When I lived in Maine I baked bread almost every weekend. I started because it was such a long drive to a good bakery and I kept it up because there is really not much that makes me happier than the smell of baking bread or the taste of a fresh loaf.
Now that I live in Portland where there are amazing bakeries on just about every corner (well, that’s a bit of an exaggeration, but not much) I find I don’t get around to baking as often as I used to. Last weekend, though, the urge came upon me and I pulled out one of my favorite baking books: The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book.
The book opens automatically to the recipe I have made most often — a simple whole wheat and buttermilk recipe that has never failed me and that can be used to make beautiful loaves that are perfect for everyday toast or sandwiches or rolls elegant enough for company.
Whole Wheat Buttermilk Bread
(adapted from the Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
½ cup warm water
¾ cup very hot water
¼ cup honey
1 ¼ cups cold buttermilk
4 ½ cups whole wheat flour (all purpose or bread flour is fine)
1 cup white flour (all purpose or bread flour is fine here too)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 – 4 tablespoons butter, cut in to small pieces
1 large egg
1 tablespoon half & half
Dissolve yeast in warm water and set aside until foamy.
Mix hot water, honey and buttermilk in a small bowl or measuring cup; the final mixture should be lukewarm. Set aside.
Mix flours and salt and place in the bowl of a stand mixer. Using the dough hook and mixing at medium speed, slowly add yeast/water mixture and buttermilk mixture to the flour.
After all of the liquid has been incorporated, stop the mixer and let the dough sit, covered with a towel, for about 20 minutes. This will ensure that the flour absorbs all of the liquid.
Restart the mixer and knead on low to medium speed for about 15 minutes. The dough should be sticky, but should pull away from the sides of the bowl. If it does not, add more flour, a tablespoon at a time (mixing well after each addition) until it does. You want this to be a soft dough, so be careful not to add too much additional flour. Add the butter in small pieces as you near the end of the kneading time.
Shape the dough into a rough ball and place it in an oiled or buttered bowl. Cover and let rise for about 90 minutes or until you can poke it with a damp finger and the hole doesn’t fill in again. Gently turn the dough and let rise again, this time for about 45 minutes.
Shape the dough into two loaves and place in oiled/buttered loaf pans. Cover and let rise a third time.
This dough should rise quite a lot in the pan, so feel free to let it go for at least 45 minutes, if not more.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees.
Whisk egg and half & half together and pass mixture through a small sieve until smooth. Brush loaves with egg mixture and place in the middle of the preheated oven.
(If you want to make rolls, this recipe will make 9 large or 15 small ones. Shape the dough into balls after the second rise and let rise again as above. Brush with egg and half & half mixture. Bake the rolls at 400 degrees for 15 -20 minutes.)
Bake loaves for 55 minutes or until they sound hollow when tapped.
Cool completely on a rack before slicing and eating.