Remember those 2015 New Year’s Resolutions we all made on 1 January 2015? If you are like me you don’t want to talk about it! That’s because most of them are already in the trash bin and only memories. Well I’m happy to say one of my resolutions is still alive and well! I decided that we (my family) ate to many food preservatives. You know what I’m talking about…all those ingredients you cannot pronounce on the side of the bags and packages of food we buy. Eliminating all preservatives in my diet seemed impossible or too big a chore. So, I chose one food item to get started. I vowed to stop buying store-bought packaged bread and now I bake all my family’s bread.
My daughter Nicole was my inspiration. While away at college she bought a loaf of bread at the store for sandwiches but promptly forgot about it. She found the loaf 4 months later hidden on a top bookshelf in her dorm room. She braced herself for a gross experience as she opened the bag expected a green moldy blob. But to her surprise, the bread had no visible mold after 4 months! She said, “Mom I’m uncomfortable eating anything that can last that long. What are they adding to the bread to get that kind of shelf life?” God only knows! I can’t say that preservatives are always bad for us but our diets are so full of them it couldn’t hurt to reduce our exposure.
So, since New Years I have baked bread every week and my family loves it! I thought this transition would be much harder. I have always enjoyed baking bread but only occasionally. I never considered totally switching to all homemade bread. With only a little planning we are making it work. With as little as one baking session a week you can too. One of my staple recipes is my Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread that I bake up every week. This bread is always a hit!
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread Recipe (Makes 2 loaves)
Biga: (Mixed up 12-24 hours before mixing final dough)
2 cups (8 ½ ounces) AP or Bread flour
1 cup (8 ounces) warm water (100-110 degrees)
½ teaspoon Instant Yeast
Whole Wheat Soaker: (Mixed up 12-24 hours before mixing final dough)
3 cups (12 ounces) Whole Wheat Flour
½ cup wheat germ
2 cups (16 ounces) milk (I used 2% milk)
Whole Wheat Soaker
3 cups (12 ¾ ounces) All Purpose or Bread flour
¼ cup (4 Tablespoons) Honey
6 Tablespoons softened unsalted Butter (If you only have salted butter reduce salt added below by 1/4 teaspoon)
2 Tablespoons Instant Yeast
4 teaspoons table salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil
AP or Bread flour for work surface
Optional: Add ½ cup of your favorite seed mix to your final dough. You can also add a topping such as Oats, Flax Seed, etc. to the top of the loaves just before baking.
Mixing and Baking Directions
Biga: Combine the AP or Bread flour, water, and yeast in a medium bowl and stir with a spoon or spatula until a uniform mass forms and no dry flour remains, (about 1 minute). Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it stand at room temperature (70-80 degrees) overnight (12 to 24 hours).
Whole Wheat Soaker: Combine the whole wheat flour, wheat germ, and milk in a large bowl and stir with a spoon or spatula until mixed, (about 1 minute). Cover the Wheat Soaker bowl tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight (12 to 24 hours).
Final Dough: Combine the Whole Wheat Soaker with the Biga in your Stand Mixer and mix on slow speed for 2 minutes. Add the other remaining Dough ingredients in your stand mixer and mix for 2-4 minutes on slow speed until a cohesive mass starts to form. Increase the mixer speed to medium and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead by hand for 1 minute. Shape dough into a ball and place in a lightly greased bowl. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow the dough to rise at room temperature for 45-60 minutes.
Gently press down on the center of the dough ball to slightly deflate the dough. Holding the dough edge with your fingertips, fold the dough over itself by gently lifting and folding the edge toward the middle of the ball. Turn the bowl 90 degrees and fold again. Turn bowl and fold the dough 6 more times (a total of 8 folds). Cover the dough and allow it to rise again at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 45-60 minutes.
Adjust your oven racks to the middle and lowest positions, place a baking stone on the middle rack, and preheat the oven to 425 degrees, Lightly butter or spray two 9×5 inch loaf pan and set aside. After the dough has raised pour all of the dough out onto a lightly floured clean surface and divide in half. Stretch and pat each piece into a rectangle no wider than your bread loaf pans.
With the short side facing you, roll dough towards you into a firm cylinder, keeping the roll taught by tucking it under itself as you roll. Continue to roll up the dough into a cylinder then with the seam side up pinch the edges together to form a strong closure or seal. Place each loaf seam side down into loaf pans and pat down gently to get into the corners. Repeat with second dough piece. Cover each loaf pan loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, 60 to 90 minutes. Dough should rise about 1 inch above the top of the pan. While loaves are raising place an empty pan on the bottom rake of your preheated oven and bring 2 cups of water to boil on stove top or in the microwave.
Just before placing in oven use a sharp serrated knife or single-edge razor blade to make one ¼ inch deep slash lengthwise down the center of each loaf. Pour boiling water into empty pan on bottom rack and set loaves on the baking stone. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees and bake loaves until crust is dark brown and the internal temperature loaf is 200 degrees on an instant read thermometer, (approximately 40-50 minutes. Rotate the loaves 180 degrees and side to side halfway through the baking time.
Remove loaves for oven and transfer to a wire rack and let cool in the pans for 5 minutes. Then remove loaves from the pans, and return to the wire rack, and cool to room temperature, about 1-2 hours.
To ensure you always have fresh bread on hand you can mix up a few extra loaves and freeze them. Surprisingly, if the loaves are double wrapped correctly these homemade whole wheat loaves can last up to 6 months in the freezer. I wrap each loaf in plastic wrap and then aluminum foil and place it into a zip lock plastic bag. To thaw the loaves I remove them from the freezer and set them out on the counter still wrapped for at least 1 hour. For even more convenience you can slice the loaves before freezing them so you can get out only what you need. My daughters are doing this at college too! They are happy with the convenience and that they always have a taste of home in the freezer.