A loaf of whole wheat bread is a wonderful thing. Slices have a chewy texture with a deep nutty flavor, perfect for a tunafish sandwich or an afternoon snack spread with peanut butter. Here is my favorite recipe to make at home. Whole wheat breads have a reputation for difficulty, some of which is well-deserved. Whole wheat flour contains very little gluten, so recipes with a lot of whole wheat tend be dense and crumbly. Additionally, the flour itself has microscopically sharp edges that can actually cut through existing gluten strands while you're kneading. Talk about a double-whammy!
Don't be disheartened. Using a portion of all-purpose flour in the recipe helps give loaves the structure they need. I prefer a 50:50 blend of the two flours. Letting the dough rest for a few minutes before kneading also gives the flours time to absorb the liquid and makes the dough easier to work with. Adding milk and a little oil keeps the dough supple and soft, while a few spoonfuls of honey compliment the earthy flavor of the whole wheat.
If you'd like a loaf with a higher proportion of whole wheat, I'd suggest making this recipe as it's written first. Then in subsequent batches, gradually cut back the all-purpose flour and add more whole wheat flour until you reach the balance of flavor, texture, and nutrition that you prefer.
Basic Whole Wheat Bread
Makes two 9x5 loaves
1 cup (8 oz) warm (not hot) water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 cup (8 oz) milk - whole, 2%, or skim
1/4 cup (3 oz) honey
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 3/4 cups (13 3/4 oz) all-purpose flour, plus extra for kneading
2 3/4 cups (13 3/4 oz) whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon salt
Pour the water into the bowl of a standing mixer and sprinkle the yeast over top. Let this stand for a few minutes until the yeast has dissolved. Stir in the milk, honey, and oil.
Add two cups of all-purpose flour and the salt, and stir to combine the ingredients. Add the rest of the all-purpose and whole wheat flours. Stir to form a shaggy dough. Let this stand for 20 minutes to give the flour time to absorb the liquid.
Using the dough hook attachment on a standing mixer, knead the dough for 8-9 minutes. Alternatively, knead the dough by hand against the counter. If the dough is bubble-gum sticky against the sides of the bowl or the counter, add extra flour a tablespoon at a time until it is no longer sticky. The dough is kneaded when it is smooth, feels slightly tacky, forms a ball without sagging, and springs back when poked.
Clean out the mixing bowl and film it with a little oil. Form the dough into a ball and turn it in the bowl to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl and let the dough rise in a warm spot until nearly doubled in bulk, about 1 - 1 1/2 hours. This dough won't double quite as dramatically as other recipes, but the dough should look visibly puffed.
Sprinkle a little flour on the counter and turn the dough out on top. Divide the dough in two and shape each half into a loose ball. Let the balls rest for 10 minutes.
Grease two loaf pans or film them with non-stick cooking spray. Shape each ball of dough into a loaf (see this tutorial for step-by-step instructions) and transfer to the loaf pans. It's important that the surface of the loaves be stretched taut; this helps them rise and prevents an overly-dense interior. Let the loaves rise a second time until they start to dome over the edge of the pan, 30-40 minutes.
Heat the oven to 425°F about halfway through the second rise.
Slash the tops of the loaves with a serrated knife and put them in the oven. Immediately turn down the heat to 375°F and bake for 30-35 minutes. Finished loaves will be dark golden-brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Remove the loaves from the pans and let them cool completely before slicing.
Loaves will keep at room temperature for several days. Loaves can also be wrapped in foil and plastic, and frozen for up to three months.
(Image: Emma Christensen)