Comfort food: almond butter & jam on tender whole wheat sandwich bread.
Everyone’s going bananas for sourdough.
In an article entitled, “Sourdough Starter, America’s Rising Pet,” The New York Times reported that sales of commercial sourdough starters are up 20 percent. NPR shared how in Stockholm you can hire a babysitter for your sourdough starter–and it went viral on Twitter.
It’s as if sourdough starter was just invented by a microbiologist or unearthed in a clay jar on an archaeological dig in the Levant.
Funny how these things come around, and then they come around again. Even amidst the gluten-free everything, coming back to bread was inevitable. But I am here to tell you that you do not need sourdough to bake good bread.
I say this as a dedicated, longtime sourdough bread baker who can talk technical geek bread-speak about crust and crumb in two languages.
Many types of bread
You do need a lively and mature sourdough starter to make loaves with thick, burnished crusts, holes like so many solidified bath bubbles and a chewy depth of flavor like no other.
But that, my friends, is just one type of bread, among many.
There is also the bread that is tender and moist with a tight crumb to hold the melting butter, the whole berry preserves, the fried egg, the melted cheese…
One that slices without risking a severed digit. (In all my years of knife-inflicted cuts, I only once needed stitches, and it was from slicing a round of sourdough bread. The scar dents the pad of my left index finger.)
This is a loaf that you can make on a Sunday when the weather keeps you indoors and you are puttering about. You can decide to make it at 2 p.m. and have it ready to serve with the soup you’re simmering by 5 p.m.
Don’t get me wrong, I adore sourdough bread and all the amazing foods you can make with sourdough starter, from waffles to pretzels.
Just don’t limit yourself.
Light is both a particle and a wave. Work is both PC and Mac. Pasta is both fresh and dried. And some bread is just a good loaf of whole wheat.
It has few expectations and isn’t a show off. It is for bringing you back to your center on an early spring day, for reminding you what you can make with your hands, wheat flour and patience.
It is for making a sandwich for your kids. Or one for yourself–open-faced, slathered with almond butter and Bing cherry jam with a tall glass of milk.
Why bake bread?
So, if you’ve never baked a loaf before, or you’re waiting for your first sourdough starter to mature or for your starter that came from the Oregon Trail to revive, just bake.
Bake bread if you’re distracted. Bake bread if you’re anxious. Bake bread if you’re blue. Bake bread if you’re in love.
I guarantee by the time the loaf comes out of the oven you will be in a completely different frame of mind. And there, right in front of you will be the reason and a way to celebrate being alive.
Honey Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
This simple and tender whole wheat bread recipe is originally from the expert bakers at King Arthur Flour. I always double the recipe because if you're going to make 1 loaf, you might as well make two and pop one in the freezer for later--if it lasts that long.
- 1 1/8 cups (9 ounces) water at room temperature
- 1/4 cup (1 3/4 ounces) vegetable oil
- 1/4 cup (3 ounces) honey or maple syrup
- 3 1/2 cups (14 ounces) white wheat whole wheat flour or whole wheat flour
- 2 1/4 teaspoons (1/4 ounce) instant yeast or 1 packet dry yeast
- 1/4 cup (3/4 ounce) nonfat dry milk
- 1 1/4 teaspoons salt
Combine the water, oil, honey, flour, yeast, dry milk and salt in a large bowl and stir to make a rough dough. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave for 10 to 15 minutes to allow the starches in the flour to absorb the liquids and begin to swell.
If kneading by hand, transfer the dough to a lightly floured countertop and knead until the dough becomes smooth, 6-8 minutes. If kneading in a stand mixer, knead the dough with the dough hook on medium speed for 5 minutes.
Place the dough into a lightly oiled bowl, cover and leave the dough to rise at room temperature until it has nearly doubled in volume and is pillowy, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.
Oil a 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan. Transfer the dough to a lightly floured counter top and shape it into a log as follows: gently press the dough into a rough rectangle with the wide end facing your. Tuck the sides in in and then fold the bottom up toward the center, like rolling a burrito. Continue rolling and then roll the dough over so the seam is facing up. Use your fingers to pinch the seam.
Place the dough into the prepared loaf pan, cover with plastic wrap and leave the dough to rise at room temperature until the dough has risen above the rim, about 1 1/2 hours.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the rack in the middle position. Bake the bread until it is well browned, 35 to 40 minutes.
Cool the bread in the pan for 10 minutes before turning it out of the pan to cool on a rack completely before slicing.