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Wholewheat sandwich bread, stripped bare

May 18, 2010

I finally present my fool-proof, no-need-for-fancy-crap recipe for a soft, aromatic loaf of sandwich bread. This is as simple as it gets while still yielding a really fantastic loaf of bread that actually really resembles bread (I’ve tried so many different shortcuts…gah. Feel free to link me to any you really like though!). You will want a loaf tin though. But really, no fancy equipment apart from that. That’s right. Bread making for beginners. EDIT: I also stumbled across Beth from Budget Bytes’ honey wheat sandwich bread recipe, and fell in love with the result (and the smell of it baking!). It’s wonderfully and pillowy soft in the centre with a great crust and is quite quick (quicker than this bread, although I don’t think it’s as flexible time-wise). The ingredients are no more complicated, and there’s a bit of kneading, but other than that it really couldn’t be better. It is officially my favourite new sandwich bread recipe, so try it out as well if you haven’t already.

That said, you have no idea how long it has taken me to get the perfect freakin loaf of whole wheat sandwich bread. Don’t panic though! I’ve detailed the recipe so much that you will hopefully succeed first time around. So far, most of the recipes I’ve tried have been inconsistent, or I adjusted them so much that I tainted them forever more. However, the cycle eventually got so ridiculous I ended up trying an old recipe from Artisan Bread in 5 Minutes a Day again. Finally, I have something that I can confidently share with you, the world. Is anyone still reading after the mention of “wholewheat”? God I hope so. Because look!

Now tell me that isn’t pretty, and drooly, and fiercely awesome.

Portrait of a loaf.

Up close and personal.

Flirting with the camera

Oh, look at it all vulnerable, lying back and just begging to be shmeared with soft butter or made into the world’s tastiest sandwich.

Ok, ok. Enough teasing. Here it is. With all my tips lest you, like me, decide you can also tweak the recipe a little, and no one will know the difference. But you know, bread has feelings. It’ll notice if you use sour cream and water instead of milk.

IMPORTANT: That said, I have included various substitutes, because I know you’re a real person with random things in your pantry and fridge, not a full time bakery. Also I made things easier for lazier people who intend to bake this almost every day, because it is that easy. If you work 9-5, you can make the dough either the night before or in the morning. In the former case, pop in the fridge in the morning. In the latter case, it will be nicely risen by the time you get home. Then you just need to shape it, let it rise while you make dinner, then it’ll be ready to throw in the oven. Then I usually remove by the time I’m done eating dinner, let it cool over dessert (if I’m having any) and slice it up. Then it goes in the freezer, and a few slices stay in a plastic box for toast tomorrow morning (although toasting from frozen is fine too, but if you want plain bread or “raw toast” that’s cool too). Ok, so I made it sound complicated, but it’s REALLY NOT. That said, I reeeaaaallly want a box that’s the perfect size for bread slices. If you have one, I envy you so bad. Can you please tell me where you got yours? I’ll love you forever. It’ll prevent me from inventing shrinking bread boxes in my head at night before I go to bed.

Also I know it looks really complicated but actually I’m just giving all the details you’ll need to bake a successful loaf the first time. Once you’ve got the basic method sorted you’ll easily get into the swing of baking your own bread. I haven’t bought a loaf of bread since I got the book (Artisan Bread in 5 minutes a Day). The authors aren’t kidding when they say it’s revolutionary. If you’re in NZ get it at as it’s the cheapest place you’ll get it new plus there’s no shipping cost AND all proceeds go to Oxfam. Triple win!

Whole wheat sandwich bread, for those who need some flexibility in their lives

makes one 9×4 loaf  (use this size of loaf tin)

EDIT: I’ve changed the ratio of hot/cold liquids, so there’s pretty much no danger of having a liquid that’s too hot and that you need to leave to cool before adding to the yeast.

