Let’s have a little real talk here.
I’m a decent baker and cook. I can roast the heck out of a chicken. Bake up some moist and flaky scones in 30 minutes. Whip up some healthy(ish) carrot cake cupcakes. Achieve a perfect pie crust every time. And make chicken salad in my sleep.
But bake bread? Ha!
I’ve always struggled with bread baking. It took me four tries to make successful Challah rolls. I can’t even begin to count the times I’ve attempted and failed at sandwich bread making. Pita bread was really the only thing I could manage to get right the first time. And I think a lot of that was probably luck. Or the baking Gods just felt sorry for me.
But this buttermilk whole wheat bread? Perfection. I honestly don’t know how I did it. It rose like a dream; baked up in just the right amount of time; sliced evenly, without even the slightest bit of breakage; and has the most alluring nuttiness that complements just about everything.
From now on, instead of “Buttermilk Whole Wheat Bread,” it shall be known as “Magic Perfection Bread.”
It probably has something to do with some sort of passed-through-the generations-magic that’s lingering its well used and annotated pages. This book originally belonged to my mother, who then passed it to my Godmother the year I was born. Both women used, and loved this book. And now it’s mine, with all the learned knowledge passed along with it.
Notes and old dog ears decorate the pages. Some recipes are marked “Wonderful!” and “Love it!”, while others are simply starred, given extra exclamation points, or embellished with handwritten tips. Some pages are dotted with the remnants of past baking and the cover has seen better days. But that’s what I love about it; this is a book that was, and will continue to be, well used and cherished.
I hope that one day I can pass it onto my children, with my own words of wisdom and well wishes.
Until then, I’m making bread. As my godmother, Lara, wrote, “Baking breads teaches us many things, including faith: we must believe in a process we can’t fully see until it’s done.”
Buttermilk Whole Wheat Bread
From Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book (1984 edition)
Makes two loaves (or one large loaf)
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
3/4 cup very hot water
1/4 cup honey
1 1/4 cups cold buttermilk
5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (I used King Arthur’s white whole wheat)
2 teaspoons salt
2 to 4 Tablespoons unsalted butter, cut into 1/4 inch pieces
Begin by dissolving the yeast in the 1/2 cup warm water.
In another bowl, mix the hot water with the honey and add the cold buttermilk. The temperature should be slightly warm at this point.
In a large mixing bowl or the bowl of a stand mixer, combine the flour with the salt. Make a well in the center and add the yeast mixture and buttermilk mixtures. Combine by stirring from the center outwards, incorporating all the flour. Test the dough at this point to make sure it is moist, but not sticky. If it is too dry, add a tablespoon of warm water and if too wet, add a tablespoon of flour.
Knead the dough for about 20 minutes either by hand (and go you if you do it by hand!) or in a stand mixer with the dough hook attached on a low speed (either 1 or 2). Add the bits of butter near the end of the kneading time.
Form the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl (I used the same stand mixer bowl). Cover it and let the dough rise for 1 1/2 hours in a warm, dry place. After it has doubled in size, check it by pressing a finger into the center of the dough about 1/2 inch deep. If the hole doesn’t fill in or the dough sighs down, it is ready to be punched down. Punch down the dough, form it into another round and let it rise once more for approximately 45 minutes.
Divide the dough into two, or keep whole for once large loaf (and I wish I had made one large loaf since I like big slices of bread), and shape it into loaves. To shape, I pressed it relatively flat and rolled it lengthways (as one would roll a burrito). Place the loaf(s) seam side down in a well greased loaf pan. Let rise in a warm place for 1 hour.
Preheat the oven to 325 degrees F and bake for 1 hour in the center rack. Let cool and slice.
