I finally said screw these recipes and started experimenting. I think what I have here is near perfection. It tastes soooo good and has turned out well every time. It has a browned crunchy crust and soft fluffy center. We pretty much devour at least half a loaf right when it comes out of the oven.
I'm not a fan of kneading (in fact, I'm kind of lazy....shhhh). It doesn't help that I have a little munchkin I can't take my eyes off for 5 seconds. Once she is big enough to help me, it might be fun, but for now, no-knead is the only way to go in my book.
Give it a try and let me know what you think. It's super easy and comes together in a flash. The hardest part is waiting for the dough to rise.
Oh before we start, a tip about flour. Regular whole wheat is darker and more intense tasting. We like it a lot, but what we like even better is the albino version of whole wheat. It is still the whole grain but it is called "white whole wheat." It's lighter and tastes more like white bread, but it still has the whole grain intact. This can be tricky at first so make sure you read the package to be sure you are getting whole wheat, not unbleached wheat. Look for that magic word "whole." Our local Kroger sells a generic store brand and also King Arthur brand. Our local bulk food store, the Bulk Food Depot, has organic white whole wheat in bulk.
You will need:
3 1/2 cups whole wheat or white whole wheat flour
4 tablespoons vital wheat gluten*
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
1 teaspoon salt (we use sea salt)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 3/4 cups warm water
Mix all the dry ingredients in a bowl. Fill a measuring cup with the warm water and then top it off with the olive oil. Slowly pour the liquid into the dry ingredients, stirring as you go. Once it is all mixed up, the dough will be very wet and sticky, unlike traditional dough.
Lightly cover the bowl or stick it in the cold oven to protect it from buggers and dust and let it rise for one hour. It will double in size and dry out a bit.
Next, shape the dough into a ball and separate it into two pieces. Shape them however you like...oval or round on a greased baking sheet or oven safe plate, or put them in a regular greased loaf pan, whatever you are going to bake them in. If you are not using a loaf pan, your ball or loaf will flatten out a bit while baking, so try to make it tight. Cover or return to cold oven and let rise again for another hour.
After that second hour has passed, preheat your oven to 450 (take the bread out if you were letting it rise in there!). Put a baking sheet on the bottom shelf to preheat as well.
Gently rub some water over the top of your loaves, sprinkle with flour if you want that arisan look, and cut slashes in the top. This allows the bread to keep rising even after the crust has started to form so you get fluffier bread. (Part of the reason I was getting dense loaves before was because I skipped this step since it seemed like a waste of time to me. I'm one of those people who has to know why I am doing something or I'm not likely to do it. Yes, I make my own life difficult!)
When the oven is heated to 450, put your bread (either in the loaf pan or on the baking sheet) on the top rack, and then dump a cup or so of water into the preheated baking sheet on the bottom rack. The water steams the outside of the bread as it cooks.
30-35 minutes later you have perfect yummy bread. I like the crust really crunchy so I leave it in a little longer. Just try not to eat it hot with some butter....mmmm.....my mouth is watering thinking about it.
*What the heck is vital wheat gluten? Gluten is the protein part of wheat. It can be found in some grocery stores or online. It helps the dense whole wheat rise and fluff up. Don't skip this ingredient or you will have brick bread!