  • 1/2c hot water (just boiled)
  • 1c WHOLE milk or [3/4c water + 1/4c cream] or [3/4c water + 50g (1/4c) melted butter] see note below#
  • 3/4 Tbspn yeast
  • 1 tsp rock sea salt or 1/2 tsp granulated salt
  • 1/4 c sugar (can be raw, brown, dark drown) or honey or golden syrup
  • 2 1/2 Tbs oil (I usually don’t measure this, but I do a lot of baking)
  • 3 1/3 c flour (any combination of whole wheat, either 100%, or 50% white, 50% wholemeal)*
  • optional: a handful of seeds (eg. pumpkin, sunflower, sesame, poppy) and oats

* I would HIGHLY recommend stoneground flour if you’re going to be baking bread regularly. The bran gets ground much finer. It’s a lot more expensive (about $20 for 5kg) but if you’re baking bread instead of buying it, you’re already saving heaps! Also, I personally still prefer 50% white, 50% wholemeal. If I go for 100% whole wheat I like to go all out and add rolled oats and assorted seeds to the mix. Nom. Note that the more whole-grain you add, the more of a crumbly texture it will have, and it will not rise as much (it may not entirely flatten on the top either, but it should increase in size a little)

I have added things in bold to emphasise their importance. If you want an explanation, pester me in the comments.

In a bowl that holds at least 15 cups (about 4L), mix hot water and cold liquids together. # ADDED NOTE: Test the temperature of the liquids with your fingers – it should be lukewarm, and no hotter than body temperature, or the yeast won’t be happy. If it’s a little hot, let it sit for a while before adding the yeast (measure the other ingredients in the mean time). Make a note for next time to add a little more cold water and reduce the amount of boiling water.

Then add all other ingredients except for flour. Swirl around a little. Add flour, and stir until fully combined and everything is evenly distributed (no dry bits of flour). Mix in seeds if using. Cover (not airtight – with a tea towel for example) and either leave overnight in a cool place (>14<18C) or in a warm place (>18C<25C) for up to 8 hours (minimum 2 hours). The dough should be flat on the surface and maybe have collapsed back onto itself. Even in a cool place though, don’t leave for more than 14 hours I’d say. If you want to deal with it when you get back from work, place  it in the fridge. But don’t try and rise it in the fridge, this’ll take too long. Ok. It’s now ready to shape!

First, lightly brush or spray your loaf tin with oil, and set aside. Dust the surface of the dough lightly with flour and lightly flour a work surface (alternatively, use wet hands, but don’t just plunge in there). Scrape all the dough onto the lightly floured work surface. Shape into a ball by stretching the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating the ball a quarter-turn as you go. Zoe and Jeff have a very quick 30 second video of this which is very helpful. Alternatively, kneading is not going to do it any harm, and will make it less crumbly and more like bought bread. Either way, you end up shaping it into a loaf, by stretching two sides down into the centre to shape it into an oval or log that will fit into your loaf tin. Place into your greased tin, and let sit until the loaf rises about 1″ above the lip of the loaf pan. Depending on the temperature of your room and the amount of white flour you used, this could take up to 2 hours, but it shouldn’t take longer than that. Keep it in a mildly warm room (21C is best) or the hot water cupboard.** Heat your oven to 175C (350F), with a rack arranged in the centre. Once up to temperature, place the loaf in the centre of your oven and bake for at least 40 minutes. The top should be a dark brown and when tipped out of the pan, the sides should be browned too (although probably not as brown as the top). Do not be tempted to open the oven if it’s clearly not at this stage. The best way to tell if the loaf is done (without a thermometer) is to sniff very closely to the loaf. If it smells alcohol-y or very yeasty, place back in the oven for 5-10 minutes. Some loaves (especially 100% wholewheat) will need 50-60 minutes. If you have an instant-read thermometer, poke it into the centre of the centre of the loaf, – it should read 88C or 190F.

Let cool completely before attempting to slice. Seriously.

A note on storage: If you don’t have 5 screaming kids that will devour the whole loaf in the space of five minutes, then I suggest you freeze the slices. If taking to work as a sandwich, this works out perfect because you can fill your frozen slices and they will keep your filling cool while defrosting by lunch time. Genius! Or if having as toast in the morning, pop the frozen slices in the toaster. If not using as sandwiches, then you can leave the bread out at room temp for about 2 days, but if keeping for longer I’d refrigerate or freeze. Fresh bread is always better than stale bread obviously.

Also, with the ends of bread, I always let them dry out over night, rip em up, then chuck them in the freezer for later bread-crumbing. When I need breadcrumbs, I defrost them and whizz. Ta da. Never buy breadcrumbs anymore either. Ye-ya.

Now go and bake me some bread for sharing my breadmaking charms with ye! Let me know if it goes well, or especially if it doesn’t! Which hopefully won’t happen.

