Those of you who have been reading for a while may remember that I’ve been experimenting with baking bread at home. I love baking bread. I love the smell of the rising dough, of the yeast releasing its gasses. I love the sticky, bendy texture of the dough. I love the taste and mouthfeel of fresh bread still warm from the oven, topped with something sticky and sweet or just plain. I love the control over exactly what goes into the food I’m feeding myself and my family. It drives me crazy that most supermarket whole-grain breads of the kind that are supposed to be healthy contain high fructose corn syrup, an ingredient that I do my best to avoid bringing into my home.
So I’ve been trying different recipes – not all that many really – mixing them up in my KitchenAid stand mixer and baking them in my standard home oven. Today I rediscovered a recipe that had come highly recommended by a friend who has been famous for her baking for longer than she would probably want me to say. I ran across it while I was poking through my recipe books a few weeks ago, and I pulled it out waiting for the right time to try again. Today was the day.
My friend Jean is not only a master knitter, and a wonderful baker, but she also volunteers regularly for a non-profit restaurant called St. Martin’s Table in Minneapolis. She met me for lunch there one day several years ago, and I think I remember eating this bread then and that it was a fine meal overall. I’m pretty sure they’re only open for lunch, and all the volunteer servers donate their “tips” to charities selected by the group that runs the restaurant. It may seem odd that I, an avowed heathen, should be promoting a christian-based group. But I didn’t feel one bit uncomfortable there they seem to be a quite liberal religious group, and I liked it there.
I know I bought a copy of their cookbook at the bookstore inside the restaurant’s space. And that is where I found the recipe that I followed today. It was so *good*! It’s whole wheat, with just enough white flour to give it that chewy lift that has been missing in my other loaves. This is table bread, the kind that you can slice thin for sandwiches or make toast out of. It’s a good sized recipe that makes two full-sized loaves. And it was foolproof to make. Although the process takes about three hours start-to finish, I paid attention to it in only about 5-10 minute intervals. I think I probably spent about 15 minutes actively working on it, and that includes cleaning the pans.
I was so excited, I wanted to share this recipe with all of you, so I called up the office at St. Martin’s table and talked to their manager, Deb. She said go ahead and share it, so here’s the recipe. Thanks, Deb!
St. Martin’s Table Honey Whole Wheat Bread
Gently heat 3 1/2 cups of water until lukewarm. Turn off heat and add:
3/4 cup oil
2T of dry yeast
3/4 cup honey
Let stand 4-5 minutes until yeast is dissolved and frothy.
When yeast mixture is frothy, add
2 cups unbleached white flour
Mix together until flour is incorporated. Let rest for 2 minutes.
Add additional flour by cupfuls to make a ball (The dough will be slightly sticky.)
8-10 cups whole-wheat flour
Knead until smooth and elastic (at least 10 minutes), and form into a ball. Place in a large, greased bowl, cover and leave in a warm, draft-free place until doubled in size. Punch down. Form into two loaves, place in greased pans and again leave covered in a warm place until doubled in size. Bake in 350 degree F oven for about 45 minutes.
Okay, and I’m going to tell you a little bit about how I followed the recipe. I heated my water in the microwave using a 4-cup pyrex measure. It was a little bit on the warm side when it came out (you want it no more than about your body heat, because you want to grow the yeast, not boil them to death). But I added the honey and the oil (extra-virgin olive oil in my case) and then it was lukewarm. The yeast I had on hand was one of the grocery-store brands that comes in three packets attached together. I just dumped in all three packets because that was close enough.
I dumped the white flour (I happened to have a bag of Pillsbury’s Best Bread Flour on hand, so that’s what I used) and the salt into the bowl of my mixer and stirred them together a bit. Then I added the foamy yeast mixture and stirred it up. It looked quite soupy and gross at this point.
While I was waiting for the yeast to fizz, I had measured about 8 cups of whole wheat flour (I happened to have a bag of Dakota Maid Stone Ground on hand) into a separate bowl. Part of my reason for doing this was because I am forever losing count of how many cups I’ve measured and I like to set myself up so I can have a redo if necessary. Because I was measuring right out of the bag, using a smaller scoop to dump into the 1-cup measure, I held the 1-cup measure over the bowl so that any excess would fall in the bowl instead of all over the counter. Which meant that in the end I had a little more than 8 cups in the bowl. I figured once I had added all that was in the bowl, I could scoop some more out of the bag if the dough was still too wet. Oh, and because it can be important in bread baking recipes, I’m going to mention that it is rather humid here today for January in Minnesota – meaning not as bone-dry as it usually is, but still not what anyone in their right mind would consider truly humid.
So I turned my KitchenAid on to speed 2 and gradually poured flour from the bowl into the mixer. When the bowl was empty the dough had formed into a nice big blob that was sticking to the dough hook, and although it was slightly sticky, it wasn’t gumming onto the sides of the metal bowl any more. And it didn’t look glisteningly wet, either. I let the mixer run for a couple more minutes, but electric mixers are much more efficient at kneading than hands, so 10 minutes would have been way too much.
I took that empty bowl from the flour and poured a bit of olive oil in the bottom, then swirled it around and even spread it a bit with my hands. Having some oil on your hands while you’re transferring the dough is a good thing – it keeps it from sticking to *you*. I covered it with a damp kitchen towel, and stuck it in the oven.
Oh, but I forgot to mention that I like to raise my bread inside the oven, so I usually heat the oven to about 200 F when I start the yeast blooming, then turn it off and leave the door a bit cracked so it doesn’t stay too hot. Then, I put the dough in there to rise and it’s just nice and toasty warm and draft-free. The yeast seem to like it.
I set the timer for an hour and ran around playing Mommy. When I came back, the dough was ready. So I took out my two loaf pans and let Julie oil them this time just like I’d oiled the bowl. In the mean time, I literally made a fist and poked good and hard at the dough to get the big bubbles out. Note: take your engagement ring off before doing this – you don’t want to be scrubbing bits of dough out of the prongs, do you? I used a rubber spatula to score the dough down the middle, then tore it in half with my hands, and gently shaped it into loaf-shapes as I transferred it to the pans. Back in the oven, back under the damp towel, set the timer for another hour.
When I came back, the dough had risen again, and I could see some big bubbles right under the top. I didn’t want the crust splitting away from the middle, so I went ahead and pushed it back down a bit. I didn’t bother taking the bread out of the oven to pre-heat, I just turned the oven on to 350 and set the timer for 45 minutes. Back to playing Mommy while the scent of fresh bread wafted throughout the house. Ding! Timer went off. I took the bread out and had to work hard for 15-20 minutes to distract the girls, who wanted desperately to sit down and eat it. For the record, Sophie threw a little temper-tantrum because she wanted to eat bread immediately. It was so cute, I wanted to take a picture. Would it be wrong of me to take a picture of her sad little angry face? I didn’t.
Finally, even though the bread was still quite warm, I took out my serrated knife and sliced it up. It sliced like a charm. The texture was perfect – soft and not too dense, yet without any huge bubbles. The crust was nice – only slightly crusty – and the bread held together well as I smeared it with butter and jam for the girls. I still hadn’t eaten lunch yet (I’d been too busy mixing bread while they ate), so I had peanut butter and jelly on mine.
And, by the way – those are two good-sized loaves. Homemade bread really deserves to be eaten within 24 hours, or barring that, frozen and thawed when you’re ready to eat it again.