Wednesday, December 19

No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread

For years I had been in love with the idea of baking my own bread, but it just seemed like so much work. The proofing and the kneading and the rising--who had time for that? But then I discovered a wonderful little book called Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day. That book changed my life! The authors had spent a good deal of time experimenting with bread recipes to determine which steps could be omitted, and became the founders of the no-knead bread movement that's become popular recently. And since discovering the technique, I have completely given up store-bought bread and never looked back.

Of course, when our family made the switch to whole wheat, I immediately dived into their second book, Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day, but alas, those recipes lacked the simplicity of their original Master Recipe. They were still no-knead recipes, but most contained added ingredients meant to offset the addition of whole grains to the dough. What made the original Master Recipe so beautiful to me (in addition to almost no work being involved) was that it was only four ingredients: water, yeast, salt, and flour.

And so, being unafraid of baking experiments, I began playing around with substituting whole wheat in the original recipe. Since whole wheat flour absorbs more liquid than all-purpose flour, I reduced the amount of flour to keep the bread from being too dry. I also increased the amount of yeast since whole wheat flour is heavier than all-purpose flour and needs more help to "rise." And I used white whole wheat flour instead of traditional whole wheat, simply because it has a milder flavor--somewhere between white flour and traditional whole wheat.

The result? A wonderfully tasty bread that is my new favorite breakfast. It is just perfect topped with a bit of butter.

Tips for Baking Bread
Sift the flour. This is probably the most important thing you can do for your bread dough. Sifting incorporates air into the dough, which will help the yeast give rise to the bread, which in turn results in a fluffier loaf. Trust me, this is not a step you want to skip! If you don't believe me, I challenge you to make it once without sifting and once with sifting. You'll notice the difference.

Use warm (but not hot) water. Warm water wakes up all those little yeast granules so they can get started producing carbon dioxide to make your dough rise. If you start out with water that is too cold, you won't get much rise, but water that is too hot will kill the yeast. My rule of thumb is if the water feels comfortably warm to the touch, that's the perfect temperature.

Let the dough rise in a warm place. Again, the yeast needs to be kept at a warm temperature in order to stay active. If the room is too cold, your dough may not rise much. I've read that 70 degrees is the perfect room temperature for bread to rise. That's about where we keep our thermostat set during the day anyway, but on cold days I'll often leave it to rise near a warm oven.

No-Knead Whole Wheat Bread
3 cups warm water
2 tbsp granulated yeast
1 tbsp salt
5 1/2 cups white whole wheat flour
1. Mix the water, yeast, and salt in a large bowl. Yeast may not dissolve completely.

2. Sift the flour, then add to yeast mixture. Stir with a wooden spoon to combine, but do not knead.
3. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until double in size (about 2-5 hours, depending on the temperature of the room). Punch down dough, then allow to rise until double in size again.
4. Grease and flour two 9-inch loaf pans. Scoop out half the dough and quickly shape it into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Drop the loaf into a prepared pan. Repeat with the other half of the dough and second loaf pan. Allow the dough to rest until double in size one more time, about 40-60 minutes.
5. Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Flour the top of each loaf and slash down the middle lengthwise, using the tip of a serrated knife. Place the loaves on a rack near the center of the oven. Bake for 35 minutes, or until deeply browned and firm. Remove loaves from the pans and allow to cool completely before slicing. 
Yield: 2 loaves, 18 slices each Calories per serving: 60 cal per slice

Making Ahead of Time
While the Artisan Bread in 5 masterminds recommend refrigerating unbaked bread dough for up to two weeks, I do not recommend that with this recipe. Aging the dough in such a way encourages sourdough flavors to develop, which does not go well with the whole wheat flavor (I've tried).

If you'd like to make this recipe ahead of time, I'd recommend making it from start to finish and then freezing the finished bread. It can then be thawed on a kitchen counter at room temperature, or in the microwave. If thawing in the microwave, wrap the bread in damp paper towels and use your microwave's defrost setting for 1.5 pounds.

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