I’ve been baking all of our family’s bread for the last year, and it has been one roller-coaster of a ride. Every two weeks or so, I bake four loaves of bread. My husband and oldest son eat a sandwich for lunch every weekday. Sometimes we have toast for breakfast. Sometimes I just like to eat a piece of bread with butter for a snack. We like bread.
When I first started the process of grinding all of our wheat and baking all of our bread, I was pretty successful. I used this recipe, and it proved to be a good one for about the first six months. Then something happened. I’m not really sure what it was, but my loaves went from being light and soft to dense and hard. The gluten didn’t develop, they tasted a little too yeasty and they fell apart easily when you tried to slice them.
But, I soldiered on. And the boys were troopers – they kept eating their daily sandwiches on this failed bread-like substance. I tried a variety of things to help remedy the problem – more liquid, less liquid, a different combination of flours (more red wheat, less white wheat, more kamut, some soft white wheat), honey vs. molasses vs. maple syrup vs. sucanat, butter vs. coconut oil – you name it, I tried it. Every so often, I’d get a good loaf or two, but the next time I tried to replicate what I’d done, it was back to dense bricks.
I could even tell in the mixer that it was going to be a failure. Instead of long, rubbery strands of gluten, the dough would just come apart in short, stubby wads. Windowpane test? Forget it. I was beginning to think that maybe bread and I just weren’t meant to be.
Then the other day, I saw this post for Oatmeal Sandwich Bread over on Art & Lemons. She described it as “soft” and “pillow-like,” and I knew I needed to try it.
Note to self: buy this book. Soon.
Anyway, the recipe seemed simple enough, and it used a technique I hadn’t tried before – autolysis. This is where you mix the dry ingredients and liquids together and let them rest for 30 minutes before adding the salt and kneading. From what I gather, this allows the flour to better absorb the liquid, thereby allowing for more effective gluten development.
The second batch? Yea – not so much. Flat failures.
Bread, why do you hate me so?
But once again, I soldiered on. I turned to ye olde interwebs to discover the source of my problem, and I think perhaps I’ve been overworking my dough. It seems, based on a number of sources, that if you over-knead your bread or if you let it over-rise, the gluten strands can break. Who knew? I’ve been abusing my bread all this time. Here I was blaming the bread, when all along it was me.
This time, the third time really was the charm. This bread is kind of spectacular. I mean, if sandwich bread can be spectacular. I think I’m in love (again).
Whole Grain Sandwich Bread (adapted from this recipe at Art & Lemons)
prep time: 45 minutes
rise time: 2 hours
bake time: 30 minutes
yields: 2 1-lb. loaves
- 2 cups warm water
- 3 Tablespoons honey (could also use maple syrup or molasses)
- 4 Tablespoons cultured butter, melted and cooled (could also use coconut oil)
- 1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
- 4 cups freshly ground hard white wheat, sifted
- 2 cups rolled oats
- 1 tablespoon unrefined sea salt
- Combine water, honey, butter and yeast in the bowl of your electric mixer and let sit for 5 minutes so yeast can bloom
- Add the flour and oats to the water mixture and stir to combine. Let rest for 30 minutes.
- Add the salt and knead in the mixer, using the dough hook attachment, for 6 minutes. Dough will be a little sticky and should slap the sides of the bowl as it mixes. It should be very elastic (long, rubbery strands of gluten) after six minutes.
- Remove the bowl from the mixer, cover with a damp towel, and let rise in a warm place for one hour (I usually preheat my oven to 150F, then turn it off and set the bowl in the warmed oven).
- After an hour, the dough should have doubled in volume. Scrape it out of the bowl onto a lightly floured surface.
- Grease two 1-lb. loaf pans
- Divide the dough in half and knead one half a few times, forming it into a loaf-shaped rectangle. Repeat with the other half
- Place the dough in the loaf pans and cover loosely with plastic wrap
- Let rise in a warm place for one hour, or until doubled in bulk.
- Preheat the oven to 350F
- Carefully remove the plastic wrap and transfer the risen loaves to the oven (take care not to deflate them)
- Bake for 30 minutes, rotating them after the first 15 minutes to ensure even baking.
- Remove from the oven and allow to cool in the pans for 10 minutes, then turn out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool for at least a couple of hours before slicing.