The warm, crusty, smell, the tantalizing taste and oh! the sense of joy that fills you is nothing short of awesome. I know! I am waxing poetic but baking bread gives you a wholesome satisfaction that is indescribable.
Baking takes immense patience, in fact more than other methods of cooking and a lot, I mean a lot of practice. And baking Bread takes triple that effort. Dessert Chefs will tell you, “I bake cakes not bread, thats an entirely different area.”
It is science and magic all rolled into one. Flour, yeast, salt and water combine to to make this chewy, crunchy, hypnotic and orgasmic delight. A marvel and one of the oldest and treasured food form across the world.
I am not a intuitive baker. Sure, I know all the basics, have read the science behind it and I bake decent enough (I can see my friends rolling their eyes at my modesty), but, baking is one area that I always feel inadequate. There are simply too many factors involved in it. Proper temperature, the right amount of liquid to flour ratio, altitude, humidity, type and quality of oven etc etc…
So what do you do when the recipe says, proof your dough for 30 minutes but your bread still turns out undercooked or hard or just not like bread? You learn the essential signs.
Like, when to bake the loaf? It should proof up, more than almost double the volume of the dough you mixed. This can take from 30 minutes to 2 hours or more depending on the temperature and humidity in your kitchen.
Second, if you think the dough had more than doubled in size, with a floured hand, press the center gently, there should be slight resistance. if there too much resistance, the dough has over proofed, and you should bake immediately.
Third, when you press your index finger gently on the dough, it should make an impression that will slowly disappear.
Now you are ready to bake.
This recipe for Whole Wheat Honey Loaf (the basic recipe is Duff Goldman’s from Charm City Cakes, to which I have added my two cents), is something that I have made five times with additions and deletions, before I learnt all its tricks. And I have tried various other recipes numerous times before I landed on this one.
A perfect loaf is when you have a dark golden, hard exterior, a hollow sound when tapped, and a chewy interior with irregular holes (the holes wont be large like a sourdough bread, this is a denser bread). Patience, patience and more patience is the key. Do not give up if you don’t get it right the first time. My chef instructor at Culinary school once told me once that, he went through an entire 10LB bag of flour before he baked that perfect loaf.
The recipe calls for combination of Whole Wheat flour with Bread flour (flour made from hard wheat) or high protein flour like soy, garbanzo or buckwheat flour (I like Bread flour the best, the other flours will give you a more dense loaf). High protein in the flour increases the capacity of the dough to form gluten that gives the bread its chewy goodness.
Whole Wheat Honey Loaf
What do I need? – Ingredients
- 3 Tablespoon or 3 sachets of Active Dry Yeast
- 1/2 Cup of Honey or Molasses
- 1 Tablespoon Malt Extract, Optional (replace 1 tablespoon of honey from the recipe.)
- 1 Cup Whole Milk, Warmed (The temperature should be lukewarm not hot, should not exceed 90F)
- 2 Tablespoon Salt
- Pinch of Sugar
- 1/2 Stick (1/4 Cup) Butter or 1/2 Cup Vegetable Oil (Add an extra tablespoon of water if using oil)
- 5 Cups Bread Flour or high protein flour plus more as needed
- 4 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
Butter and Sugar Wash – 3 Tablespoons melted butter + 1/2 teaspoon sugar
- Nice to have but not needed – Kitchen Aid mixer or similar, Kitchen scale
- Essential – a working Oven
Now lets make this! – Procedure
- Whisk to combine together, yeast, honey (and malt if using), pinch of sugar, 2 cups of warm water (again not hot, it should be lukewarm, not more than 90F or it will kill the yeast) and 1 cup lukewarm milk in a large bowl or bowl of the heavy duty mixer (like Kitchen Aid). Allow the mixture to rest, about 7 to 10 minutes till it is bubbly and creamy on top. Note: Add a tablespoon of extra water if using oil in the next step
- Whisk in salt and butter or oil.
- Kneading the Dough – With a Heavy Duty Mixer – fitted with a dough hook, speed on low, add the flours and mix till you get a sticky dough. Increase the speed to medium and knead till the dough starts to become somewhat smooth and elastic about 7 minutes. Increase it to high and knead for 2 minutes. The dough will still be a little sticky even after proper and sufficient kneading.By Hand – add the flours and mix till you get a sticky dough. Turn out the dough on to a floured surface (use all purpose flour for flouring the surface, you can use your clean wooden cutting board too if its large enough or your counter). Knead the dough until somewhat smooth and elastic. The dough will still be a little sticky even after proper and sufficient kneading. The mixer is easier but this method is a lot of fun, a lot of arm exercise and so rustic!
- First Rise – Oil a big bowl (use the same bowl you used if you mixed the dough by hand) and place the dough in it. The bowl should be big enough for the dough to double in size. Tightly wrap the bowl with plastic wrap and place it on top of the refrigerator for the first rise.
- Second Rise – After 1.5 to 2 hours, after the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, wrap the bowl again tightly and allow it to rise again, till it doubles in size. The time for this rise will be shorter than the first rise as dough when you punch it down wont deflate completely.
- Shaping time – After the dough has doubled in size again, you can divide it and shape it. I divided it into 3 equal parts using a kitchen scale to weigh it or you can eyeball it. Shape each part into a round or elongated boule. Prep 3 sheet pans with parchment paper and dust with flour or cornmeal. Place one loaf on each sheet. Let it rise again on top of the refrigerator for about 30 minutes till doubled in size.
- Preheat the oven to 350F. If you are using the pizza stone, preheat it to 375F. The pizza stone gives the bottom of the loaf a nice dark color.
- Brush the loaves generously and gently with the butter and sugar wash. If you are using the pizza stone in regular sized oven, it will hold only two loaves at a time, so prep only what you slide into the oven. Keep the other loaves covered with a kitchen cloth so that the top does not dry out.
- With a sharp knife, score the loaves with two 3/4 inch deep slashes. You can even make a an “X”.
- Slide the three pans in to the oven. if you are using a pizza stone, slide the parchment onto the stone.
- Bake for 30 minutes or until dark brown and sounds hollow when you tap the top. The bottom will be dark brown too. The time to bake will vary according to the oven. Start checking after 20 minutes. It might take longer than for other ovens. And if you eyeballed the size, then cooking time for the loaves will differ.
- Take them out and brush with more butter-sugar mixture while they are still warm to give it a glaze.
- Important Step – Let them cool completely. Completely means over several hours till it reaches room temperature. Do not give into temptation and cut a slice. Patience again. After it sufficiently cools, slice and savor it.
Storage: Once cool, the bread can be kept in a brown paper bag wrapped in plastic wrap for a day or two. The Don’t store it in the refrigerator, the bread will become stale quickly and lose its characteristic taste. The loaves freeze well though, wrapped airtight for about a month. Bring it to room temperature before cutting in slices.
Note: Be patient and let the bread cool. Don’t slice into it immediately. The bread is still cooking even after you take it out of the oven. The cooling process lets the starch settle and the water molecules move outward, evenly, toward the crust. Slice into it before it cools and the bread will be gummy and the edges undercooked. All your hard work will go to waste. I have done that and its not a good experience. Thats why, now I bake them at night before going to sleep, to avoid that temptation.
Serving Suggestion: With butter and jam of course. They also make excellent sandwiches.