One simple ingredient makes old-fashioned whole wheat bread possible in record time.

A basket of just-baked bread elevates the most ordinary meal to a special event. The aroma, the warmth, that inviting, soft texture-homemade bread is indeed one of life’s simple pleasures. But who has the time to bake bread when most traditional recipes take the better part of the day?

With that in mind, I set out to find a way to make wholesome vegan bread from scratch in less than three hours, start to finish. Loaves that ferment overnight or rely on starters that take weeks to grow often have more complexity in terms of flavor and texture. But through careful selection of ingredients and techniques, I found that I could make a great loaf almost on the spur of the moment. Not only are my results fresher than store-bought (and can be prepared at a fraction of the cost), but I can control the nutritional quality of the ingredients. I like to use as much whole wheat flour as possible to get the most fiber, protein, and vitamins. Many commercial loaves contain only 20 percent or 30 percent whole wheat flour. My recipe contains more than 50 percent whole wheat flour-and I can leave out the sugar and preservatives that usually appear in store-bought loaves.

My secret ingredient for success is SAF-Instant Yeast, a high-performance yeast developed in France especially for professional bakers. It’s available in supermarkets, gourmet stores, and by mail order from The King Arthur Flour Baker’s Catalogue. Unlike the active dry yeasts home bakers are accustomed to’ SAF is an instant yeast. It’s easier to use because it doesn’t have to be dissolved in water first. And due to the highly porous nature of its cell walls, it dissolves quickly and evenly right in the dough.

What’s more, the rise you get from instant yeast is quite vigorous. The dough will double in about thirty or forty minutes if placed in a warm, draft-free spot. In addition to saving time, instant yeast produces both impressive taste and texture. In my testing, I came to prefer SAF-Instant to other quick-rising yeasts. The results were consistent, and the loaves had a slightly firmer texture than those made with other rapid-rise yeasts.

The Power of Flour

Since flour is the star ingredient, it’s important to know what you’re looking for. Bread flour has a higher gluten content than all-purpose flour and will give your loaf a better rise and texture. Although you might be tempted to use 100 percent whole wheat flour, I have found that using some white bread flour makes better bread. Loaves made with all whole wheat flour tend to have less volume and can be somewhat heavy. Equally important as the type of flour is its temperature. Yeast likes warmth. So, if you store your flour in the refrigerator, be sure to bring it to room temperature before starting.

In addition to flour and yeast, my recipes include water, a sweetener, and oil. Water has a definite effect on the taste of the finished loaf, so unless your tap water has superior flavor, use filtered or spring water. When I want a bread with a richer taste and a softer crumb, I use oat milk or soymilk instead of water. I usually use maple syrup, barley malt, or honey as a sweetener, depending on the flavor desired. And I select my oil based on the type of loaf I’m making. For example, I like to use walnut oil when making walnut bread, or sesame oil when I’m adding sesame seeds. When you’re not looking for a particular flavor from the oil, canola is perfectly fine.

Final Pointers

The amount of flour you use when making bread will depend on its moisture content and the humidity in your kitchen. I start with a set amount of whole wheat flour and then add only enough of the white flour needed to make a smooth, elastic dough that is neither sticky nor dry. I’ve included instructions for kneading by hand, as well as with an electric mixer fitted with a dough hook. I find both of these methods superior to using a food processor, which can easily overwork the dough.

Many bread recipes call for elaborate shaping of the dough. I have developed an easy, quick method for patting the dough into a rectangle and then rolling it up into a loaf. I like to remove the bread from the pan at that point, when it is almost done, and bake it directly on the oven rack until the crust is golden and the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped. This two-step cooking technique ensures that the crust is crisp and that the crumb is tender and soft.

The recipe that follows is a basic, single-loaf formula. If you wish to make two loaves, increase the yeast to one tablespoon and double all the other ingredients. After the first rise, divide the dough in half and proceed with the shaping instructions as directed. Steel loaf pans measuring eight and one-half inches by four and one-half inches work best with this recipe. The dough does not have enough volume for nine-by-five-inch pans.

