Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

My streak of amazing bread baking had to end at some point.

(Not that this turned out bad, it just wasn’t up to my usual standards.)

I’m not going to blame the recipe.  (Though it was certainly the most complicated bread that I’ve made so far.)

I’m not going to blame the fact that I was short on a couple of ingredients.  (Though I think I did a pretty good job coming up with substitutes.)

I am going to blame my inability to add – more specifically, my inability to add minutes into hours.

I’ll get back to my issues in a minute.  Here’s the recipe, because I’m pretty sure it’s a good one… if you do it right.

The Recipe:

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread, adapted from America’s Test Kitchen

Biga:

2 c bread flour

1 c warm water (100-110 degrees)

1/2 t instant or rapid-rise yeast

Soaker:

3 c whole-wheat flour, plus extra for kneading

1/2 c wheat germ

2 c whole milk

Dough:

1/8 c honey

1/8 c molasses (the original recipe just calls for 1/4 c honey, but I didn’t have enough, so I added the molasses)

4 t table salt

2 T instant or rapid-rise yeast

6 T unsalted butter, softened

2 T vegetable oil

bread flour for work surface

The night before:

For the Biga: Combine bread flour, water, and yeast in large bowl and stir with wooden spoon until uniform mass forms and no dry flour remains, about 1 minute.  Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature overnight (at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours).

For the Soaker: Combine whole-wheat flour, wheat germ, and milk in large bowl and stir with wooden spoon until shaggy mass forms, about 1 minute.  Turn out dough onto lightly floured work surface and knead until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes.  Return soaker to bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight (at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours).

The day of:

For the Dough: Tear soaker apart into 1-inch pieces and place in bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook.  Add biga, honey, salt, yeast, butter, and oil.  Mix on low-speed until cohesive mass starts to form, about 2 minutes.  Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes.  Turn out dough onto lightly floured counter and knead 1 minute.  Shape dough into ball and place in lightly greased container.  Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature 45 minutes.

Gently press down on center of dough to deflate.  Holding edge of dough with fingertips, fold partially risen dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle.  Turn bowl 90 degrees; fold again.  Turn bowl and fold dough 6 more times (total of 8 folds).  Cover and allow to rise at room-temperature until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.

Adjust oven racks to middle and lowest positions, place baking stone on middle rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees.  Spray two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray.  Transfer dough to well-floured counter and divide into 2 pieces.  Working with 1 ball of dough at a time, pat each into 8 by 17-inch rectangle.  With short side facing you, roll dough toward you into firm cylinder, keeping roll taut by tucking it under itself as you go.  Turn loaf seam side up and pinch it closed.  Place loaf seam side down in prepared loaf pan, pressing gently into corners.  Repeat with second ball of dough.  Cover loaves loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, 60 to 90 minutes (top of loaves should rise about 1 inch over lip of pan).

Place empty loaf pan or other heatproof pan on bottom oven rack and bring 2 cups water to boil on stove top.  Using sharp serrated knife or single-edge razor blade, make one ¼-inch-deep slash lengthwise down center of each loaf.  Pour boiling water into empty loaf pan in oven and set loaves on baking stone.  Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees.  Bake until crust is dark brown and internal temperature registers 200 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 40 to 50 minutes, rotating loaves 180 degrees and side to side halfway through baking.

Transfer pans to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes.  Remove loaves from pans, return to rack, and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.

{Printable Results}

The Results:

Okay, I’m going to be completely honest with you here… I have no idea what a biga or a soaker is – just that they are the things I mixed beforehand to make this bread.  (I’m sure you could look them up, but I’m on a limited time schedule and this could take a while.)  I just trust ATK, so I went with it… or at least tried to.

So, the night before I got all excited and made the biga.  As I went to make the soaker, I realized we were completely out of milk (which is probably the first time in about ten years that this has happened).  Anyways, I was already in my pj’s, and I knew we’d have our milk delivery in the morning, so I decided I could just make the soaker then.

In case you were wondering what a happy biga looks like.

The next morning is where my math skills come into question.  See, the soaker needed to rest for at least eight hours before starting the dough.  And the dough needed several rises of length, in addition to the actual bake time.  And we had a t-ball game later that afternoon.  And I needed to use the biga before 24 hours were up.  All that information went swirling into my head, and I thought I had worked it out so I would be finishing the bread just in time.

It was about 5 minutes into the first rise, when I realized that I the bread would be ready an hour later than I had thought.  So, I started using some of my ‘happy rising dough’ tricks (which include a damp towel to cover the bowl and a slightly warm oven).  And it was working great.  I was able to cut out 15 minutes of rise on the first two rises.

It was during the third rise, in the bread pans, that things started to go wrong.  I was following the directions as closely as I could, and I had turned my oven up to 400 degrees as directed.  Unfortunately, I did not think through what that would do to my bread loaves.  Instead of uniformly getting bigger, the front (away from the back vent of my oven) rose beautifully, but the back stayed short and started to cook instead.

Need a visual?  Here’s what the finished loaves ended up looking like:

As you can see, one end is much shorter and more cooked than the other.  (And let’s just ignore the crazy flour on the loaf to the right – another long story – and I think one long story is plenty for a post.  🙂 )

Okay, the moral of this story, for me, is to follow the advice I would give my students if they were doing a math story problem about this: show your work!  (Aka: write it out, so you can double-check your math, and know you will be done at the right time, and therefore, will not be scrambling and using speed up techniques that can backfire.)

The flavor of this bread is exactly what was advertised, very similar to whole wheat bread you can find pre-sliced in the stores.  It wasn’t my favorite flavored bread (possibly because I was so disappointed with the process), but Hubs adored it.  The texture was a little dense, especially at the ‘bad’ ends – and I think going for the full rise times would have helped immensely.

As a stand alone, the bread didn’t do too much for me.   But I did try it in a pb&j sandwich – which I ended up really liking.  So, I don’t know what to tell you.  I don’t think I’ll be making this again – it just seemed like a lot of work.

I do believe, though, if you love wheat bread and actually follow their instructions, it has the possibility of being great.

(Now off to go practice some math.  Grrr.)

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10 thoughts on “Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

  1. There is nothing at all wrong with those loaves. They’re artisanal. I’ve made the same mistake with the more complicated bread recipes. Despite my best efforts of calculation and computation, suddenly I need an hour or two more to prepare the loaves that I don’t have. Your loaves turned out pretty good, considering. Mine often don’t come out nearly as well.

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  2. Wow! My hats off to you again. Seriously I’ve read the words biga and soaker in recipes before and flipped the page. They totally intimidate me. I think you did a wonderful job on this. And as for the math…oh yeah, been there, done that too. More than once. 😉

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  3. Courtney, I always love that you are 100% honest and upfront with us. Thank you for that. Your bread looks totally perfect so I think that perhaps you are getting to be quite a perfectionist with your bread baking. That’s a testament to just how pro you have gotten lately.

    I also had a little laugh over your admission to not knowing what a biga or a soaker is. Me neither but I am not much of a bread baker and I was so impressed that you were getting so scientific with your bread baking. Still am impressed, no worries.

    Math is highly overrated anyways. Enjoy the most important stuff while they are little. The extra hour of rising isn’t worth missing an adorable t-ball game. Have a wonderful weekend!

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  4. I guess I think breads shouldn’t be perfect.. other sorts of baking might be best served with a little bit of fussiness.. but the beauty of bread is that it’s great in any shape! Yours are cute and I think they turned out just fine!

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