**Here’s something I do to speed up the process: pour just-boiled water in a large roasting tray, place in your oven. On the rack above that, place your loaf in its loaf tin. Close the oven door, turn your oven on for ONE minute on the lowest temperature setting. Turn the oven off, and let rise in there for however long. Great for cold dry kitchens!

18 Comments leave one →
  1. May 19, 2010 9:51 pm

    This look divine! I don’t eat a lot of bread and have only made hot cross buns as far as yeasted breads go…but this makes me want to try again :) Just looks lovely and fresh and simple!

  2. May 20, 2010 1:07 am

    oh my gosh i can’t wait to try this. thank you. i’ve been baking all our bread for months now, but a series of busy weekends has left me behind on my supply. I was dreading going through the whole bread making process after work, but now I can’t wait to try this! I’ll let you know how it turns out :)

  3. May 20, 2010 10:45 am

    How perfect does that loaf look.. i have been trying to find a good simple wholewheat recipe and this looks just the ticket… thanks so much!!

  4. jamie permalink
    May 21, 2010 12:26 am

    Just tried this recipe last night, however when I checked the bread this morning it had not risen AT ALL. Any idea about what happened? I used all whole wheat flour (3 1/3 cups), do you think this had anything to do with it?

    Also thinking the just boiled hot water was too hot for the yeast and ended up killing it perhaps…

    • May 21, 2010 10:08 am

      Jamie: Damn, that’s not good! Ok, it could be one of several reasons, assuming measurements etc were correct. It should work with 100% whole wheat, although it is true that it won’t rise nearly as much as a 50/50 mixture. Will note that in the recipe. First, did you use cold milk and/or cold water? I’ve added a note to the recipe. Also, it could be that the mixture was still too hot, but I’ve added a note about this now – it should be no hotter than body temperature. Second, try testing your yeast to see if it is still active – there’s a post about that at ehow. Sometimes if you don’t store yeast in the fridge, it expires faster than the expiry date. Lastly, it could be the temperature that the dough was left in – if below 18C (64F) then it’ll definitely require an overnight rise, although it sounds like it got one, so the problem seems like it’s to do with the first two problems.

      If you’re using really expensive whole wheat flour, try using a 50/50 mix if you decide to try again. Sorry it didn’t work out and thank you for letting me know how it went! Really appreciated! Good luck for next time, I’d like status updates! Hehe

  5. May 21, 2010 4:37 am

    that bread looks absolutely great! Thanks for sharing… I’ll have to try that!

  6. Leens permalink
    July 29, 2010 11:16 pm

    Dear Zo, Thanks for this recipe-I have been looking for an easy bread recipe because of my daughter’s allergies(my daughter is allergic to all nuts, eggs and soy-and all the store breads have soy flour in em and bakery breads have a chance of nut contamination-thus my search). I have totally zero experience in making bread.When i try i can never get a smooth dough-its always lumpy looking even though i mix it well.If you know of any link that shows this step of mixing and kneading the flour that would be great. I want to try ur recipe but have a few ?s 1) Do u know what temp range the liquid should be-cause i have a cooking thermometer and thought i can use that because again i have no (at least no good)experience at this.2)what kind of yeast to use?-I only see the premeasured packets here-maybe if i look in another store i could find a jar-but is it active yeast or will it say just yeast.Our brands will be diff(I’m in the US) 3)I think this is an easier method because you mix, let it rise, and then shape and rise. You do not have to mix,knead, and then rise, then punch down and shape, then again rise-but i am not sure about how it should be before going ahead and shaping. Should it have risen and then gone down a little thus giving it a flat or sunken in appearance.So if it is still rounded on top that means i have to wait longer? And finally 4)can i use all white flour(kiddie may prefer it)with this recipe? And just to double check,this is regular all-purpose flours right, not bread flour. My goal is a soft fluffy store like loaf of bread. I do not know if this is something i can achieve, but I am trying my best because i can then have peace of mind when my kidde chows down.I am sorry for the many(obviously clueless)questions.You gave a very indepth recipe indeed, but I am so inept at this i need a bit more help. Would greatly appreciate your help!!!

