A couple of Fridays ago, I found myself double-booked. I had been invited to two separate parties by two separate people on opposite sides of town. My friend Aley was celebrating her twenty-first birthday and my friends Matthew and Janet were having a housewarming party the same night. I couldn’t go to both. Aley has cats, and I’m a little allergic to them, so I was leaning towards the housewarming party, but as luck would have it I ended up not feeling well and didn’t go to either party. I wanted to make it up to them somehow, so I decided I’d bake bread. This recipe just happens to make two loaves.
This is Whisk Sandwich Bread, the wonderchild of Linda Watson of the website and e-cookbook series Cook for Good. I’m a big fan of Linda’s philosophies and attitudes about food, and her bread recipe is easy enough for beginners and tastes wonderful. This is a no-knead bread, meaning you don’t have to do any elaborate pounding or kneading of the dough, and you don’t need a bread machine. The downside is that you have to let the dough sit overnight in your fridge before baking it. It’s a fair trade-off, I think. The total active time needed is less than 30 minutes.
In a small saucepan over medium heat, bring 2/3 cup of 2% milk just to a boil.
When bubbles start to appear, remove it from the heat and drop in 2 tbsp butter. After the butter melts, add 1/3 cup cold water. This helps cool the milk mixtures and ensures that it is the right temperature when you add it to your dough.
The original recipe calls for partial use of white-whole-wheat flour (“the taste of white with the goodness of whole wheat”), but you can use entirely all-purpose flour for simplicity’s sake. In a large mixing bowl, combine 2 1/2 cups flour and 2 1/4 tsp rapid rise yeast. Stir this together to mix the two (mixing here is important — yeast is a living thing and when in comes in direct contact with salt it gets sad, so we mix it into the flour).
Add a tablespoon each of salt and honey, 1/2 cup of untoasted (raw) wheat germ, and 2 cups warm water. Linda says 110 degrees but I just put my finger under the tap and wait until it feels somewhere between “warm” and “hot”. Use a thermometer if you have one.
Stir these ingredients and, once they are all combined, take a whisk and whisk the whole thing vigorously for about a minute. Part of the process of making this bread is making sure the dough is tugged and pulled around quite a bit. This helps to develop the ‘gluten web’ that the yeast forms to make the crumb of the bread (the soft bit).
Add four more cups of flour and then the warm milk mixture. Linda suggests swishing your whisk around in the milk to make sure you get the bits of dough stuck to the whisk.
Stir this until all of the flour is damp. I usually have to add more water here, as my dough always seems to be too dry. I often end up adding another cup or so, slowly, until the dough looks right. If you add more, make sure it’s warm water like before.
The first part is over. Cover the bowl with something loose — a towel, wax paper, or just a plate — and let it rest at room temperature for 1–2 hours. The dough should start to rise.
After an hour or two has passed, transfer the covered bowl to your fridge and let it rest overnight or for at least twelve hours.
Your dough will have deflated a little bit in the cold, but that’s okay. Remove the dough from the fridge up to a half hour before you plan on baking to let it warm up a bit. If the dough is too cold it is tougher to shape and stretch.
Use butter, oil, or pan spray to coat the inside of two bread pans. I like using butter, since there is butter in the bread and thus we don’t introduce any new ingredients or flavours.
Using a serrated knife, cut the dough in the bowl into halves or quarters. If you cut it in halves, you will get ‘single lump’ loaves, and in quarters each loaf will have two little humps. I like doing it in quarters because I think it looks nicer, but it is more work.
Have your flour nearby and use it to coat your hands to prevent the dough from sticking. I put some on my countertop as well, then realized I didn’t need it there because the dough goes straight from your hands into its pan. Coax each section of dough out of the bowl with a spatula.
For a few minutes, until the dough becomes warmer, hold it between your two hands and let it slowly sink through. It will stick to your hands as it falls, and this sticking and stretching helps develop the dough, just like whisking it the day before. Gather the sagging dough on top of the ball and let it fall again, repeating a few times until the dough has warmed a little and is more malleable.
I find this part very therapeutic. You can take as long as you like, but the whole process shouldn’t need more than five or ten minutes. Once each dough ball (you will have either four or two, depending on how you cut it) is ready, coax it into a ball with the rough part on the bottom, and place it in a bread pan.
Cover the pans with a loose towel and let them sit at room temperature for two hours. The dough will rise again. It should be at or above the rims of the bread pans.
Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Put the bread pans on a baking sheet and place a smaller pan on the bottom rack of the oven. Grab a handful of ice cubes and have them at hand.
When the oven has preheated, place the baking sheet with the bread on it in the oven and dump the ice cubes into the smaller pan below the bread. Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes or until golden brown.
Mine cracked a little bit.
Let the loaves cool on a wire rack (or, if you’re like me and don’t have one, on four carefully-positioned chopsticks). I like to butter the tops while they are warm. It gives the bread a little extra flavour and it looks nice.
Enjoy, and feel very proud of yourself. Baking bread can be intimidating but it’s not that bad in reality.
Today the loaves ended up where they were intended to go. It was a beautiful day so I walked one loaf downtown to Aley, and we spent some time in the park near her house. Later, as he was getting off work, Matthew came by my place to pick up his bread. Incidentally, Matthew is currently publishing a weekly video montage as part of a project with our friend Daniel called Photo and Film a Day. His loaf of bread appears at the end of the Week 13 video.