Earlier this year, I committed to myself that I would not repeat a recipe that I had previously done, as a way of getting out of what felt like a rut. But since then, I have baked almost nothing, and indeed I haven’t done much complicated cooking either. Part of that is because my dishwasher has been malfunctioning since the winter, and I’ve been lazy about getting it fixed or replaced, but a bigger part of it has been that I’ve been quite frankly getting rather fat. Nothing discourages the creation of tasty baked goods quite like stepping on the scale and being unable to comprehend why the number is so much higher than it was three months (or worse, three years) ago. That said, I do have one new baking experience to share, although I have less to say about it than I usually do.
Expecting bad weather all this week, I decided to make a whole-wheat sandwich bread. I had printed out a recipe by Andrew Janjigian from Cook’s Illustrated‘s March/April 2011 issue (on the web, $); the same recipe was also featured on America’s Test Kitchen TV S12E13, “Soup and Bread from Scratch”. (I’m not sure why I printed this recipe out, since I own every issue of the magazine going back to 2006, but it was handy to have as a reminder — otherwise I would probably have just gotten my usual supermarket whole-wheat bread.)
It was an interesting experience, to say the least. The recipe requires three separate wheat ingredients: bread flour, whole-wheat flour, and wheat germ, and dirties a rather large number of bowls: the bread flour is used to make a traditional pre-ferment, but the whole-wheat flour and wheat germ are combined with milk, kneaded, and allowed to soak overnight — then the whole mass is combined together the following day with large quantities of butter, yeast, and salt to form a very wet, sticky dough, which must be kneaded by machine, proofed, kneaded some more, proofed some more, divided in half, shaped (while still extremely sticky), bench proofed, and finally baked off in a steam-filled oven on top of a baking stone. The online version of the recipe text did not even hint at how wet and sticky the dough would be, although I suspect the television version (which I would have seen in 2012) would have done so. I ended up adding about an extra half-cup of flour just to make the dough manageable — fresh out of the first mixing stage it was practically a batter. With all that fat (there’s also some veg oil), flour, and sugar (honey) it makes a very soft and very high-calorie bread, probably better suited to French toast than the sort of sandwiches I can afford to eat when the weather doesn’t allow for bike commuting. I also found it difficult to divide the dough evenly — should have used my scale! — so I ended up with one loaf pan overflowing and one rather undersized after the bench proof.
Overall? It’s good enough, but just comparing the amount of work required to proof, handle, shape, and clean up after this recipe, it’s not enough better than my own whole-wheat bread recipe to justify the extra effort. (On the other hand, the wheat germ is perishable so I may end up making it again a few times, cutting it in half to reduce the bowl-cleaning effort.) And because this bread is so soft, portion control (without a commercial slicing machine) is a complete nightmare. For this reason I’m not providing nutrition information.