is ideal.
I don’t have a breadmaker so I can’t comment on whether or not that would work. Some of the hooks on the bread machines I’ve seen are a little wimpy and I would be skeptical that it could thoroughly mix the soaker (which is quite heavy) but if you try it, I’d love to hear if it worked!
Remember, the time and techniques used to create this recipe are, I believe, what gives it the great texture and flavor that makes it delicious even when it’s not fresh out of the oven. I hope you enjoy it!