Bread is one of my favourite things to make at home. Though I usually buy bread, homemade just taste different. The smell and taste of freshly baked bread are amazing. As I was searching for a good sandwich loaf recipe online, I came across this recipe, Whole Wheat Loaf with Oats and Pecans from the Kitchn (cookbook recipe from Amy’s Breads). I think this is one of the best breads I’ve made at home. It is made with a biga starter made from yeast, water and flour that is prepared in advance and added to the bread dough as an ingredient. As a result, the texture is very moist and chewy. The bread also has a nicer crust and better flavour. This bread is slightly sweet with the addition of molasses and honey, perfect for breakfast, sandwiches or an afternoon snack. I had mine with my homemade almond butter, it was so tasty. For a more detailed recipe with tip/tricks and technique, please click on the link above. I only made half of the recipe for one loaf of bread and it turned out great. Feel free to make just half of a recipe.
- Very warm water (105º to 115ºF) — 57 g / 2.00 oz / 1/4 cup
- Active dry yeast — 1 teaspoon / 1 teaspoon / 1 teaspoon
- Whole wheat flour — 524 g / 18.48 oz / 3 1/2 cups
- Unbleached bread flour — 354 g / 12.50 oz / 2 1/3 cups
- Old-fashioned rolled oats — 170 g / 6.00 oz / 2 cups
- Kosher salt — 20 g / 0.70 oz / 2 tablespoons
- Cool water (75º to 78ºF) — 622 g / 22.00 oz / 2 3/4 cups
- Biga Starter (see recipe below) — 340 g / 12.00 oz / 1 1/2 cups
- Honey — 42 g / 1.50 oz / 2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons
- Molasses — 35 g / 1.23 oz / 2 tablespoons
- Canola or vegetable oil — 20 g / 0.70 oz / 2 tablespoons
- Pecan pieces, toasted — 227 g / 8.00 oz / 2 cups
- Extra oats, for topping the shaped loaves
- Combine the very warm water and yeast in a large bowl and stir with a fork to dissolve the yeast. Let stand for 3 minutes.
- Whisk the whole wheat flour, bread flour, oats, and salt together in a medium bowl. Set aside.
- Add the cool water, biga, honey, molasses, and oil to the yeast mixture and mix with your fingers for 2 minutes, breaking up the biga. The mixture should look milky and slightly foamy. Add the flour mixture and stir with your fingers to incorporate the flour, scraping the sides of the bowl and folding the dough over itself until it gathers into a shaggy mass.
- Move the dough to a very lightly floured surface and knead for 7 to 8 minutes, until it becomes supple and elastic, using as little additional flour as possible. This dough should be very soft and moist but not mushy. If it feels too wet, add another tablespoon or so of bread flour as you knead. If it feels too stiff, add cool water 1 tablespoon at a time until you have a pliable dough. It will feel sticky in the beginning but become compact and elastic as you knead it. Put the dough back into the mixing bowl, cover with oiled plastic, and let rest for 20 minutes to relax and develop elasticity. You should be able to stretch it easily but you won’t get a transparent sheet with this dough, because of the chunky oatmeal.
- Spread out the dough in the mixing bowl and evenly sprinkle on the pecans. Press them into the dough, then pull the dough from the edges of the bowl and fold it in toward the middle. Knead the dough in the bowl until the nuts are evenly incorporated, 3 to 4 minutes.
- Gather the dough into a loose ball, lift it up and oil the bowl, then place it back in the bowl, along with any loose nuts. Turn the dough to coat with oil, cover the bowl with oiled plastic wrap, and let it rise at room temperature (75º to 77ºF) for about 2 to 2½ hours, until it doubles in volume. When the dough is fully risen, an indentation made by poking your lightly floured finger deep into the dough should not spring back.
- Gently remove the dough from the bowl and place it on a lightly floured work surface, pressing in any loose nuts. Divide it into two equal pieces and shape each piece into a log.
- Spread a thin layer of the extra oats for topping on a flat plate or baking sheet. Use a pastry brush or plastic spray bottle to lightly moisten the top of each log with water, then roll the tops of the loaves in the oats. Place each loaf seam side down in one of the oiled 9 x 5-inch loaf pans. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and allow to proof for about 2 hours or until they have doubled in size (a finger pressed lightly into the dough will leave an indentation).
- Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450ºF. Prepare the oven by placing a cast-iron skillet and a smaller pan (a mini loaf pan) on the floor of the oven or on the lowest possible rack in an electric oven. Place an oven rack two rungs above the cast-iron pan, and if you have one, put a baking stone on the rack. Fill a plastic spray bottle with water. Fill a teakettle with water to be boiled later, and have a metal 1-cup measure with a straight handle available near the kettle.
- Five to 10 minutes before the loaves are ready to bake, turn the water on to boil, and carefully place two ice cubes in the small loaf pan in the bottom of the oven. This helps to create moisture in the oven prior to baking.
- When the loaves are ready, place the pans on the baking stone. (If you’re baking without a stone simply slide the bread pans onto the empty oven rack.) Pour 1 cup of boiling water into the skillet and immediately shut the oven door. After about 1 minute, quickly spray the loaves with water, then shut the oven door.
- After 20 minutes, reduce the oven temperature to 400ºF and rotate the loaves if necessary to ensure even browning. Bake them for another 25 to 30 minutes, until the loaves sound slightly hollow when tipped out of the pan and tapped on the bottom (an instant-read digital thermometer should register around 210ºF). The sides and bottom of the loaves should feel firm and slightly crusty. If the tops are browned but the sides are still somewhat soft, place the loaves directly on the stone or the oven rack to bake for 5 to 10 more minutes.
- Cool the loaves completely on a wire rack before slicing. This bread freezes well, wrapped tightly in aluminum foil and a heavy-duty plastic freezer bag.
- Makes 400 grams / 14 ounces / 1 3/4 cups
- Very warm water (105º to 115ºF) — 200 g / 7.00 oz / 3/4 cup plus 2 tablespoons
- Active dry yeast — 1/8 teaspoon / 1/8 teaspoon / 1/8 teaspoon
- Unbleached all-purpose flour — 227 g / 8.00 oz / 1 1/2 cups plus 2 tablespoons
- In a medium bowl, mix the warm water and yeast together and stir to dissolve the yeast. Add the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon for 1 to 2 minutes, until a smooth, somewhat elastic batter has formed. The batter will be fairly thick and stretchy; it gets softer and more elastic after it has risen. Scrape the biga into the container, mark the height of the starter and the time on a piece of tape on the side of the container so you can see how much it rises, and cover the container with plastic wrap.
- Let it rise at room temperature (75º to 78ºF) for 6 to 8 hours. Or let it rise for 1 hour at room temperature, then chill it in the refrigerator for 8 hours or overnight. Remove it from the refrigerator and let it sit at room temperature for 3 to 4 hours to warm up and become active before use. Biga should more than double in volume. If you use the starter while it’s still cold from the refrigerator, be sure to compensate for the cold temperature by using warm water (85ºF to 90ºF) in your dough, instead of the cool water specified in the recipe. Use the starter while it is still bubbling up, but before it starts to deflate.