on bread alone
It’s frustrating that something so simple — something that people ate in biblical times — can not be easily created in my kitchen. It’s probable that baking a loaf of bread is trying even in a kitchen this isn’t 5,280 feet above sea level. It has to ferment, and proof, and rise – and after all that work you’re supposed to punch that dough right in the kisser? Really? No wonder that bread doesn’t want to bake…it’s totally stressed out.
I’ve had issues with all sorts of baked goods at high altitude – cookies, pizza dough, shortbread. When I took on the task of baking homemade whole wheat bread, I am sure my subconscious knew that it’d probably go wrong. But I didn’t really want to admit to myself that it actually would go wrong.
The first attempt I made at whole wheat bread generated a rock. I mean, like, solid airless dough hardened in the oven. A rock. The dog didn’t even want to eat it. Failure.
Of course, my dear friend Smitten Kitchen references The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, a book that I’d willingly accept as a gift. I don’t necessarily know why this worked, but it did. Interestingly, the recipe calls for mixing the yeast in directly with the flour and then adding water. My biggest problem with my bread failure was that it just wouldn’t rise, which is silly because I’ve heard that the problem with baking yeast based goods at high altitude is that it rises too much and too quickly. Alas, not for me which is why I probably ended up with that boulder in my oven. So, to insure rising, I heated my oven to 170 degrees and then turned it off. I covered my bowl o’ dough with a dish towel and let it rise for 90 minutes in the warm, draft-free oven. Holy smokes, the thing tripled in size. This was so much fun that I think I might just always bake homemade bread. Here’s the recipe:
Light Wheat Bread
*note: this is originally called for powdered milk. I did’t have it, thus I didn’t use it…
Makes one two-pound loaf
2 1/2 cups unbleached bread flour
1 1/2 cups whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar or honey ( I used both 🙂 )
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons unsalted butter
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature
1. Stir together the bread flour, whole-wheat flour, sugar, salt, and yeast in a 4-quart mixing bowl (or in the bowl of an electric mixer). Add the butter, honey, 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 bread flour on the counter, and transfer the dough to the counter, and begin kneading (or mix on medium speed with the dough hook *I used the dough hook because it is AWESOME). 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). Preheat oven to 170 degrees and then turn it off. Cover bowl with a dish towel and let sit in the oven.
3. Ferment in the oven 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 (as in, original recipe says 90 minutes.
6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees 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. If you want to use a meat thermometer to determine if your bread is done, it should register at about 190 degrees in the center.
8. Let cook for at least an hour before slicing.
I still think this bread was dense. It’s hard to make whole wheat bread that isn’t. Oh, but you say that bread you buy in the grocery store isn’t dense? Check the label. Bet you can’t pronounce half of what’s in it — gross! Nonetheless, it was a great bread with dinner, kinda like what you’d get at a restaurant with oil and vinegar…which was exactly how we ate it.