Check it out! I made bread that actually turned out quite decently that wasn’t just one of those <a href=”https://sweetpeacooks.wordpress.com/2008/10/22/artisan-bread/”>speedy no-knead breads (and certainly those haven’t gone all that well in the past). This is a honey-wheat loaf I made by hand the other day. It’s a slow-rising, flour-wetting, hand-kneaded recipe in which I used honey from the next town over that was really quite tasty. What makes this bread different from some of the wheats I’ve made in the past is that this one held together beautifully. Oftentimes I have loaf tops that are saggy, which suggests lack of structure and overrising. When this happens, the crust frequently lifts away from the bread, making it hard to toast. I often also get really big air bubbles that leave holes inside the loaf. Again, lack of structure! Structure in bread is created by kneading it to release the gluten. The gluten forms strands and fibers that essentially create the scaffolding of your bread. Oftentimes I don’t knead enough, working until the dough is just supple. This is usually ok with breads that are mostly white flour, as white flour contains more workable gluten than wheat. Wheat flour is denser, making that gluten harder to form. So taking that lesson in mind, I kneaded the dough for fifteen minutes. I was pleased with the result, and figure I’ve sorted out what’s gone wrong with some of the less-than-stellar loaves I’ve made lately. The tops are pretty smooth and solid, the bread is hefty enough for sandwiches, and I could slice it into 1/2″ slices without it falling apart. This is my stack of slices getting ready for their egg bath so we could have french toast. (Which, incidentally, we covered with strawberry preserve syrup, my new name for that jam I made over the summer that never set up).
Because the dough had two long, slow rises (and I folded it again halfway through the first rise, another structure-creating move), the did get a good 1″ over the tops of the pans. They didn’t, however, grow with any oven spring. Oven spring to me pretty much seems like magic. I’ve gotten it once or twice in all the years I’ve been making bread. I’m going to do some digging and see if I can’t sort out why that is. I’m not complaining about these guys–they’re hardly hockey pucks and are tall enough for sandwiches, unlike some previous loaves I’ve made. But I do want to solve the mystery of why they only rarely pop up.
The recipe is here, so you can try it yourself. There are lots of helpful hints below it, as well; I used the one about folding during the bulk (first) rise, and swapped in regular 1% milk for the evaporated milk used here. In case you are wondering, since it’s hardly warm here yet on a regular basis, I let my loaves rise in an oven I’ve turned on for a couple of minutes and turned off. For the second rise–after the loaves are formed–I let them rise on the counter next to the stove as it preheats.