Despite the fact that I've been making our bread for a while now, I haven't been 100% thrilled with it. It seemed almost impossible to achieve that soft textured, (and beautifully rounded) sandwich bread at home. I imagined that it was some secret ingredient only a baker would know or a method that the bakeries weren't sharing. I've seen ingredient lists in the past that included additional gluten and I've avoided them, assuming that it was just one more ingredient to buy and surely it couldn't be required.
Well, I'm telling you now that the additional gluten made a world of difference. I imagine that I will still be trying to create these loaves without it periodically in the future, but for the time-being, this is truly sandwich quality bread!
I found a fantastic guide, complete with step by step instructions and pictures at Green Bean Gardens. If you are new to bread making or still struggling (like I often do) with getting the consistency correct or making sure you don't wind up with a dense brick of bread, read through her instructions and check out the pictures for even more help. The instructions below are written for a kitchenaid mixer, if you don't have one, you can still do all the steps by hand.
Beautiful Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
recipe adapted from Green Bean Gardens
Yield: 2 full size loaves
1 2/3 cup water, warmed to about 120 degrees
2/3 cup milk, warmed to about 120 degrees
1/4 cup butter, melted
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 cup honey plus 1 tablespoon, divided
1 tablespoon yeast
3 cups whole wheat flour, I used freshly ground hard white wheat
2 - 3 cups AP flour, I used 2 3/4 cups + an additional 1/2 cup, see note below
3 tablespoons wheat gluten
In your mixing bowl, combine the 1/4 cup honey, warm milk, melted butter and salt. Add one cup of the warm water to this mixture and whisk to combine. In a small glass bowl or cup, combine 2/3 cup warm water, yeast and the last tablespoon of honey. Stir or whisk until the yeast is mostly dissolved. Let this yeast mixture rest about 5 minutes, or until it is bubbly.
Add the wheat flour, 1 cup of AP flour and the wheat gluten to the mixing bowl. Stir briefly to combine and then add in the yeast mixture. Beat until combined and then continue beating the liquid dough for another couple of minutes. (This allows the gluten in the flours to start getting elastic, which creates a much smoother textured loaf.) After two minutes, add in 1 more cup of AP flour and mix to combine. (My dough was still very liquid at this point, so I added an additional 1/2 cup of flour to get the dough to a consistency I could dump out onto the counter.)
Generously flour a countertop (I spread 1/2 cup of flour across the countertop) and begin kneading the dough. Basically, just flip the dough in half repeatedly, pressing down with the heel of your hand. Knead the dough for 5 minutes, adding just a little bit more AP flour at a time (only if necessary - I added 1/4 cup more AP flour total) if the dough is sticking to your hands or the counter. Per Jill's instructions, "The key here is to add enough flour to keep the dough from sticking, but not enough to make the dough stiff. The dough should be soft, supple and smooth without being overly sticky. Err on the side of sticky, not dry. Too much flour during the kneading process will result in dry bread." Perfectly stated and for the first time ever, that is what I achieved! I think finishing the kneading process by hand is the key here.
Place the kneaded dough back in the bowl, cover with a towel and allow it to rise in a warm place for about 1 hour. It should double in size. Punch the dough down again and turn it out on a lightly floured countertop. Divide the dough in half and gently shape one portion into a rectangle. I used a rolling pin to smooth it out just a bit and to remove air bubbles. Starting at the end closest to you, start tightly rolling the dough into a cylinder, the same way you would roll a sleeping bag. Poke the ends toward the middle as you roll, to help keep it's shape. (Again, look at Jill's original post here for step by step pictures) Once the bread is rolled, place it in a well greased bread pan and repeat with the other half of the dough. Allow the loaves to rise in a warm place (I kept mine on the stove) for 30-40 minutes, or until they are about an inch or so above the top of the pans. Check your dough as it is rising, if the kitchen is very warm, it might rise faster. If it rises too much, it will collapse and flattens on top. This will cause the bread to be dry. I let mine rise just a bit too much and it started to flatten. I'll watch it closer next time. I caught it before it collapsed, so it still tasted delicious though!
Preheat the oven to 365 degrees, once the loaves have been rising about 20 minutes. Place the bread in the oven once it is heated. Bake for 20-25 minutes or until the loaves are golden brown and sound hollow when you tap them. Remove from the oven and immediately turn the loaves out onto a cooling rack. Allow to cool completely before slicing.
FREEZER TIPS: I froze one loaf, wrapped well in aluminum foil. I sliced the other one the same day we made it. The frozen loaf thawed perfectly and sliced just as well a few days later.