When I’m between jobs, I have nothing but good intentions for my down time. In my daydreams, the apartment sparkles, the giant pile of donations in the hall finally makes its way to the Salvation Army, I go to the farmers’ market at least once a week, and I exercise every day. And, naturally, I find time for the more involved cooking projects on my list.
I’m a world-class procrastinator, though. (If it were an Olympic sport, I’d be a contender for the gold.) While this is an unfortunate state of affairs, it’s also well-mined territory around these parts; you’d think I would’ve learned my lesson by now. Case in point: This recipe went up on Smitten Kitchen just over a year ago, and when I think about how long I could’ve been enjoying the beautiful bread it produced, I want to kick myself.
As much as I love carbs in all shapes and forms—I’ve hardly met one that didn’t agree with me—I had some issues to work out before I tackled this particular loaf. Namely, a fear of yeast. And kneading. And failure. But I was hopeful that these phobias, much like my pie-related ones, would turn out to be easily conquered; the only solution was to jump right in and get my hands dirty.
Prior to this, my relevant experience was limited to Jim Lahey’s infamous no-knead bread, my mother’s challah, and, back in the day, one summer-camp foray into bread-in-a-bag baking, but with the selection of this light-wheat version, I’d unknowingly picked the perfect recipe for a novice.
Instant yeast precluded the need for proofing, the root cause of my yeast fear; the dry and wet ingredients all came together easily, with minimal kneading time; and even if the loaf had failed to rise, my apartment smelled so unbelievable that it almost wouldn’t have mattered. Almost. Because, if we’re being honest, I would’ve been bummed to mess up what turned out to be some fairly amazing bread.
It was all that I could do to let it cool for the recommended hour or two before digging in—I actually removed myself from the premises and went to the gym for the duration, knowing I wouldn’t be able to hold out that long. And, after I put in my time on the treadmill, I couldn’t even manage to snap more than one picture without taking a bite first.
As noted on Smitten Kitchen, this would be just the thing for sandwiches. I found that it’s great with nothing but a little bit of butter and jam, too, but when your appetite’s been primed with both exercise and the inimitable, all-encompassing aroma of freshly baked bread, it’s perhaps best when eaten on its own, still warm from the oven.
I’ll be working this into my weekly — or, let’s be realistic, semi-weekly — rotation, it was that easy, that good. In other words, a daydream come true.
Makes one two-pound loaf
2 1/2 cups (11.25 oz) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz.) whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons (.75 oz.) granulated sugar or honey
1 1/2 teaspoons (.38 oz.) salt
3 tablespoons (1 oz.) powdered milk*
1 1/2 teaspoons (.17 oz.) instant yeast
2 tablespoons (1 oz.) shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups (10 oz.) water, at room temperature
1. Stir together the high-gluten flour, whole-wheat flour, sugar (if using), salt, powdered milk, and yeast in a 4-quart mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the shortening, honey (if using), and water. Stir (or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment) until the ingredients form a ball. If there is still flour in the bottom of the bowl, dribble in additional water. The dough should feel soft and supple. It is better for it to be a little too soft that to be too stiff and tough.
2. Sprinkle high-gluten or whole-wheat flour on the counter, and transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook). Add more flour if needed to make a firm, supple dough that is slightly tacky but not sticky. Kneading should take about 10 minutes (6 minutes by machine). The dough should pass the windowpane test and registers 77 to 81 degrees F. Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
3. Ferment at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
4. Remove the dough from the bowl and press it by hand into a rectangle about 3/4 inch thick, 6 inches wide, and 8 to 10 inches long. Form it into a loaf by working from the short side of the dough, rolling up the length of the dough one section at a time, pinching the crease with each rotation to strengthen the surface tension. It will spread wider as you roll it. Pinch the final seam closed with the back edge of your hand or with your thumbs. Place the loaf in a lightly oiled 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch bread pan; the ends of the loaf should touch the ends of the pan to ensure an even rise. Mist the top with spray oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap.
5. Proof at room temperature for approximately 60 to 90 minutes, or until the dough crests above the lip of the pan.
6. Preheat the oven to 350°F with the oven rack on the middle shelf.
7. Place the bread pan on a sheet pan and bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue baking for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the oven. The finished loaf should register 190 degrees F in the center, be golden brown on the top and the sides, and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
8. When the bread is finished baking, remove it immediately from the loaf pan and cool it on a rack for at least 1 hour, preferably 2 hours, before slicing or serving.