In the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, combine the following:
- 2 cups room-temperature water (about 70º-90º)
- 2 Tbsp canola oil
- 2 Tbsp honey
Give a quick stir, so the honey dissolves. Then add:
- 3 cups whole wheat flour (freshly-milled, if possible; if not, King Arthur brand is best. Taste the flour — if you taste any bitterness, it’s no good)
- 2 1/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour (again, King Arthur is best)
- 2 tsp instant (rapid-rise) yeast
Turn the mixer on med-low, and mix until a rough dough comes together. Scrape down the bowl, and mix for another few seconds (the dough will start to form a ball, but will still be very rough at this point). Cover the bowl loosely with plastic wrap, and let sit for 20 minutes. (This step allows the flour to absorb more liquid, especially important for whole-wheat.)
Sprinkle over the dough:
- 1 Tbsp table salt
Knead the dough on medium speed (about level 4 on a Kitchenaid) for about 7 minutes. After about 4 minutes, it helps to stop the mixer, remove the dough, flip it over to re-position it in the mixer, and continue. If your dough is not pulling away from the bowl and forming a ball after about 5 minutes, add more flour, 1 Tbsp at a time (white flour works best), until a ball forms and the bowl sides are cleaned. At the end of 7 minutes, your dough should look smooth, and feel elastic when pulled. At this point, I usually knead the dough by hand for another 2-3 minutes on a floured surface (the dough is still a bit sticky, even though it’s smooth — a bench scraper can help with kneading). Add as little flour as possible when kneading — only a tablespoon or two.
Place the dough in a large bowl or 4-quart container that has been lightly sprayed with cooking oil. Lightly spray the top of the dough, cover with a lid or plastic wrap, and allow to rise at room temperature (75º-80º) until doubled. This can take anywhere from 45 minutes on a warm summer day to 1 1/2 hours in the cooler winter months.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly-floured surface. Divide in half, and briefly knead each half into a ball. Cover the balls with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let rest for 10 minutes. In the meantime, grease 2 loaf pans (my favorites are Chicago Metallic — nice and heavy) with vegetable shortening (oil doesn’t really do the trick here).
Shaping: you might want to do your own research here. I shape my loaves the same way every time, and I can’t remember where I read about it. But it might be too difficult to explain here, and even require some illustrations. I basically roll out my dough into a large rectangle, give it a business-letter fold, roll it out some more, and then starting at one end roll the dough onto itself to form a cylinder. The key is to press out air bubbles before you put the dough in the pan — this is sandwich bread, not ciabatta, so air holes are not desirable. A quick search on YouTube should land several good loaf-shaping videos. So, shape as you desire, place the dough in your well-greased pans, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise again. When your dough is just starting to rise above the rim of the pan, preheat your oven to 350º, and move your oven rack to the lower-middle position. This will ensure a hot oven when your dough is fully risen (probably another 20 minutes or so).
Many factors effect how high your bread rises, but overall the differences aren’t huge. In the summer, I know my bread will tend to rise higher, and get there faster. The way you know your dough is finished rising is by lightly pressing a finger into the dough. If the indentation remains, or fills back in very slowly, your dough is done.
Once your dough is risen, and your oven nicely preheated (I highly recommend an oven thermometer here — they are a $3 investment, and will tell you much about the true heat of your oven, which is almost never what the dial indicates), you can quickly place the loaves on the rack. Close the door quickly, and leave it closed (don’t open the door for at least 25 minutes, and try to not open it much at all). The loaves should bake for about 40 minutes. When they are done, they should be nicely golden on the top. Immediately flip the loaves out onto a cooling rack, and thump the bottom of a loaf. It should sound hollow (or, you can trust an instant-read thermometer — the internal temp of a loaf should be about 190º-200º).
Let the loaves cool completely before slicing! This will take a while — at least an hour or so — so be patient.