To be perfectly honest, I am really more of an artisanal bread person. I swoon over a chewy yet crisp ciabatta, or a thick slice from a rustic boule. But I’m no bread elitist. I am not blind to the pleasures of American-style sandwich bread. It’s soft, moist even crumb is perfect for toasting, and the delicate, yielding texture is ideal for sandwiches (especially those spreadable classics of childhood– peanut butter, banana, jelly, nutella, honey). And from the occasional baker’s perspective, sandwich bread is a great, relatively low-hassle project. It really doesn’t need a starter, or a lot of specialized breadmaker’s equipment, and the loaves are done in a few hours.
So sandwich bread is cheap enough, right? Why go to the trouble of making your own? I can offer a few reasons: first and foremost is quality. I think this bread is much tastier than the bland grocery store loaves. The second is control of your ingredients– If you like to use organic ingredients, or want to have a lot of whole grains in your daily intake and don’t want the preservatives that come in grocery store loaves, you will do much better to make your own. I used oats as a main ingredient– I love the soft texture and wholesome oatiness that they give this loaf. I’ve also added a sponge to the more typical sandwich bread procedure which helps give the bread a more nuanced flavor. (If you’re a breadmaking novice, don’t worry– a sponge is just mixing some of the ingredients into a batter and letting it sit out for a while, easy!)
1 1/2 c. water (at room temperature)
1 1/2 c. whole wheat flour
1 T. + 1 t. yeast (do not use instant or fast acting yeast)
1 T. barley malt
2 1/2 c. oats
1 1/2 c. boiling water
3/4 c. milk, buttermilk or whey*
1/4 c. brown sugar
2 1/2 t. salt
5c. bread flour
1c. whole wheat flour
2 Loaves (14-16 slices each)
Prepare Loaf Pan:
Lightly butter two 9″ loaf pans and set aside.
Mix all ingredients together in a bowl, making sure that the barley malt has dissolved. Take your butter out of the fridge so that it will be at room temperature by the time you need to mix your dough.
Cover bowl with plastic wrap and leave to ferment at room temperature for one hour. After an hour the sponge should have roughly doubled in size and have lots of bubbles at the surface.
Bring the 1 1/2 cups of water to a boil. Meanwhile measure your oats and butter into a bowl (or the bowl of your stand mixer fitted with a dough hook if you are lucky enough to have one). Pour boiling water over the oats and leave them to stand for five minutes. Add the milk or whey and stir (you want to make sure to cool the mixture down before you add the yeast). Add the sponge, brown sugar and salt. Mix. Add the flours all at once and stir until the dough comes together.
If you are using a stand mixer begin mixing at low speed until the dough comes together. Increase the speed to medium and leave the dough to knead for 8-10 minutes. The dough should pull away from the sides of the mixing bowl. To knead by hand: work dough on a clean surface for 8-10 minutes. The dough should be smooth (apart from the oats) and springy. Try to avoid kneading a lot of extra flour into the dough when kneading on your counter. If the dough is sticking to the counter (it will, at first), use a scraper to gather stray scraps of dough back together. Then lightly dust the surface with flour. After a few minutes the dough should begin to hold together by itself and clean the counter as you knead.
Divide the dough into two equal portions. Cover with plastic wrap and let rest for 10 minutes. Stretch and press each piece of dough into a 9″x9″ square. Firmly roll the square up into a thick log and pinch the end of the dough to hold the roll together. Place loaves seam side down into the loaf pans. At this point you can brush the top of the loaves with a beaten egg and sprinkle with rolled oats for a completely optional but pretty oat crust.
Cover loaves loosely so they don’t dry out while they rise. I keep a couple of plastic shopping bags for this purpose, just put the whole loaf inside the bag and tuck the handles of the bag under the loaf pan. Leave the loaves out (preferably at a comfortable room temperature) to proof for 1-2 hours until they have puffed up to just fill the loaf pan. When you press one finger gently on the loaf it should feel spongy and leave a depression that slowly springs back into shape.
Pop the loaves into a 475F oven. Set a timer for 10 minutes and then decrease the temperature to 425F. Bake for an additional 30-40 minutes, rotating the loaves once. Loaves are fully cooked when the crusts are deep brown and make a hollow sound when you tap on them. Place the loaves on a rack to cool.
This bread is at its best when it is fresh. Cut off whatever you think you will use in two days and wrap loosely. Slice the rest of the loaf, wrap well and freeze. When you warm or toast the bread straight from the freezer it will taste like you just baked it.
*If you are addicted to strained yogurt, or have taken up the questionable habit of cheesemaking (future post, I promise!) then you have a lot of extra whey. Whey is great in bread, and it is a fantastic example of how to recover some goodness and nutrition and put it to good use in another dish.