When you live in New York City, there is no shortage of good bread available to you. But this did not stop me from wanting to learn to make my own. I thought about this a couple of weeks ago and I knew exactly who to call: my friend Elizabeth, my resident expert on doughs of every kind. I told her I wanted a recipe that used whole wheat flour and would be relatively foolproof in the hands of a novice bread baker. Within a couple of days there was a recipe in my inbox for Whole Wheat Cranberry bread. It seemed easy enough. I picked up the ingredients I was missing at Whole Foods and set aside Sunday for bread baking.
As readers of this blog know, that first attempt was a big fat bust. Namely because I used the wrong yeast. The recipe called for instant but Whole Foods only had active dry yeast. It did cross my mind that this might not be what I needed, but the package didn’t say anything about adding water to it or “proofing” it, so I just went with it. Big mistake. It turns out that when a recipe calls for instant yeast (also known as Perfect Rise) you really need to follow those instructions. And if you do use dry active yeast, apparently you need to mix it with warm water and then subtract that amount of liquid from the total liquid in the recipe. All of which I did not do, leading my loaf to emerge from the oven a dense brick. I tried to salvage it, but truth be told it went into the garbage a few hours later. Very frustrating. Throughout the process, I had a feeling something wasn’t right. When I started mixing the dough it was really tough, almost unkneadable, and though I wasn’t entirely sure what the texture should be, I’ve worked with enough doughs to know that this wasn’t it. But I kept going, despite the fact that my loaf never did rise. (The recipe warned that whole wheat dough wouldn’t double in size the way white dough does, but this didn’t budge an inch). I wasn’t about to let this busted bread get me down though, and since I still had all of the ingredients, I vowed to try this one more time. Trader Joe’s had the perfect rise yeast so I made my second attempt at bread baking yesterday afternoon. And guess what? It worked!
We’d already eaten half the loaf by the time I took these pictures this morning, but you get the idea. I think it’s really tasty, but it is a lot of work. And a lot of time. The sponge (who knew?) has to rest for a minimum of two hours and the dough has to rise twice before it goes into the oven for 45 minutes so this is definitely a project to take on when you know you’re going to be home all day. I wasn’t sure I’d be making bread again any time soon when Elizabeth offered to give me a bread baking lesson in the near future. I happily accepted so stay tuned for more adventures in artisanal bread baking. Until then I think I’ll leave the loaf making to Bread Alone. Their whole wheat sour dough can’t be beat.
Whole Wheat Cranberry Bread
1/4 teaspoon dry instant yeast
1/2 cup Unbleached All-Purpose Flour-King Arthur Flour
1/2 cup 100% White Whole Wheat Flour-Made by King Arthur Flour
1/3 cup water
2 1/2 teaspoons dry instant yeast
2 1/2 cups 100% White Whole Wheat Flour
3/4 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons vegetable oil
1/4 cup honey
1/3 cup milk
1/4 cup orange juice
½ teaspoon orange zest
1 cup chopped pecans, toasted
1 cup fresh or frozen cranberries, coarsely chopped
Sponge: In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of an electric mixer combine the sponge ingredients; mixing until smooth. Cover the bowl and allow the sponge to rest for a minimum of two hours, not more than eight hours.
Reserve pecans and cranberries in separate bowl. Add all remaining ingredients to the sponge.
Mix until a rough dough forms, then knead (about 10 minutes by hand, 5 to 7 minutes by machine) until the dough is smooth; since this dough is made almost entirely from whole wheat, it will be a rougher dough. Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, cover the bowl with lightly oiled plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise for 1 hour. It will not double in bulk, as regular white flour dough will.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, and knead in the pecans and cranberries; knead well until all nuts and cranberries are incorporated. Shape the dough into a flattened 6-inch round, place it on a lightly greased or parchment-lined baking sheet, and allow it to rise for 2 hours; should rise, but again, will not be as puffy as white flour bread dough.
Preheat oven to 350°F; bake on middle rack of oven for 45 to 50 minutes. You may need to make a foil tent and cover the loaf midway through the baking time if it appears to be browning too quickly. Check interior temperature; should be between 185°F and 200°F when the bread is done. Remove the bread from the oven, and cool on a wire rack.
Note: I used King Arthur’s White Whole Wheat flour, but for the all-purpose flour, I used what I had on hand, which is Whole Foods 365 Everyday brand. I also used frozen cranberries. Be sure to thaw them and thoroughly squeeze them of excess moisture before adding them to the dough. They may still tinge your dough a bit pink but it actually looks kind of nice.