Like many of you out there who are conscious about your food - where does it come from? what's in it? do I want those ingredients in me? - I've been on a continuous search for sandwich bread that is both something I want to eat and something I can afford. It's been a struggle. I've read every label out there and, though it's better than even a few years ago, it's still a challenge. Many commercial breads bragging about their use of whole grains tend to keep the inclusion of high fructose corn syrup reserved for the small print (which we should all be reading). The words on the front any package of any product are advertising. To get a more comprehensive picture of the product in your hand, turn it over and read the back - the nutritional data and the ingredients. Yes, there are a few caveats to this advice but, essentially, reading the nutritional data and the ingredients is your best bet for making decisions while in the store.
Specialty breads with far more wholesome ingredients than commercial brands are readily available but the price is often prohibitive. The smaller, local bakeries create fabulous products. I love them. But I can't justify the expense, especially these days.
Smitten Kitten is the sole inspiration for this recipe. Like Smitten Kitten, I wanted to make my own sandwich bread and leave behind the pre-packaged stuff. We had both run out of excuses. I appreciate that I didn't have to hunt for a recipe and test it. I tried this one first and I'm hooked. Sure, I'll try others too but for now this one is a favorite in our house. I haven't purchased store bread in two months!
This bread tastes great, holds up to slicing, holds up to sandwiches, toasting, grilled cheese, etc. Freezes like a dream. I slice the whole loaf and freeze it. We just grab the slices as we need them to thaw or toast.
Here is Smitten Kitten's Light Wheat Bread from The Bread Baker's Apprentice. Below is a variation I've been using lately. I've snapped a couple of shots (quite similar to Smitten Kitten's but I wanted to illustrate the same thing and there really are only so many ways to photograph how to roll up dough or a loaf of dough sitting in a bread pan, you know?).
Makes one 2-lb. loaf
2 1/2 cups (11.25 oz) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz.) whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons (.75 oz.) honey
1 1/2 teaspoons (.38 oz.) salt
3 tablespoons (1 oz.) powdered milk
1 packet (.25 oz.) rapid rise yeast
2 tablespoons (1 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) skim milk, at room temperature
I mix my dry ingredients together in my giant stainless steel bowl that I make all my bread dough in. Then I proof my yeast with my typical method. Technically, you could skip proofing and add the yeast to your dry ingredients. But once bitten, twice shy I guess. One or two packets of yeast that haven't proofed in the past and now I always proof. Into the milk I add the
butter and the honey then heat it briefly in the microwave. You just need it very warm. Then dissolve the yeast into this mixture and let it sit until it starts to foam. I just need a solid sign of life to be satisfied.
Mix the wet with the dry using a wooden spoon until things come together. This is where I take over with my hands, the only way to feel what's going on with the dough. Make sure all the ingredients are incorporated. It's much better to be too wet than too dry. Adding more flour a little at a time is much easier than adding more water to dry dough. I do all the kneading right in my giant bowl, always have. Saves me a big mess on the counter and gives me a nice contained area in which to work, a nice set of boundaries for the dough to come together. You can also turn out the dough onto a clean counter-top dusted with flour. Knead the dough 6-10 minutes. It should remain a bit tacky.
Sprinkle the dough with a little oil to keep it moist while it proofs. Place it in a large bowl covered with plastic wrap and set someplace warm to double in size. Once the dough has doubled, you need to shape it for the second proofing inside the loaf pan. Take the dough from the bowl and set it on the counter. Using your hands, press it out into a rough rectangle about 3/4 inch thick, 6 inches wide, and 8 to 10 inches long. To form it into a loaf you roll it up but along the way, stop to pinch each seam to the rectangle. As you roll and pinch, the dough will spread wider and that's OK. Put the loaf in a typical bread loaf pan, lightly brush with oil and cover with plastic.
Let this raise for 60-90 minutes. You want the dough to rise above the lip of the pan.
To bake, preheat your oven to 350 with the oven rack on the middle shelf. Put the loaf pan on a baking sheet and bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue baking for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on your oven. An oven thermometer is a really good investment. The loaf should register 190 degrees when all is said and done and should have that hollow sound when you tap it on the bottom.
Remove the bread form the pan right away and get it onto a cooling rack. Don't touch it for at least an hour. This is the hardest part of the whole process, possibly the whole day - waiting to slice the bread. Time practically stands still. I recommend going for a walk, running errands, go to a movie, anything to get you out of the kitchen and to stop checking the clock. When the time finally comes, you can slice the bread. Please use a bread knife and please be gentle. It is, after all, bread. Let the knife do the work. Use gentle pressure and the serrated edge to break the crust and then easily glide the knife to and fro. Keep the blade parallel to the bread, perpendicular to the cutting board. Gentle, even slicing motion all the way to the bottom of the slice. Get some homemade jam, or a slice of cheese, or some natural peanut butter and enjoy!