Half Whole Wheat Bread Recipe for Two Loaves
I have always enjoyed making bread, but being pregnant and REALLY LOVING good bread, I found that the store bought stuff wasn’t quite cutting it most of the time. I used to have a bread machine but never really liked how the bread turned out. Also, deep down I thought it was cheating maybe if I didn’t knead the bread myself for twenty minutes. However, I learned from one of my favorite bakers--Vince at Sure to Rise Bakery, in Cashmere, WA--that the standing mixer makes as good of loaves as any, so I busted out the KitchenAid and haven’t looked back since. I always make two loaves at a time now. It’s just as easy as one if your mixer can handle it, and you can gift or freeze the second loaf if you won’t eat it. This is not usually a problem for us. If you don't have a standing mixer or prefer to knead (it's good for the soul!), it just takes more time and elbow grease--hats off to you my friend!
I personally love the taste of bread with some whole wheat in it, but have yet to find the right recipe for making my own perfect 100% whole wheat loaf. Also, Jim likes white bread--and making the bread 50/50 is I suppose the ultimate definition of a good marital compromise. I will keep trying on the whole wheat, though, and maybe I will nail it sometime and then we all win. If you prefer all white bread, just substitute more bread flour (or all-purpose) for the whole wheat in this recipe--you may need just a smidge more of the all-purpose than you would whole wheat. And always store your whole wheat flour in the fridge to preserve its freshness.
Half Whole Wheat Bread
--adapted from America's Test Kitchen and Ina Garten
(makes two loaves)
--6 T butter
--1/2 c. water
--1 1/2 c. milk (I use whole, but you could sub 2%, 0%, buttermilk, or water here)
--3 t instant yeast (I like the SAF brand)
--1 1/2 T honey
--1 egg (if you don't want to use any egg, just add 1/4 c more water/milk)
--1 T kosher salt
--2.5 c bread flour
--2.5-3.5 c whole wheat flour
— (optional) 2 T vital wheat gluten
Put the water on to boil. Cut the butter in pieces and place in the bottom of the bowl of a standing mixer. Pour 1/2 c. boiling water over the butter and stir to melt butter. Stir in honey and milk and sprinkle yeast over top. Turn machine on low using the dough hook attachment, and let it stir for a minute or two, then add the egg and continue stirring. Add the bread flour and the salt and mix on medium low for a few minutes until all the flour disappears, scraping the sides of the bowl with a rubber spatula to mix in all flour pockets. Add the whole wheat flour while the machine is going, one cup at a time or so, waiting until each previous addition is mixed in before adding the next. You want the dough to be still moist, but not sticking to the sides of the bowl--the perfect degree of tackiness is where the bowl will be totally clean and the dough is in a ball with part of it "climbing" up the mixer. If the dough is just sticking to the sides with the hook mushing around in the middle of it, add more flour (you can use all bread flour or a mix of the two), a little at a time, scraping the sides and bottom of the bowl, until it pulls into a ball. Knead with the hook on medium speed for 4-6 minutes, until it forms a nice round ball. If for some reason your dough is really dry and stiff, you can add a TINY bit more water or milk, a very little bit at a time, until the dough loosens a bit.
****If kneading by hand--follow all the above instructions using a large bowl, stirring with a wooden spoon and scraping with a rubber spatula until the dough starts to come together into a ball. Dump the shaggy mass out onto the floured counter and knead, gradually adding the remaining flour called for in the recipe. Knead for ten to fifteen minutes, adding as little flour as possible, and trying to use quick touches and quick scrapes of the counter to keep the dough from sticking rather than flour. If you are persistent, you can turn a sticky mess into a nice dough just with kneading as the flour develops its gluten strands and absorbs the water. With a bit of practice you'll start to know your dough and be able to just turn your brain off and enjoy the magical art (and free therapy) of kneading bread dough. :) Continue with the rest of the recipe!*****
A good rule of thumb for dough is you want to be able to press your finger or palm in it quickly and pull back without the dough sticking, but if you leave it there for a longer amount of time (long enough for the warmth of your skin to warm the dough) it starts to stick. Also, you want it to feel springy and "alive," as if you were feeling your earlobe. And then there’s the infamous “windowpane” test where if you stretch a small piece of the dough, you should almost be able to see through it like a little doughy windowpane.
Knead the dough on the counter by hand for thirty seconds or so, then lightly oil or butter the mixing bowl and place the dough back in, turning once to oil the top. Cover with plastic wrap or a plastic bag pulled tight, and let sit in a warm, draft-free place to rise for an hour or two until doubled in size.
Punch down the dough and knead into a ball on the counter, then divide into two halves. Grab each half and pinch the bottom while rolling on its side repeatedly, a pinch with each roll, to make each half into a smooth-topped ball (picture below). Flip over, smooth side down, then punch the balls into rough square shapes with your knuckles. Starting at the top corner of each square, roll the top inch or so down and flatten gently with the heel of your hand as you roll, then roll and flatten the next section, repeating until the whole square is rolled into a log (see picture below). Gently press each loaf, seam-side down, into oiled loaf pans. Cover with plastic (or better, slide each pan into a plastic bag, then blow into the bag to inflate a bit, and twist the opening and pin against a wall to hold), and let rise another 30 minutes to an hour or so, until each loaf crests the side of the pan, depending on how warm your house is. Partway through this rise, preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Bake the loaves for 35-45 minutes--rotating front to back and side to side after about twenty minutes, being VERY GENTLE so as not to startle the loaves and undo all of the hard rising work of the yeasties--or until the tops are dark brown and the loaves sound hollow when you tap the top with your fingertips. Let cool for 3-5 minutes in the pan (if you leave them in there too much longer they will get soggy bottoms!) and then flip carefully into an oven mitt and place on a cooling rack.
Slice and enjoy!