I am not a baker by any stretch of the imagination, but I might give this a try. I am feeling positive about trying your recipe because not only have you written so well about your experience, but I have recently succeeded in making 6 loaves of ИРСКИ СОДА ЛЕБ (Macedonian for Irish soda bread). Fellow PCVs, my Macedonian counterpart, other staff at my NGO, our beneficiaries and even the lady on the shop where I bought most of the ingredients all told me that they truly liked the bread and asked for the recipe. Eating it was a new experience for them as well baking it was for me. In the process of attempting this for the first time, learned that Macedonia does not have buttermilk. The lady in the local shop convinced me to use their drinkable yogurt and I used the kind with the highest fat content (3.2%). It seemed to work just fine, so I might use that to try your recipe. Thanks for sharing your positive experience. Perhaps you should consider doing what some of the PCVs here in Macedonia have done; create a PCV cookbook for current and future volunteers in Uganda. Ours is a wonderful compilation of recipes for all meals and special events. Nicely organized and with special hints relating to the peculiarities involved in cooking in this country. Ours is called “ЈАДИ – ЈАДИ” (Eat – Eat) and each recipe cites the PCV contributor and the year of service. A nice resource to keep. I have it in a pdf format and can send it to you if you are interested in seeing it.
Best wishes to you in all of your endeavors.
oh, this looks delicious! I’ve been baking a lot of bread lately…mostly french bread from a recipe I found in one of my canning books (of all places, haha!), but yesterday I made a loaf of english muffin bread (didn’t know this existed, but sooo glad it does), and tomorrow I’m making a loaf of “brown bread” from a nigella lawson recipe (it uses a mixture of white bread flour, whole wheat flour, and rye flour). but I’m trying THIS ONE next!!
I just made this bread last night. Your pictures above look nothing like the loaves I made from this recipe. The recipe calls for all whole wheat flour, but your images look like you used all purpose flour because your crumb is much lighter in color than mine. I would also like to try this with only 2 rises. I think the 3 rises needlessly left my dough a little flatter/compact. Either way, the bread tastes good, but I would recommend tweaking this recipe a little.
How strange! I’m sorry this didn’t turn out like you expected! I definitely used all whole-wheat flour, but it was King Arthur White Whole Wheat which probably made it lighter in color and less dense.
Was it possible your yeast was old or expired? Also, if the water is too cold the yeast may not “wake up” or if it’s too warm then it may kill the yeast. Ideally, you want the water to be between 96 and 100 degrees F – or just warm to the touch. If it’s too hot for you or feels cold, then it’s not right for the yeast either. I know I’ve had a lot of breads go wrong with too warm or cold water! When the yeast is hanging in the water for around ten minutes, it should be foaming up. If it doesn’t foam then the yeast is either too cold or dead. You’ll have to start over. If it foams, but the bread doesn’t rise like you’d like, then it’s probably that the bread isn’t rising in a warm enough spot.
I know in winter my house can get a little chilly. When it’s cold out I like to heat the oven to 200 degrees F and then turn it off. I’ll let the dough rise in the warm oven covered with a damp cloth (non-terrycloth) towel.
I hope you give it another try – like you said, it definitely is a great tasting bread! Thanks for the feedback 🙂
All was going well on my first try with this bread and it was beautiful until the last rise. The bread fell at the end of it just before putting it in to bake. The yeast was proofed first and was fine. It was all going nicely until then. Next time I will also try just 2 rises.
Thanks for the recipe! Bread’s in the oven now, the whole batch in a 9 x 5 loaf pan. It is a gigantic godzilla creation, but luckily looks like it will stay in the pan having ballooned easily one full story above the rim. Beginning to smell really wonderful in that way bread baking bread does. I didn’t have enough ww flour and substituted 1 cup amaranth flour, but even that hasn’t tamed the beast. I think a ten inch pan might have been more prudent, if I’d had one, and if it would have fit in the toaster oven. In any case, I’ll soon have another opportunity to practice self restraint, (“Not yet…..not yet….. put the knife down and step away from the loaf!!!”).
You don’t mention how long to let the ol’ kitchenaid mixer do its work. Is it intended to be the entire 20 minutes? I have a little breadmaking knowledge, but not enough to know the answer. Thanks!
I just made this bread with the maximum amount of butter. It was very tasty and sweet and lacked the harsh taste sometimes found in whole wheat bread. However the dough was very moist and soft. I didn’t even try to make a normal rectangular loaf but made English muffins and a flat foccaccio like bread in a frying pan. I will try this again but with a little less water.