When my mom married my dad, they were both 19 years old. In 2014, they celebrated their 40th wedding anniversary and they love to laugh and say: “…and they said it would never last!” Forty years of determination earns joking rights. At 19, my mom did not know the first thing about cooking. My Grandma Salazar is and was an amazing cook, but the kitchen was HER territory, and with seven kids running amuck, I can’t say I blame her. That was probably her happy place. But the disadvantage was that my mom was about to head out into the world without any basic cooking skills. So, my grandma did a quick crash course on bread making. A skill my mom has totally perfected.
Now, decades later, my mom is one of the best cooks I know (universally agreed by everyone who has the privilege of eating at her table). I grew up with the aroma of fresh baked bread wafting through the house on a very regular basis. Lately, the bread baking seems to be the trick up her sleeve… We’ll walk in the house, and find her down in her basement studio, painting these gorgeous oil paintings, while we sniff the air and exclaim: “are you making bread?” Commence happy dance and rushing for the butter.
So last week, Sofia says with eight year old tact, “Mer (the name the grandkids call my mom) sure makes a lot more bread than you do… She’s always making bread. I love homemade bread.” Sheesh. It has been all kinds of crazy snowy here, so the following morning after another snow-delayed school start, I dropped her off promising fresh bread when she returned from school. I pulled out a bread cookbook that was a gift from my sweet friend Nicky several years ago. It arrived a couple weeks before I gave birth to my second child. Lovely book, but during those early childhood years, I just wasn’t baking much homemade bread…it was definitely an occasional thing. So, it’s been on a to-do list to bake through this book and now was finally the time to get started. I figured I’d begin with a general crowd-pleaser recipe- a light whole wheat. Good for you, falls in the peasant loaf category, but still appears “white” enough to excite the kids. What’s so fantastic about this recipe though (which is why I am sharing it) is that it develops this amazing crackling crust that is SO satisfying to bite into, but the inner crumb of the bread was spot on “custard crumb.” It’s been slathered in butter, made into PBJs, cut into thick slices for a simple “Brotzeit” dinner of bread, meats, cheeses, and provided general homemade bread euphoria. I think Sofia ate nearly half of the first loaf just seconds after I finished shooting it!
Light Whole Wheat Bread
recipe from Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day by Jeff Hertzberg & Zoë François
Note: This recipe is all about the super moist bread dough! This dough will not, in any way, resemble those heavy bread doughs that require kneading and are easily handled. This bread dough will be sticky, conform to your bowl, and when you start to panic because it’s hard to handle, remain calm. This just means you have the perfect dough, then reach for your flour to give it another sprinkle to avoid ending up in bread dough vs. baker wrestling tournament. The wet dough allows very little resistance to the expansion of air bubbles created by the yeast, resulting in this amazingly perfect crumb. Also, because the dough is so moist, it will caramelize beautifully while baking which gives you that nice old world crust of rustic peasant loaves. Recipe makes about 3.5 pounds or so of bread… I split mine into 2 one pound round loaves on a baking sheet, and one 1.5 pound loaf in the loaf pan. Feel free to half the recipe or double it! If you do want to use a loaf pan, be SURE that it has a non-stick coating and also oil the pan first or this dough will definitely stick to the pan (a promise from the authors).
Edit on Feb. 22nd, 2016: a year of baking this bread and I have decided that if you are at high altitude, you need to cut the yeast to use just 1 Tbsp. total. Also, dusting and slashing after you have formed your loaves but before the second rise has better results at high altitude as well.
- 3 cups lukewarm water
- 1 and 1/2 TBSP granulated yeast
- 1 and 1/2 TBSP salt
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 5 and 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- Whole wheat flour or cornmeal to scatter on the baking sheet
- Mix the yeast and salt with the water in a 5-quart bowl (I used my Kitchen Aid mixer with the dough hook to do everything).
- Mix in the remaining dry ingredients, on low-ish speed. You can do this all by hand with a wooden spoon, but will likely require a full body massage to work out the kinks the next day unless you are already a beast with hand-mixing bread dough.
- Cover with a flour cloth or dish cloth and allow to rest at room temperature until the dough rises and collapses (or flattens on top). Approximately 2 hours. When it’s 6ºF outside, somehow my bread is super slow to rise even in the warm house, so I always preheat my oven to 200ºF, then turn off the heat and let the dough sit in the open (crack the door a few inches) oven to rise.
- The dough can be used immediately (with the following steps) after the initial rise OR refrigerate in a lidded (but not airtight) container and use over the next two weeks.
- When you are ready to bake, dust the surface of the dough with flour and cut off a 1 pound (or so) piece…about the size of a large grapefruit. Dust the piece with more flour 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. Allow to rest on a pizza stone or baking sheet that is scattered with whole wheat flour or cornmeal for about 40 minutes. The loaves will rise again just a bit.
- Twenty minutes before baking time, preheat oven to 450ºF. Sprinkle the loaf/loaves liberally with flour and slash a cross, scallop, or tic-tac-toe pattern into the top of the loaf/loaves.
- Place a 8×8 pan of about 1 cup of hot water on the lowest rack in the oven.
- Place bread in oven and bake for about 35 minutes, until deeply browned and firm. An odd trick: you will know it’s done when you knock on the crust and it sounds rather hollow inside. If you make larger or smaller loaves, you will need to adjust the time accordingly.
- Now here’s the kicker: “allow to cool before slicing and eating.” WHAT? But yes…you’ll destroy your gorgeous loaves if you just whip them out of the oven and start slicing. Give them a good 10 minutes to rest, and even then they will still be quite warm, but you’ll manage to avoid squashing them to death and ruining the crumb if you wait a bit. Or if you are a total oak, just wait a half hour before slicing. More power to you if you are that patient!