Since I’ve discovered all of the wonderfully yummy things you can do with bread, making plain ol’ whole wheat just seems so… blasé. You can add herbs or bulgar wheat or seeds or oats or hundreds of other things. So when I got back from my honeymoon I wanted to make something delicious, but since I was tired I didn’t want it to be too taxing. I was looking for the ease that comes with familiarity with a recipe.
I first gravitated towards an herb bread I’ve made before. That particular recipe is labeled as a good soup bread because it will rise and bake and give you a wonderfully high-rising loaf in about the time it takes to make a pot of soup, but there was so much yeast in it (how else could you get such eye-pleasing results that quickly without it?) that it was very sour and not very yummy.
So, I’ll admit it — I took the basic whole wheat bread I’ve posted here and just added herbs to it. There is something special about it though — this bread is the first I’d used the long-rise methods with. I was simply amazed with the results! Allow me to extoll the virtues of long-fermented bread once again:
The dough was a joy to work with. It was soft, supple, contained plenty of air to press out during deflating, rounding, and shaping, and shaped more easily than any loaf I’ve ever formed. It also filled out the loaf pan completely — all the way to the corners — something no yeast dough of mine has done before.
In short, this loaf defied my already raised expectations. I had looked forward to a loaf with superior flavor but stiff dough and a lackluster rise. Instead, I feel like I’m eating bread like it is supposed to be now — light, airy, wholesome, with great texture, flavor, and shape. Consider me a long dough convert! (A note: my bread-baking methods have improved considerably since this picture was taken — I now achieve oven spring with each loaf. Next time I bake it I’ll post a new picture of the impossibly high-risen loaf.)
Whole Wheat Bread with Herbs de Provence
Adapted from Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book
Makes two 8×4-inch loaves
¼ teaspoon active dry yeast
½ cup warm water (105°-115°F)
6 cups whole wheat flour (900g), preferably stone-ground
Vital wheat gluten, added according to package directions
2½ teaspoons salt
2-3 tablespoons dried herbs de Provence
2¼ cups lukewarm water
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons molasses
2 tablespoons olive oil
Dissolve the yeast in the ½ warm water
Mix the flour, gluten, salt, and herbs, stirring to make the flour fluffy. Make a well in the mixture.
Dissolve the molasses in the 2¼ cups lukewarm water and add the oil. Pour the liquids and the yeast mixture into the well in the flour. Starting from the center, combine to make a smooth batter and then gradually incorporate the flour from the sides of the bowl. Alternatively, use a stand mixer to stir the ingredients until just combined.
Cover the dough with a lid, plastic wrap, or damp towel and allow to sit for twenty minutes. This step (the autolyze) allows the wheat to more fully absorb the water and will make for easier kneading.
If kneading by hand, turn the dough out onto a clean surface and knead until the dough is lustrous, smooth, and elastic, about 600 strokes/20 minutes. If using a stand mixer, knead according to appliance directions.
Put the dough in an ungreased bowl and cover. Put the dough in a cool environment (55°-60°F) such as a dark closet or pantry or a room with a window open (this works well in Alaska. If those aren’t options for you, try putting the bowl in a box with a cold pack) and allow to rise for 20-24 hours (yes, hours). Gently deflate the dough every 8 hours, re-forming the dough into a smooth round each time. Allow the environment temperature to increase slightly towards the end of the rising period.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Keeping the smooth gluten film intact, gently and completely deflate the dough. Divide it in two, shape into round balls, and allow to rest for 10-15 minutes until the dough is soft.
Shape the balls into loaves (freeform or loaf pans) and let proof for an additional two hours. A half hour before the dough is ready to go in the oven, preheat it to 425°F. Place in the hot oven and after ten minutes decrease the temperature to 325°F. Bake until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center of the loaf reads 210°F, 45-75 minutes. Allow to cool completely before storing.