It took 10 attempts to get this recipe right, maybe more. Weekend after weekend, I’d try a new idea that showed promise, but then I’d end up with heavy, dense loaves that ended up feeding the birds in the yard; sometimes, even they were disgusted by the results, and those yeasty bricks would languish outside, sad and untouched. I’d set my sights high. I wanted an all-wheat loaf, no refined flour, that was as soft as commercially made sandwich bread. Every step and every ingredient here gets you to that place—nothing is arbitrary. The vital wheat gluten, which helps the structure of the bread, is vital indeed. Whole-grain flours contain little shards of bran—healthy but not great for bread structure. They’re like little razors that cut all the nice gluten strands you typically try to create in the dough. The vital wheat gluten helps combat this and gives the dough the necessary elasticity. When I finally pulled two beautifully risen, golden brown loaves from the oven, it looked like I had my recipe. But the real measure of success came when I sliced into the cooled loaves and gave my kids a slice. “It tastes like bread from the grocery store, but a lot better,” they said. Then I knew I’d nailed it. One important tip: The dough responds best to a very warm proofing environment. If your oven has a “bread proofing” setting, use it. Otherwise, you can preheat your oven for 1 to 2 minutes, and then turn it off to create the needed warmth. You can also place a bowl of boiling water in the oven with the dough as it rises; re-boil water in the microwave halfway through rising time.This recipe yields 2 loaves—enough to serve your family’s needs for the week (or possibly longer). To ensure freshness, freeze a loaf: slice it, wrap stacks of 4 slices in plastic wrap, and tuck into a large zip-top freezer bag. Thaw a packet at room temperature, and enjoy. With the other loaf, slice off only what you need each time, and store the loaf, cut side down, loosely wrapped in a paper bag.
How to Make It
Weigh or lightly spoon flour into dry measuring cups; level with a knife. Combine 14.25 ounces (about 3 cups) flour, 2 cups water, and lemon juice in the bowl of a stand mixer, stirring well. Cover and let stand at room temperature 3 hours to hydrate flour.
Dissolve 1 tablespoon honey and yeast in 1/4 cup warm water; let stand 20 minutes or until very bubbly.
Stir remaining honey and 2 tablespoons butter into hydrated flour mixture. Stir in yeast mixture. Combine 14.25 ounces (about 3 cups) flour, vital wheat gluten, and salt, stirring with a whisk. Add flour mixture to yeast mixture; mix on low speed with dough hook until just combined. Mix on low speed 11 to 13 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic.
Place dough in a large bowl coated with cooking spray, turning to coat top. Cover and let stand in a warm place (85° to 95°F), free from drafts, about 2 hours.
Turn dough out onto a work surface (try not to use extra flour here; I didn’t need any); fold dough in half 4 times. Divide dough in half. Pat each half into a 12 x 9–inch rectangle-oval shape. Roll up dough tightly jelly-roll style, starting with a short side; pinch ends and seams to seal. Place each dough roll, seam side down, in an 8 x 4–inch loaf pan coated with cooking spray. Coat dough with cooking spray; cover loosely with a damp towel or plastic wrap coated with cooking spray. Let rise about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes or until loaves rise and crest a couple of inches above rim of pans.
Preheat oven to 350°F.
Uncover loaves, and bake at 350°F for 20 minutes; shield loaves loosely with foil. Bake an additional 20 minutes or until browned on top and loaves sound hollow when tapped. Insert a thermometer into center of each loaf; you want it to be 190° to 200°F.
Cool in pans on a wire rack 15 minutes. Remove from pans; brush tops with 1 1/2 tablespoons butter. Cool completely before slicing.
Executive Editor at Cooking Light, Ann Pittman, explores whole grain's all-around awesomeness in her new book, Everyday Whole Grains: 175 Recipes from Amaranth to Wild Rice. This complete guide to healthy, hearty, and incredibly versatile whole grains includes something for everyone and offers innovative new techniques to ensure the most flavorful results. From simple, delicious sides to satisfying mains and sublime desserts, this James Beard Award-winning author educates, inspires and does not disappoint. Discover a whole new way of looking at whole grains, how they are prepared, and how they can be incorporated into a healthy diet at every meal.
Also appeared in: Oxmoor House, March, 2016,Everyday Whole Grains: 175 Recipes from Amaranth to Wild Rice