As much as it shames me, I must admit, I have yet to properly study The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, which I had bought months ago. I have browsed through it with the full intention of reading it cover-to-cover, a feeling of electric excitement coursing through me each and every turning of page. But it wasn’t until recently that I realised just how much I absolutely love making yeast breads. I have yet to make one that requires an overnight sponge, but the ones I’ve made so far are making my previous hesitations and fears toward yeast a thing of the nearly-forgotten past.
I have mentioned before that my family has embraced the idea of whole grains in our food. I remember the first time I bought a sack of whole wheat flour from Bob’s Red Mill. I almost did not hear the end of it from my Mother. She told me that my brothers probably wouldn’t like whole wheat in their muffins, and that if it tasted “wrong”, I would have to finish all the muffins myself because we do not toss food out. The first time I used it, I had left my quick breads on the racks to cool, and upon returning, I saw that about two thick slices worth of bread had been hacked off from one of the loaves. And as you might have guessed, the culprit sitting on the breakfast table was my Mum.
“This is one of the best chocolate breads you’ve made,” she says to me.
And then I say to her, “I made it with zucchinis and whole wheat flour.”
Needless to say, she was surprised at the mention of two ingredients that to most people are not things commonly found in scrumptious baked goods. And there began my freedom to buy as much whole wheat flour as I
pleased needed. Little by little, I learned about the different types of whole wheat flours, because I was fairly excited to incorporate them into my baking and cooking in an attempt to make healthier fare. It did not take too long for me to realize that I have a greater affinity for making yeast breads compared to other baked goods– from the dough, the kneading, the lovely smells around the house every time a freshly-baked bread is laid out to cool. But the best part is how I always feel so utterly connected to home when I bake these kinds of breads to share with the family. That’s probably one of the reasons why I love it so much.
I have always loved eating yeasted bread, but making them is a whole different story and feeling entirely! That’s why when this bread came out of the oven, I was over the moon. It was my first whole wheat sandwich bread, and luckily I managed to make it somewhat successfully on my first attempt. However I feel that I would need to make this again more properly next time. When I read that this bread grows very large and rises a lot, I took out my biggest bread pan (a 10.5-inch one) just to be sure, but it was apparently too big for the recipe. Instead of rising upward, my dough expanded to fill the sides of the pan, resulting in a very large but very horizontal loaf. I believe a 9-inch pan would be perfect for the job although a 10-inch pan would be all right as well, but no bigger. And even though I didn’t get the gorgeous round head I always look for in homemade sandwich breads, let me just say, this is one of the softest and most delicious whole wheat sandwich breads I’ve had. There are notes of olive oil in the bread, and when you bite off the crust, you get a burst of sweetness from the brush of honey applied before the dough is baked.
A lot of people keep saying that once you know how to make your own bread at home, you never go back to the store-bought ones. I am very inclined to agree. Just one thing to note, however: The dough was incredibly sticky! I think I added more than 1/4 cup more all-purpose flour to make it more manageable. Make sure to generously flour your work space every so often to stop the dough from sticking to your tabletop.
Whole Wheat Buttermilk Bread
adapted from Macrina Bakery and Cafe Cookbook by Leslie Mackie | Makes one large 9- or 10-inch loaf
For the dough:
1 1/4 cups old-fashioned rolled oats
1 cup boiling water
1/4 cup water, room temperature
2 tablespoons honey
2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 1/2 cups buttermilk, at room temperature
1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
2 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon honey
1/2 teaspoon hot water
1/4 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
1. Add 1 1/4 cups of the oats to a medium heatproof bowl. Pour the boiling water over them and stir to combine. Let sit, uncovered, for 10 minutes, stirring frequently.
2. In the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the soaked oats, room temperature water, 2 tablespoons of the honey, yeast, buttermilk, olive oil, both flours and the salt. Mix until a rough dough comes together.
3. Switch to the dough hook and knead on low speed for about 10 minutes. When the dough is ready it will have a satiny finish, but it will still be somewhat wet and will cling to the dough hook (if still too wet and sticky, you can add slightly more flour to the dough, a tablespoon at a time).*
4. Lightly grease a bowl then add the dough, turning to coat. Cover and let rise for 1 hour, or until just about doubled in size.
5. Turn the dough out onto a generously floured work surface and press down to release excess air bubbles. Form the dough into a 12 x 6-inch rectangle and position it so the long side is facing you.
6. Fold the two shorter ends onto the top so that they meet in the middle. Starting with the closest end, roll the dough away from you tightly into a log. Pinch the seam closed.
7. Spray a 9- or 10-inch loaf pan with nonstick cooking spray, or grease and flour the pan. Gently but quickly lift the dough into the pan, seam side down, pressing it into the corners.
8. In a small bowl, mix the remaining teaspoon of honey with the 1/2 teaspoon of hot water. Brush the mixture over the top of the loaf then sprinkle it with the remaining 1/4 cup of oats.
9. Let sit for about 30 minutes, or until the loaf rises just over the top of the pan. Meanwhile, preheat oven to 375°F (190°C).
10. Bake the bread for 50-60 minutes, or until the internal temperature is about 200°F (95°C). Transfer the pan to a wire rack and turn the bread out. Let cool completely before slicing.
*I ended up adding more than 1/4 cup more all-purpose flour, but I didn’t want to add too much at the risk of my bread becoming too dense or tough once baked. It’s a rather sticky dough though so make sure you flour your work surface quite often to make things easier for you.
Just take a look at how soft and lovely that is!
As a bread/sandwich person, I must tell you I was very pleased to get to eat this for breakfast every morning for almost a week. I would slice a piece or two from the whole loaf, cut the slices in half, toast them, then make them into sandwiches. One day I would eat the bread with fruit jams, or with peanut butter for an energy booster before I hit the gym; then another day I would take the savoury route and go with cream cheese spreads, or turn the bread into a BLT sandwich. Some days I would just eat them plain, freshly toasted and simply perfect. They go with everything or nothing, and that’s the true testament to good bread.
Oh I can’t wait ’till the next time I make this again!