Since time immemorial, humans have made, eaten and celebrated bread, in its many forms and flavours. Convenient and filling in a modern, busy world, bread has unfortunately become a victim of industrialisation and mass-processing.
For an independent household, it can be incredibly satisfying and delicious to make your own bread.
But while I love the slow rhythms of kneading, rising, shaping, rising and baking, I rarely have time for it during the week – which is when I find my family eats it in the most. So here is a quicker option, adapted for baking in the evening before or after the supper rush, ready for breakfast, lunchboxes and take-to-work meals. And if you bake the loaf in the oven straight after making supper, you will save energy that would otherwise be required to preheat the oven for baking bread.
Wholewheat Sandwich Loaf
Adapted from Myrtle Allen’s Brown Bread recipe, in James Beard’s Beard on Bread.
Yield: 1 loaf
Time: two hours and five minutes, plus one hour to cool the loaf
Measuring by weight is much more accurate than volume, so use a scale if you have one.
645g (4 ½ cups) wholewheat flour
510ml water, skin temperature (test a couple drops on your inner arm)
18g fresh yeast or 6g (1 ½ t) instant dry yeast
12g (1 ½ t) fine sea salt
33g (1 ½ T) molasses, treacle or honey
1 T butter, softened
Grease the inside of a loaf tin (1.5 litre capacity) generously with the butter.
Combine the flour, salt and instant yeast (if using) in a large bowl.
In another bowl or measuring jug, combine the water with the fresh yeast (if using), stirring with a spoon or your (clean!) fingers until it dissolves. Add the molasses, treacle or honey to the water, and stir to mix. Add the liquids to the dry ingredients, stirring until well combined.
If you are adding grains or seeds (see Add-ins below), add them now.
Transfer the dough to the greased loaf tin. To prevent the dough drying out, cover the entire tin with an upturned large tupperware or bowl with a couple centimetre’s clearance, and leave in a warm place to rise. Set a timer for forty minutes.
After setting the timer, position an oven rack in the bottom half of the oven, and place your baking stone or terracotta tile on it, if you have one. Remove all other racks. Turn on your oven to 200 degrees Celsius to preheat.
When the timer goes off, place a metal or cast iron oven-proof dish on the floor of the oven to heat up. Ten minutes later, boil one cup of water. Remove the cover from your bread. Sprinkle with untoasted seeds or oats, if desired. Gently place in the oven, on the baking stone or directly on the rack. Pour about half a cup of the boiling water into the dish on the oven floor (watch out for steam!), and quickly shut the oven door. Turn the temperature down to 180 degrees Celsius. Set your timer for ten minutes.
When the timer goes, rotate the loaf tin and quickly shut the door. Set the timer for 25 minutes.
The loaf of bread should be pulling away slightly from the sides of the tin. Remove from the oven, and shut the oven door to retain heat. Gently slide a blunt-ended knife around the bread loaf to loosen it, and gently shake it out of the tin.
Using a towel or oven gloves, place the loaf directly on the rack in the oven, and bake for another twenty minutes. Carefully lift the loaf and flick a finger against its base. It should feel crisp, and make a hollow sound.
Bake for a further five minutes and check again if not.
When done, return the bread to the oven, close the door and turn the oven off. Leave for ten minutes to finish crisping, then remove and cool on a rack for an hour before eating. It slices more easily the cooler it is.
To store, wrap the loaf in a clean dish towel when completely cool, and place in a close-fitting, sealed container. It should stay fresh for 24 to 48 hours.
Otherwise freeze it, already sliced. It can go straight into the toaster frozen, for particularly delicious toast.
Customise your loaf with grains and seeds, by adding them directly to the dough. The more you add, the denser the finished loaf, so start off with ¼ cup of the larger grains, or 2 TBS of the seeds per loaf, and experiment from there.
Add the following directly to the dough, or lightly toast first: Poppy seed, sesame seed, wheatgerm, flaxseed, millet.
Soak the following in cold water for several hours, then drain before adding: sunflower seeds, oat flakes, quinoa.
Boil until tender, drain and cool the following before adding to the dough: kamut, oat kernels, barley, wheat kernels, bulgur.
Bread by Jeffrey Hamelman explains the science, techniques and gives recipes for almost 100 sourdough, rye, pre-fermented, enriched and decorative breads. English Bread and Yeast Cookery and James Beard’s Beard on Bread are both classics, and make for lovely reading. Be ready to adjust Beard’s recipes though – he’s a bit generous with both the salt and sugar for modern palates! `