    • July 30, 2010 8:46 pm

      Hi Leens, here is a video for the white bread from Artisan bread in 5 (which it’s best to start with if you haven’t baked bread before) – The mixing and shaping are pretty much the same, except instead of shaping loaves into a round, you shape them into an oval by pulling on two opposite sides more. You don’t have to knead, I just do for a drier texture as it incorporates more flour. If you want this you can youtube “bread kneading” and there should be heaps. The mixture is not going to be perfectly smooth – as long as there are no floury bits left in the bowl, you’re done.

      As for the temperature of the water, it should be warm to the touch but not hot – you shouldn’t need a thermometer for this.

      The packeted yeast is quite expensive, but if you don’t bake bread often it’s a good idea. Instant, rapid rise, bread machine or active yeast are all fine.

      The flat appearance you mention after rising is perfect. However, I wouldn’t let it rise more than 12 hours.

      You could try all white flour, although I haven’t yet, so no guarantees. The link I refer to is for white bread, but it’s quite different in texture – chewy inside, crunchy hard outside. There’s this step by step photo recipe as well here –

      As for flour, you do use all purpose. This loaf isn’t exactly like the store bought stuff – it’s quite a different kind of soft and fluffy.

      Hope that helps! Feel free to ask me to clarify if I’ve been a bit too vague. The best way to address your curiosity is to plunge into it! If you don’t like this recipe, do try the white artisan loaf that I linked to – it is AMAZING, and much less fussy.

  7. ellie permalink
    October 14, 2010 5:05 pm

    Hi! The bread looks absolutely awesome. Do you use active dry yeast or instant yeast for this? I just want to check before starting on it!

  8. October 14, 2010 5:33 pm

    ellie: I use active dry yeast :) Hope it goes well!

  9. Eric permalink
    February 14, 2011 4:49 pm

    I followed this recipe making most substitutions (honey instead of sugar, melted butter/ water instead of milk) and the bread came out great! This was my first time making bread ever and was really surprised it actually worked :-) so thanks for the great recipe!

    Here’s some notes of things I did:

    * I used all whole wheat flour
    * I used 1 whole packet of redstar yeast….didn’t prepare, just made sure the liquid mix was the right temp (100F) and added it in
    * I used olive oil for the oil portion
    * First rise was 4 hours
    * After first rise I actually kneaded for ~8 minutes. It was pretty sticky, so I kept adding flour as I kneaded. (I suspect I messed up the original flour measurement!)
    * I did a bad job of forming the actual loaf and just kind of fussed it into the approximate shape and put it in the pan (oiled with olive oil)
    * second rise really popped up nicely
    * baking was a little longer presumably due to using all ww flour(as noted in the recipe)

    I will be using this recipe for a while until I get adventurous.

  10. February 14, 2011 5:06 pm

    Eric: Yay so glad it worked out for you. You’re totally free to add more flour for the kneading. When you are next feeling adventurous, this recipe is also great (quite similar):

    Happy baking!

  11. Isabel permalink
    August 1, 2011 11:25 pm

    I’ve been making my own bread for a few months now (vegan + can’t afford to buy storebought quality bread!). I’ve been upping the amount of WW flour I’ve been adding and have noticed that it is nearly impossible to slice. Once I get through the crust, the inside is so soft that it actually tears instead of slicing.

    I’ve looked around online and people are saying it may be because the WW flour grains (the bran, etc) are so sharp they actually cut the gluten when forming.

    Either way, I’m going to try this recipe instead of my tried-and-almost-true recipe. Bonus: Overnight rising. Praise to the sandwich bread gods.

  12. August 1, 2011 11:37 pm

    I: It’s true that wholewheat bread tends to crumble easily, so it’s good to add some gluten (1T per cup of wholemeal) especially if you’re using plain or all-purpose flour. You could try using rye flours instead of wholemeal if you don’t want them to crumble too much, but you’ll still need to add the same amount of gluten. I find this bread is okay without but it is still pretty crumbly.

  13. Lori permalink
    January 30, 2012 1:06 pm

    This was just fabulous. I’ve tried several other recipes for simple wheat bread, but this one is worth noting and commenting on. Many thanks. :)

  14. January 30, 2012 1:08 pm

    L: Than you for saying so! Glad you enjoyed it :)

  15. Erica permalink
    March 6, 2012 7:43 am

    I am so happy to have found this recipe, with sooo many details. I have never successfully made 100% whole wheat bread until this recipe! It is not quite like my store bought sandwich bread (a little thick and dense), but I just tried the recipe adding in gluten, like you suggested so hopefully that works. Thank you thank you!


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