Wednesday, March 10, 2010

100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

Have you ever tried to look for a 100% whole wheat sandwich bread recipe? There are plenty of whole wheat bread recipes, but they aren't suitable for sandwiches, at least not in the way we are accustomed to. Sandwich bread should be rather light, not overly crumbly and be a bit "flexible" so it can hold up when putting spreads and toppings on it. Almost every recipe I found used part white flour (they use part white flour because it has a higher gluten content than whole wheat, thus making a softer, lighter bread), which I'm trying to not use in my kitchen. The other recipes added gluten or powdered milk, two ingredients I always avoid.

This is what started me on my day of experimenting with my own bread recipes. By round 3 I had a bread that worked well for sandwiches and had good flavor. I've included all three recipes below, so you can see the difference between them. You can also see pictures comparing the different bread recipes at the end of this post. They all tasted good, but varied in density. Actually, my husband loved the flavor of recipe number 1, probably because it's made with all milk and butter, instead of water. It would work good for an open face sandwich or a slicing bread to put jam and butter on, but it would be much too dense to be a traditional sandwich bread. The ingredients are the same for all three recipes, it's the proportions that change.

If you are new to making bread and don't have good results your first time, DON'T GIVE UP! Bread making is an art form and it requires patience to learn all the skills required to achieve a fantastic end product. I've been making bread fairly regularly for the last couple of years, but started experimenting back in high school (I graduated in '98, so it's been awhile) and I'd say I'm still in the beginning of the learning process as I teach myself the do's and don'ts of bread baking. Since I am teaching myself, I'd say it's taking me longer to master bread making, but I also feel like I have a better idea of what I'm doing correctly or incorrectly. One great thing about making bread is as long as it rises at least some and you don't burn it, typically it's perfectly fine to eat, just denser and not the perfect texture you were hoping for. I probably have at least 6 experimental loaves of bread in my freezer right now, the most recent two loaves being all spelt flour. The goal was 100% spelt flour sandwich bread, instead I ended up with a nice tasting, but overly-dense bread. They aren't perfect, but they taste good and I know we'll eat them. Especially since I have baby number two due to be born in the next week or so. I'm pretty sure baking bread will not be at the top of my list for a while. Also, I could hardly justify experimenting on bread recipes (especially financially) if I couldn't be fairly confident I could eat the end results. Thus far, the only time I've thrown away bread was when I was trying to master a sourdough recipe from the cookbook Nourishing Tradition. The bread was so hard I could have used it as bricks. The point is, give bread making a try, you might have awesome success the first time and congratulations if you do! If not, keep working at it – it's worth it. Fresh home-baked bread is too awesome to not try your hand at, at least a couple of times.

What You'll Need
- makes 2 loaves of bread

Bread Recipe #1
- great flavor but too dense for sandwich bread

Bread Recipe #2 - much better consistency, but a bit crumbly and still too dense

Bread Recipe #3 - The WINNER for sandwich bread

Other items you'll need

Getting Started

These instructions are for recipe #3, but can be used for all three recipes if you want to try the other ones out.

Mix your yeast and 1/2 cup warm water together in a small bowl. Allow to stand for at least 5 minutes and up to 15 minutes so the yeast has time to fully dissolve. As your yeast dissolves, you should see some activity in your bowl, like bubbles and foam/froth. If you don't, it could mean you have bad yeast or your water was too cold or hot. I'd pitch the yeast mixture and start over.

In a small pot, melt your butter, then add your water, milk, honey and salt. Stir until honey and salt are dissolved and your milk/water are warm (105 - 115 degrees).

Pour the milk/water mixture into your large mixing bowl and add your yeast mixture. Stir everything together. Add 4 1/2 cups of your flour and then stir until everything is thoroughly mixed together. At this point start adding 1/4 - 1/2 cup of flour at a time and use your hands to mix everything together. You could use a Kitchen Aid with a dough hook or something along that line at this point, but if you are new to making bread, I strongly recommend using your hands. This helps you feel how moist your dough should be and gives you a better idea of when to stop adding flour. If you are wondering why there isn't a specific amount of flour for this recipe or for most bread recipes, that's because there can't be. Humidity, how you measure out your flour and liquid ingredients, etc. all play a factor in how much flour you'll need in the end. This is where bread-making becomes an art form. When you first start making bread, it can be hard to know how much flour to add. Here are a couple rules of thumb. First, only add enough flour to your dough while it's in the bowl to get the dough to hold together nicely. It should still be pretty sticky. Then dump the dough onto a well-floured kneading surface and start kneading in small amounts (1/4 cup works good) of flour at a time. Once your dough is beginning to get a nice, smooth consistency that doesn't stick all over the place, stop and wash your hands and scrape any dough up off your working surface. Why? When your hands and working surface are sticky and covered in dough, you have a greater tendency to add too much flour to your dough because it keeps sticking to everything. When your hands and work surface are clean, the dough won't stick as much and it will give you a more true idea of how much more flour you need to add. In the end the dough should be smooth, moist and just a bit sticky.

