Honey Whole-Wheat Bread
I’m not sure about you, but whenever I read and gaze through cookbooks I almost get a sense of panic. I see intriguing recipes, new cuisines or flavors I had never even considered, new techniques, and before I know it I find myself scribbling down all the new things I need to cook and experiment with. While this is all very exciting, I find myself staring back at my list thinking, “When will I make all of this?” At times it just seems there are so many things to make–an endless amount!–and not enough time.
And even when there’s time, there’s just not enough stomachs to consume the food. I make a dish and no matter how good it tastes, after the third day of eating leftovers, I start getting a little restless to just move on, to try out making something new. I’m starting to think that maybe I need a family of ten or something that I constantly have to cook for, you know, like it’s my job. But then I suppose if that were the case I wouldn’t have that qualifying factor of having any time to cook. Oh, it’s a tragic life, isn’t it!
Anyway, I think this problem of mine influenced me to decide that I was going to make all of my own bread this semester (something I hinted about here). Because if I’m going to be consuming bread, why not get some practice out of it by trying to make it myself? Who knows, maybe after making a million loaves, I’ll have mastered the art of it or something. And even if there are a few bumps on the way towards that mastery, I’m pretty sure it’s widely known anyway that even if homemade bread doesn’t turn out perfect or as good as it could be, it is pretty, pretty hard to beat the smell of fresh, warm bread, yeasty and soft straight out of the oven.
I’d like to think that this bread is even a little better than just that, though. I think what makes this one special is that it is uses 100% whole wheat flour to make it and yet it still ends up incredibly fluffy, tender and just plain tasty. The recipe, from my always-trusty Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking, states that the addition of egg and butter allow the bread to come out light and smooth rather than dense. I’d like to think they’re right, because to me, the texture of this bread is better than a lot of completely all-purpose flour loaves I’ve made. And the flavor! I hate to sound completely cliche, but there’s no other way to describe it: the use of all whole wheat flour just gives that deep nutty flavor. The honey balances it out and the whole thing just ends up tasting like a pretty perfect classic, whole-wheat sandwich loaf of bread.
I loved this bread fresh from the oven with a slather of salted butter and some tart jam, but it’s also turned out pretty useful, too. I cut off a couple of slices for a turkey sandwich for a few days, while yesterday morning I toasted some of it to sop up some fried eggs for breakfast. It’s ended up being quite the useful, versatile, all-purpose bread for me this past week. And even though this whole making-all-my-bread thing has me trying out a lot of different recipes in search for the ever-better bread technique and product, I think I’ll find myself turning back to this one quite a bit this semester. I guess, after all, our time can’t be spent always trying new things–sometimes, we just have to work to perfect the things we already know and enjoy.
Honey Whole-Wheat Bread
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma’s Essentials of Baking
Makes two loaves
The recipe suggests that if you want a less sweet, very sandwich bread type of loaf, you can cut down the honey to 2 tablespoons and use water instead of milk.
2 packages (5 teaspoons) active dry yeast
2 cups (500 ml) whole milk, heated to be warm (within 105-115 degrees F)
1/4 cup honey
2 large eggs
6 cups (940 g) whole-wheat flour, plus extra for kneading
2 teaspoons kosher salt
6 tablespoons (90 g) unsalted butter, softened
If making the bread by hand, dissolve the yeast in the milk in a large bowl and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Using a wire whisk, stir in the honey and the eggs. Then add the flour, salt and butter, and stir with either your hands or a wooden spoon until a rough mass forms. Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth and elastic, about 5-7 minutes. As you knead, add a dusting of flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking (probably at the most 1/2 cup) , but be cautious of adding too much–the dough will become more smooth and less sticky as you keep kneading.
Alternatively, if you want to make the bread using a stand mixer, dissolve the yeast with the warm milk in the bowl of a stand mixer with the dough hook attached, and let stand until foamy, about 5 minutes. Whisk in the honey and eggs, and then add in the flour, salt and butter, and knead on low speed for about 5 to 7 minutes until the dough is smooth and elastic. As above, you shouldn’t have to add too much flour to keep the dough from sticking to the sides of the bowl–it will become less sticky as it kneads and will all come together with a minimal addition of extra flour.
Once kneaded, form the dough into a ball and transfer to a lightly oiled large bowl. Move the dough around the bowl so that it gets coated in the oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warm, draft-free spot until it doubles in bulk, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Butter two 9 by 5 inch loaf pans.
Once the dough has doubled, punch down the dough and scrape out onto a clean work surface. Cut the dough in half with a sharp knife or bench scraper to make two even balls of dough. Working one at a time, for each half, evenly flatten the dough out using the heel of your hand. The width of the dough should be the same length as the pan you’re putting the bread into–about a little less than 9 inches. Next, roll up the bottom third of the dough up onto itself and seal it be gently pushing it in with the heel of your hand. Continue rolling thirds of the dough up and onto itself, sealing the dough as you go, until you have an oval log. Place the logs, sealed-seam side down, into the prepared loaf pans.
Cover the pans loosely with a kitchen towel and let the loaves rise in a warm, draft-free spot until they double in size, about 45 to 60 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375 degrees F, and position a rack in the middle of the oven.
Once the loaves have risen, dust the tops with some more whole wheat flour. Bake until they are honey brown and sound hollow when tapped on top, about 30 to 40 minutes. Be careful not to overbake this bread or it will be dry. After resting in the pan for about 5 minutes, carefully remove the loaves from the pans and let cool completely on wire racks.