How to Make Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
“It’s so easy to have freshly baked bread when you want it, with only five minutes a day of active effort,” write Jeff Hertzberg and Zoë François. “Your house will smell like a bakery and your family and friends will love you for it.”
Indeed, according to Peter Reinhart, there’s nothing quite like freshly baked bread. “Flavors slowly come into focus … eliciting an ‘ahhh, this is nice,’ reaction,” he says. “Then the salty zone kicks in, an ‘oohhh,’ followed by another level of either sweetness or sourness … calling forth a ‘hmnnn, whoa.’”
The recipe below uses a no-knead method and takes virtually no time or effort to prepare. Mix the ingredients in a bowl, set aside for half a day or more, shape into a loaf, and bake. That’s basically it. I’ve achieved good results using all-purpose flour or whole wheat flour or a combination of the two.
When using whole wheat, though, freshness is critical, I think. Thankfully, through our CSA service, Terra Organics, I’m able to procure locally produced whole wheat flour from an outfit called Bluebird Grain Farms, based in Winthrop, Washington. (The flour comes in tiny two-pound bags, which makes me think of it as a rare, precious commodity.) The result is whole wheat bread with a nutty, delicious flavor, rather than a bitter one.
Bread making is a bit of an art, however, and may require some trial and error before you get the hang of it. “Traditional, intuitive bread making does not lend itself naturally to a written recipe,” says bread Zen master Chad Robertson. “As you gain an understanding of how bread ‘works,’ you will be able to make adjustments in timing and technique to achieve a broad range of results.”
As with other endeavors, patience is rewarded.
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon yeast
1-3/4 teaspoons kosher salt
1-1/2 cups lukewarm water
The water should be just warm to your fingertips, about 100 degrees F—no warmer. As Hertzberg and François remind us, “Hot water kills yeast.”
Mix the flour, yeast, and salt in a mixing bowl. Add the water and mix until a shaggy dough is formed. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it sit on your kitchen counter for, say, 12 to 18 hours.
(I like to use a glass mixing bowl for this, so that the plastic wrap clings securely to the bowl without slipping loose. Since I’m an early bird, I typically prepare the dough during the day, then let it sit overnight and bake the following morning.)
Uncover the bowl and pour the dough onto a heavily floured counter. Knead the dough a couple of times to incorporate some flour, shape it into a loaf, and place it in a greased loaf pan measuring 8-1/2 x 4-1/2 x 2-1/2 inches. (Use a bench scraper if the dough sticks to the counter.)
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees F. Let the loaf rise for 20 minutes or so, uncovered, while the oven is preheating.
Place the loaf in the oven and bake for 30 to 35 minutes, until it’s lightly browned and the internal temperature has reached 190 degrees F. Remove the bread from the oven and place it on a cooling rack to cool.
Makes one loaf.