Once you've added enough flour, it's time to start kneading. This is another skill that takes time to develop, but I think it's much easier to get the hang of this part than knowing how much flour to add. Interestingly enough, I think I learned how to knead dough when I was a ceramic student in college. When I first started in ceramics I had no idea that you had to "knead" the clay to increase it's elasticity. The techniques of kneading clay versus dough are a bit different, but in the end you're using basically the same movements. Using the palm of your hands and starting in the center of the dough, push the dough forward, thinning it out and then pull it back and fold it over the middle. Rotate the dough a little bit and do it again. You keep doing this for about 10 minutes until the dough is smooth and has become somewhat elastic. Whole wheat dough will never be as elastic as white flour dough (just an FYI if you're used to working with white flour). Don't think you can skip out on this part either. You are developing the gluten in the bread at this point. If you don't do this step your bread won't rise properly.

Wash out your mixing bowl and pour enough olive oil into it to coat the bottom. Shape your dough into a nice ball and place the smooth side down into the bowl, coat it with oil and then turn it over so that the whole ball of dough has oil on it. This keeps your dough from sticking to the bowl while it rises.

Cover your bowl loosely with a piece of plastic wrap and then place in a warm spot, around 80 degrees if possible, and let the dough rise until doubled. This usually takes about 1 1/2 hours. If your kitchen is cool, it will likely take longer. Don't so much worry about the time, just make sure the dough doubles in size. Once it has risen sufficiently, punch down the dough (aka, deflate the dough of the air in it) with your fist.

Divide the dough in half and shape each half into small loafs. Tuck any seams under the bottom of the loaf and then place into your well-greased loaf pans. Spread a little bit of olive oil on the dough and then loosely cover with plastic wrap. Allow to rise for a second time, until doubled and you have a nice dome top that comes up around 1" over the top of the loaf pan. This normally takes about an hour.

While your dough is rising for the second time, go ahead and preheat your oven to 350 degrees. I'd do this at least a 1/2 hour before you are going to bake your bread, even if it doesn't take your oven that long to heat up.

Place your risen loaves into the oven and bake for 40 minutes. To test if your bread is done, you can stick a thermometer into the bread. Your are looking for an internal temperature of 190 degrees. Once done, remove from oven and then remove the bread from the pan and allow to cool. I'd let the bread cool for at least 1/2 - 1 hour before trying to slice it. Sandwich bread slices better when it's completely cool. Now enjoy! I hope you have success with your bread baking. If you try this recipe, let me know how it turns out for you.

Below are pictures showing the results of all three bread recipes. Recipe number 3 is on the far left and recipe number 1 is on the far right. Amazing how much the rising varied.


  1. Love this post Therese. I've been doing SO much experimenting with my bread as well. I've not yet added milk, so I'm going to do that next!! What has worked wonders for me is grinding my own grain and sprouting. I can't believe how much lighter the bread is when I sprout my grains. Like you I've been trying to get the perfect sandwich bread. Thanks for this!

  2. Great recipe. I love how you have compared three recipes and shown the pros and cons of each of them. I always wante to make bread but was never successful. Thanks to you, hopefully, I will be able to make something edible this time :-D
    The pics are great and very helpful. Thanks for sharing.

  3. Love the bread post. I've been baking bread for the last month since I stumbled across the NY Times artisan bread recipe. I've turned into a bread factory for my husband. He has toast every morning . He also makes sandwiches with it..I've been staying away since if I start i won't be able to stop. He's quite happy however.

  4. Thank you all! If you give the recipe a try let me know what you think.

  5. Hi, I have tried the second variant, it was really great, your blog is super, hello from Slovakia in Europe, Jana

  6. Awesome Jana, so glad you tried it. My husband loves the second one too! He is our main bread eater in the house.

  7. I've been searching for and trying out whole wheat sandwich bread recipes for..oh..about a year now! (off and on...) I don't have much luck with bread, though I make it all the time! We at least love the flavor (I grind my own flour)though i can't get the texture right. I'm excited to try this recipe and will tell you how I get it to turn out! :)


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