Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

I’m sure some of you think I’m crazy for baking and then sharing bread in this heat, but like I mentioned last week, it’s never too hot for me to turn on the oven :)

This whole bread making endeavor would probably have seemed a lot less crazy back in February when I first added the recipe to my to-do list. Each week, not only does my meal plan consist of dinner ideas but also a few baking projects I want to tackle. When I go to make the next week’s list, anything I didn’t get to from the previous week is carried over. So, yeah, I’ve been writing “whole wheat sandwich bread” on the list for over 20 weeks now. I figured it was about time I finally make it!

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Truthfully, I had a bit of trouble finding one of the ingredients (wheat germ) at a price that I could swallow, and that was a big part of the delay. So when I eventually did, I forged on with the bread despite the 95 degree weather. Even in the middle of summer I love a good grilled cheese or BLT so there was no chance the bread would go to waste.

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

I might have been tempted to save this bread in the archives and post it later this fall, but I loved it too much to hold out on you. It’s probably the most wheat-y wheat bread I’ve ever made. Most of the whole wheat recipes I’ve tried call for 50% or less of the flour to be whole wheat, but here it’s 60% and on top of that there’s also the wheat germ. Yet, the bread still has a soft, light texture and lots of wheat flavor without being bitter. This is mostly accomplished through soaking the whole wheat flour overnight, so be forewarned – you do need to plan ahead a bit for the recipe. The loaves bake up really tall, and the huge slices of bread make the best sandwiches! I like to slice the bread, then wrap and freeze in portions I can later pull out for a quick breakfast or lunch.

Even if you’re not in the mood to bake bread in July, bookmark this to try when the weather cools down. You’ll be so glad you did!

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
from Cook’s Illustrated, March 2011

{Note: I always use white whole wheat flour in place of traditional whole wheat, and I substituted it here without any problems.}

Biga
2 cups (11 oz) bread flour
1 cup warm water (about 100-110 F)
1/2 teaspoon instant yeast

Soaker
3 cups (16 1/2 oz) whole wheat flour
1/2 cup wheat germ
2 cups whole milk

Dough
1/4 cup honey
4 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons instant yeast
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

To make the biga: Use a wooden spoon to stir the bread flour, water and yeast together in a medium bowl until everything comes together and no dry flour remains. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for at least 8 hours or up to 24.

To make the soaker: Use a wooden spoon to stir the whole wheat flour, wheat germ and milk together in a large bowl until it comes together to form a shaggy dough. Turn it out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead by hand until the dough is smooth, about 2-3 minutes. Place the soaker back in the same bowl, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate for at least 8 hour or up to 24.

To make the dough: Tear the soaker into 1-inch pieces and add them to the bowl of a stand mixer fitted with the dough hook. Add the biga, honey, salt, yeast, butter and oil to the bowl as well. Start mixing on low speed until the dough comes together into a cohesive mass, then continue kneading until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. It should be tacky, but not sticky – it was super humid the day I made my bread and I wound up needing a little more flour to achieve the right consistency. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and knead briefly by hand, then shape into a ball and place in a large bowl that’s been sprayed with nonstick cooking spray. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for 45 minutes.

Press down gently on the center of the dough to deflate it. Using your fingertips, fold the dough over itself by gently lifting from the bottom and folding the edge of the dough toward the middle. Turn the bowl 90 degrees (1/4 turn) and repeat. Do this 6 more times, for a total of 8 folds. Replace the plastic wrap on top of the bowl and let rise until doubled in volume, about another 45 minutes.

Preheat oven to 400 F with racks in the middle and lowest positions. Set a baking stone on the middle rack. Coat two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and cut it into 2 equal pieces. Working with one at a time, pat the dough into roughly an 8×17-inch rectangle, with a short side facing you. Starting with that short side, roll the dough into a tight cylinder, tucking the dough under itself as you go. Pinch the seam at the end to close. Place the loaf, seam side down, in one of the prepared loaf pans. Repeat with the second piece of dough. Loosely cover the loaves with plastic wrap and let them rise for 60-90 minutes, or until just about doubled in size (they will have risen about 1 inch over the top of the pan).

Meanwhile, bring 2 cups of water to a boil. Use a sharp knife to make a 1/4-inch deep slash lengthwise down the center of each loaf. Pour the boiling water into a heatproof pan and place on the bottom rack of the oven, then place the loaves on the baking stone in the oven. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 350 F. Bake for 40-50 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking, or until the crust has browned and an instant read thermometer inserted into the loaves reads 200 F.

Remove the pans to a wire rack and let the bread cool for 5 minutes, then turn the loaves out onto the rack and allow to cool to room temperature (at least 2 hours) before slicing.

Makes 2 loaves