About a week and a half ago, I posted about housewares I intended to buy with a gift certificate for CSN Stores (the last of the order arrived today; reviews shall be forthcoming). I implored the readers to weigh in with their opinions on the matter, and at one point, the idea of an ice cream maker entered the dialogue. This got me to thinking: what would be a better purchase? An ice cream maker or a bread maker? I took the question to Twitter where I received a shockingly high number of responses (lesson learned: follow me on Twitter to participate in equally exciting discussions!). The bread maker camp had compelling arguments: it makes the apartment smell amazing, it will pay itself off in no time, and honestly, the taste of fresh bread trumps almost all things to come out of a kitchen. Compelling indeed.
Team Ice Cream also had some strong points: ice cream is ice cream, and that in and of itself should be enough reason to get the machine. Furthermore though, ice cream machines are cheaper, and bread can be made by hand whereas ice cream is more or less an utter pain in the ass on its own. This latter point got me to thinking: if I could make a loaf of whole wheat bread reasonably easily, could I put this raging debate to sleep?
And so the foundation was laid for my latest Adventure in Domesticity. I was gonna attempt homemade sandwich-style whole wheat bread. Results after the jump…
First things first, I had to find a decent whole wheat bread recipe. There were several options for whole wheat loaves, but many of them called for things like eggs (kind of works against the idea of a low-cholesterol loaf) or bread flour, and I wasn’t about to invest in a whole thing of bread flour for one experiment. Finally, I discovered a promising option at the King Arthur Flour website. Not only could I stick with the basic whole wheat flour I already had, but it came with detailed descriptions of each step as well as helpful sidebars AND a related blog entry that showed a photographic journey of the entire process. That was it. I was going to use this recipe.
I set about buying whatever extra ingredients I needed: some oranges, some yeast, and some mashed potato flakes (odd, I know, but a cheap investment). The recipe also called for non-fat dried milk, but I wasn’t able to find a small box of it. The best I could do was a giant $6 bag at Fresh & Easy ($8 at Ralph’s), and I honestly was not gonna use up excessive money and kitchen real estate on dried milk. Reading the reviews of the recipe online, apparently this was one ingredient that could be excised without any significant ramifications.
Finally, I began.
I mix some yeast with water and a pinch of sugar. Frothy experiences ensue.
While the yeast ferments, I pour half a cup of milk (skim) into a bowl.
Next goes half a cup of orange juice.
The juice was freshly squeezed with my new citrus juicer, but more on that on a different post.
The potato flakes make their grand entrance.
As do a few tablespoons of melted butter.
I mix the stuff (as well as some sugar and salt) together.
Next comes the whole wheat flour. So far so good.
I stir everything together and become instantly concerned that this mixture is too dry and crumbly.
My fears are justified. The dough looks like a distant memory of my childhood sandbox.
At first I panic and contemplate throwing it all away and never speaking of this experience again. But then rational thoughts take over, and I instead add water to the dough until it becomes a bit more cohesive.
After much kneading, I drop my ball o’ whole wheat into a greased bowl. Let the rising begin!
An hour later, we have some progress. I ultimately wind up letting this bad boy rise for two and a half hours. Sounds long, yes, but it took a while for it to double in bulk — thanks probably to some less than proficient kneading and the fact that I used slightly less yeast than directed (I needed another 1/4 teaspoon of the stuff).
When the dough had finally risen to an appropriate size, I scooped it out, shaped it into a log — sort of — and then dropped it in this greased loaf pan. Time for Rising: The Sequel.
Within thirty minutes, this beast had grown quite significantly. Where on Earth had this rapid-rising action come from? Nevertheless, I let it continue to rise for a total of about an hour and change.
The loaf: unsheathed and ready for baking. I won’t lie: the massive fissures across the top had me concerned.
After thirty minutes, I check the loaf’s internal temperature. I should note that Lisa T had since arrived for our podcast. Despite my concerns, she assured me that all seemed to be well with the bread.
The loaf registers only a paltry internal temperature of 140 degrees. We stick it back in the oven for five more minutes. Our goal: 190 degrees.
Five minutes later, we get the bread up to 160 degrees. Three minutes after that: 180. We decide that’s close enough. Time to enjoy the bread.
Pressing down on the bread, all seems about right.
The smell, I should note, is somewhat fantastic.
Time for the first slice…
All signs point to success. In fact, Lisa and I are so taken with the bread that we forget to take pictures and simply EAT.
The verdict: delicious, but…
So here’s the thing. The bread was delicious. Lisa and I actually had plans to make dinner together after our podcast, but the bread was so good that we actually gorged ourselves on it, effectively destroying our appetites.
And thus, as a loaf of bread, the answer is yes, it is most certainly tasty.
However, the goal of the experiment was to see if I could make a whole wheat loaf that I could use for my sandwiches. To that end, this loaf was regrettably a failure. Cut too thick, the bread becomes very dense — perfect for spreading butter or aioli, but too intense for a humble sandwich. Cut too thin, the bread crumbles apart.
An attempted sandwich. Not an ideal experience.
The question, of course, is whether or not the loaf would turn out more manageably in a bread machine. Perhaps. But I think I might be faced with the same issues (maybe some brave soul with a bread machine could give it a shot and report back the results). Ultimately, I have to say that I might be leaning towards the ice cream maker now (not that I have really any intention in the immediate future to buy one). Let’s face facts. Both machines are simply helpful tools for us to make VERY unhealthy things with. At the end of the day, I can see myself using a bread machine more than an ice cream machine (the guilt of buying store-bought bread when I have a bread making machine in my kitchen would surely be too much for me to deal with), and as such, a bread machine would be a much less healthy purchase for me. An ice cream machine, however, I could see myself using here and there. Probably a safer bet for my waistline, ironically enough. And so the debate continues…
In the meantime, I’m gonna give Mark Bittman’s No-Knead bread a try next. It’s not whole wheat, but it does sound appealing. Keep your eyes peeled for that Adventure in Domesticity.