Monday, January 30, 2012

The Science of Sandwich Bread

About a year ago, with the inception of this blog, I baked several loaves of delicious homemade bread and concocted the perfect Sicilian pizza crust. Since then, I've said "yes to yeast" on maybe three or four occasions. So much for the weekly fresh-baked bread.

It's not that my other attempts at bread-making have failed. They've gone fairly well. It's just that it's a time-consuming process. The mixing, and rising, and waiting, and punching, and kneading really make bread-baking a weekend job. But it appears that years ago, I had aspirations to turn my baking from weekends-only to weekdays.

As I was rearranging my newly remodeled kitchen, I came across a book called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois. Jeff and Zoe promised me fresh, yeast-y and delicious bread recipes without the day-long hassle. And, for the first time since the book arrived on my doorstep in 2007, I learned that they were right. You can make fresh bread in about half the time and with a fraction of the effort as traditional recipes.

Generally, their idea is to make a base bread dough in large batches, refrigerate it, and lop off lumps for baking whenever you like. The key is that the dough you mix is high moisture, which helps reduce or eliminate the need for proofing, kneading, or super long rising times. Most of the dough recipes, like this one, can also be used immediately without the refrigerator storage step.

I chose this particular loaf for two reasons: one, it sound delish! and two, it was a recipe adapted from ATK's very own Chris Kimball. You know I love all things America's Test Kitchen, so this was a natural choice. I halved this recipe and made a few minor tweaks (eliminating wheat germ, for one) and was in love with the results. I probably say this every time I pull a loaf out of the oven, but this was the best bread I've ever made. And this time I mean it! It's soft in the center with just the right amount of crunch to the crust, the perfect balance of airy and dense, and subtly sweet. I thought for sure it would be best when it was still warm, smeared with a bit of butter, but it was just as yummy today, at room temp and sans butter!

Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
1 1/2 cup warm water (between 100-110 degrees)
3/4 tablespoon active dry yeast
1/2 tablespoon plus 1/2 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoons honey
2 tablespoons butter, melted
1/2 cup rye flour
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour

Combine water, yeast, salt, honey, and butter in mixer bowl. Allow to stand 5 minutes. Add rye flour, whole wheat flour, and all-purpose flour. Using dough hook attachment, mix until dough pulls away from sides of bowl and forms a ball. (You may find it necessary to sprinkle a tablespoon or two of flour into the dough to aid this process, but the dough should still be quite sticky but cohesive.)

Cover mixer bowl with plastic wrap or a kitchen towel. Allow to rise in a warm place (like next to the stove or on top of the oven) for 2 hours.

Grease a loaf pan with cooking spray. Dust the dough with more flour and shape it into a ball by stretching it around to the bottom on all four sides. Form an elongated oval and place it into prepared pan. Allow to rest 40 minutes.

With 20 minutes of resting time remaining, preheat oven to 400 degrees. Place a shallow pan on bottom oven rack.

At baking time, pour 1 cup water into pan on bottom of oven (baking with steam is said to improve the color and appearance of the loaf ... and judging by my beautiful bread, it's true!). Place loaf on center oven rack. Bake approximately 40 minutes, or until evenly browned and firm.

Allow to cool before slicing.

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