Hearty Whole Wheat Bread

The journey to a great loaf of whole wheat bread took a bit longer than I had originally anticipated. After having great success with classic white bread and bagels from Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, I naturally turned to the same book when looking for homemade wheat bread instead of buying another loaf at the store. The process was a bit complicated, and apparently something went quite awry, because although my dough rose just perfectly during the first rise and then again once the loaves were shaped, once they got into the oven they collapsed and came out as squat, dense little bread wannabe’s. Today, I set out to try again, this time switching recipes and, as you can see from above, I ended up with perfectly high, beautiful loaves of wheat bread that had a nutty texture and slightly sweet flavor.

My second time around, I cracked open another one of my most trusted resources for all things baking, Baking Illustrated, which is where I found the thick and chewy chocolate chip cookie recipe (which is now my favorite), as well the most amazing pizza crust. This recipe was significantly different, as the Peter Reinhart recipe called for the simplest of ingredients – yeast, whole wheat flour, water, salt, and honey. Baking Illustrated used significantly more yeast, along with a greater amount of honey, some butter, and a combination of whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour, with a small amount of rye flour, and a hearty dose of wheat germ. Whew! Lots of ingredients! Perhaps due to its methodical testing process, the folks over at Cook’s Illustrated created a hearty, flavorful, yet still light, loaf of wheat bread.

On a side note, I do think I might be killing my poor KA mixer. This was the third batch of bread that I made this week (including the bagels, which didn’t help my cause), but after kneading this dough today, my poor mixer was burning hot!

Whole-Wheat Bread with Wheat Germ and Rye

Yield: Two 9-inch loaves

Prep Time: 2 hours

Cook Time: 40 minutes

Total Time: 2 hours 40 minutes

Ingredients:

2-1/3 cups warm water (about 100 degrees)
1½ tablespoons instant yeast
¼ cup honey
4 tablespoons (½ stick) unsalted butter, melted
2½ teaspoons salt
¼ cup (7/8 ounce) rye flour
½ cup toasted wheat germ
3 cups (16½ ounces) whole-wheat flour, preferably Hodgson Mill Whole Wheat Graham Flour
2¾ cups (13¾ ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting the work surface

Directions:

1. In the bowl of a standing mixer, mix the water, yeast, honey, butter, and salt with a rubber spatula. Mix in the rye flour, wheat germ, and 1 cup each of the whole-wheat and all-purpose flours.

2. Add the remaining whole-wheat and all-purpose flours, attach the dough hook, and knead at low speed until the dough is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured work surface. Knead just long enough to make sure that the dough is soft and smooth, about 30 seconds.

3. Place the dough in a very lightly oiled large bowl; cover with plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm, draft-free area until the dough has doubled in volume, about 1 hour.

4. Heat the oven to 375 degrees. Gently press down the dough and divide into two equal pieces. Gently press each piece into a rectangle about 1 inch thick and no longer than 9 inches. With a long side of the dough facing you, roll the dough firmly into a cylinder, pressing down to make sure that the dough sticks to itself. Turn the dough seam-side up and pinch it closed. Place each cylinder of dough in a greased 9 by 5-inch loaf pan, seam-side down and pressing the dough gently so it touches all four sides of the pan. Cover the shaped dough; let rise until almost doubled in volume, 20 to 30 minutes.

5. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted at an angle from the short end just above the pan rim reads 205 degrees, 35 to 45 minutes. Transfer the bread immediately from the baking pans to wire racks; cool to room temperature.

Variation: Hand-Kneaded Whole-Wheat Bread
Follow the recipe for the Whole-Wheat Bread with Wheat Germ and Rye, mixing the water, yeast, honey, butter, salt, rye flour, and wheat germ in a large mixing bowl. Mix 2¾ cups of the whole-wheat flour and the all-purpose flour in a separate bowl, reserving ¼ cup of the whole-wheat flour. Add 4 cups of the flour mixture to the wet ingredients; beat with a wooden spoon 5 minutes. Beat in another 1½ cups of the flour mixture to make a thick dough. Turn the dough onto a work surface that has been sprinkled with some of the reserved flour. Knead, adding only as much of the remaining flour as necessary to form a soft, elastic dough, about 5 minutes. Continue with step 3.

(Source: Baking Illustrated, pages 80-83)