I love a good sandwich. Or even a mediocre sandwich if it's interesting ~ some of my favorites are cheese with butter and pickles, peanut butter and crispy bacon, and fresh tomatoes with mayo and salt and pepper. To me, what's between the bread slices isn't nearly as important as the bread itself. With the exception of the classic PB&J (or PB&H), I don't enjoy sandwiches on “sandwich” bread. I like the custardy, dense crumb and crackling crust of peasant-style breads, so that’s what I make most often at home. And when I make school lunches for my kids, that’s what I build their sandwiches on too.
But lately, I've been noticing an annoying trend. Sandwiches have been making a round trip. The chips get eaten, as do the containers of yogurt, hard-boiled eggs, pieces of fruit, and cookies by the dozen. The sandwiches return, battered and forlorn. Turns out that those crunchy, delectable crusts are difficult to eat in the preferred manner of the adolescent male, which is to say, inhalation. Hearty and substantial, peasant breads require actual chewing, a physical task that apparently atrophies in many young males between the ages of 12 and 20.
So, for my first foray into the Baking at Home with The Culinary Institute of America book, I decided to begin at the very beginning, where I found something that I thought might help kill two birds with one stone. The Honey-Wheat Sandwich Loaves (p. 44) looked like the archetypal sandwich bread. A buxom, traditional loaf with a chewy, lightly sweet crumb and a crust tenderized by oil. I had all the ingredients on hand, so I set about organizing my mise en place.
Mise en place ~ “Before you begin baking, gather all the equipment and measure out the ingredients called for in a recipe. Chefs call this preparation mise en place, or ‘putting in place.’” (p. 10)
I used low-fat milk because that’s what I had, but contrary to the directions, I skipped the step where it was “boiled and cooled to room temperature.” Instead, I warmed it gently in the microwave so that it approximated room temp. I couldn’t think of a good reason to go through the trouble of boiling it, then waiting for an hour while it cooled. Maybe a reason exists, but in the final analysis, I still can’t guess what it is.
In the first step, flour and yeast are placed in the standing-mixer bowl, then the wet ingredients and salt are added. Although the book doesn’t say it, I would recommend scraping the bowl down a few times during the initial mixing. Also, I would recommend tasting the dough at this stage (prior to kneading) for salt. (Thanks to CIA Chef Eric Kastel for this bit of baking wisdom.) You can add it here, but not later.
The dough is allowed to rise, then it’s folded to de-gas it, then cut in two.
These halves are shaped and then allowed to rest before being stretched into rectangles. Again, the book doesn’t suggest allowing a brief period for the gluten to relax during this stretching process, but if your dough is uncooperative, just let it sit for 5 or 10 minutes, then go back to it ~ this rest period makes all the difference.
The shaping step is not at all difficult, though here is where I went wrong with one of my loaves. In patting out my rectangle, I created an uneven place where the dough was much thinner in the middle. It would have been easy to fix by simply pushing the dough back into shape ~ thanks to the resiliency of the gluten, which would have tightened it up. Instead of correcting the problem, I let it go, mainly because I was curious to see the effect of the mistake.
Instead, I went ahead and shaped my loaf, which ended up having a curious wrinkly band in the middle, where the thinner-stretched dough sagged over the thicker part underneath. I plopped it into the prepared pan and went on to shape my second loaf a bit more conscientiously.
The book suggests brushing your loaves with egg wash or milk before baking. I chose to brush my loaves with heavy cream, which made them quite dark. Egg wash or even clarified butter would be a better choice if you prefer a lighter loaf.
The loaves rose uncovered in their pans for about an hour, then went into a preheated 400 degree F oven to bake. Although the book suggests a bake time of 40 to 50 minutes, my loaves were done in 25, according to my visual and tactile (thump) tests and verification with my instant-read thermometer (195 degrees F internal temp). My oven thermometer tells me that my oven is accurate, so I’m not sure what resulted in the time difference, but do keep an eye on your breads. You’ll start to smell them when they’re nearly done!
These need to be removed from their pans immediately and cooled on racks before slicing. Although you may have to exercise all your reserves of personal restraint, do not give in to the temptation of cutting into these loaves while warm! The structure of the loaves will not be completely developed, and you’ll risk ruining all your hard work. Patience, my friends! (Although . . . there are two loaves, and if you need only one . . . )
Everything in this recipe is straightforward and user-friendly. Even if you’ve never baked bread before, you’ll likely be successful with this recipe. These are beautiful, generous sandwich loaves, pillow-soft yet pleasantly chewy on the inside, with a crust that's perfectly tender. The bread has a subtle sweetness and just the barest hint of yeastiness. This is a terrific PB&J bread.
So what happened with my defective loaf? It sunk across its middle. When I cut into it, that’s where I cut, curious. But happily, only the crust ~ the uppermost layer of the bread ~ had sunk. The thinner layer of dough had ballooned upward on a gust of steam, then sunk as it cooled, but the interior of the bread was perfect.
We learn from our mistakes, and this is especially true in baking. And as mistakes go, this one was pretty painless ~ and pretty good toasted, too.
I'll be submitting this post to YeastSpotting; why not mosey over and check out what others are baking?