There is no question that bread is at its peak the day it is made. However, leftover slices are delicious toasted for breakfast. Alternatively, you can freeze the slices and then remove them as needed for sandwiches or other uses.

WHOLE WHEAT BREAD

Makes 1 loaf

This is my basic recipe to which I add a variety of seeds or nuts. The flavor options listed below are just a few of my favorites. Feel free to improvise. For an especially soft, tender crumb, replace the water with an equal amount of oat milk or soymilk.

  • 2 tablespoons maple syrup, barley malt, or honey
  • 1 tablespoon canola oil
  • 2 cups whole wheat bread flour
  • 2 teaspoons SAF-Instant or rapid-rise yeast
  • 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1 1/4-1/2 cups unbleached white bread flour

1. Lightly oil 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch metal loaf pan and set aside. Adjust oven rack to position just below center.

2. Gently heat 1 1/4 cups warm water, sweetener, and oil in small saucepan to temperature between 80 and 110 degrees.

3. To knead dough by hand: Stir together whole wheat bread flour, yeast, and salt in large bowl. Stir in warm liquid ingredients. Gradually add white bread flour in 1/4-cup increments, stirring well in one direction after each addition. When mixture becomes too stiff to stir, turn out onto floured board and knead in enough of remaining flour to make smooth, elastic dough that is neither sticky nor dry. Knead about 10 minutes.

To knead with a standing mixer: Stir together whole wheat bread flour, yeast, and salt in bowl of standing mixer fitted with dough hook. Turn mixer to speed 2 (or manufacturer’s recommended speed for kneading bread dough) and slowly add warm liquid ingredients. Add 1 1/4 cups white bread flour, 1/4 cup at a time, mixing well after each addition. Add remaining flour as needed to make dough that is neither sticky nor dry. When dough begins to clean sides of bowl, knead about 7 minutes or until dough is smooth and elastic. (It’s a good idea to stop mixer and feel dough to make this determination.)

4. Transfer dough to lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat it. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and place in warm, draft-free spot, such as an oven that has been preheated on the lowest setting for 2 minutes and turned off. Let rise until doubled in bulk, 30 to 40 minutes.

5. Gently punch down dough and transfer to lightly floured work surface. Roll out to an oblong rectangle approximately 8 inches long and 6 inches across . With long side facing you, roll dough firmly into cylinder, pressing down to make sure that dough sticks to itself. Turn dough seam side up and pinch closed. Place dough, seam side down, in prepared loaf pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and return to warm, draft-free spot. Let rise again until almost doubled, 30 to 40 minutes.

6. Preheat oven to 350 degrees while bread is rising. Just before baking, make three diagonal slashes about 1/4-inch deep across top of loaf with serrated knife. Bake 45 minutes. Remove loaf from pan and place directly on oven rack for additional 5 minutes or until bottom sounds hollow when tapped and crust is golden brown. Remove from oven and set on wire rack. Cool completely before slicing. To serve warm, wrap in foil and reheat at 325 degrees, 15 to 20 minutes.

MAPLE WALNUT WHOLE WHEAT BREAD

Follow Whole Wheat Bread recipe, making these changes: Use maple syrup as sweetener. Replace canola oil with walnut oil. After rolling dough into rectangle, sprinkle evenly with 3/4 cup coarsely chopped toasted walnuts and lightly press them into dough. Roll up tightly as directed.

MULTI-SEED WHOLE WHEAT BREAD

Follow Whole Wheat Bread recipe, adding 1/4 cup sunflower seeds, 1 1/2 tablespoons flax seeds, and 1/2 tablespoons poppy seeds to whole wheat flour mixture before stirring in liquid ingredients.

TOASTED SESAME SEED WHOLE WHEAT BREAD

Follow Whole Wheat Bread recipe, making these changes: Replace canola oil with Asian sesame oil. Add 1/4 cup toasted sesame seeds to whole wheat flour mixture before stirring in liquid ingredients.

CINNAMON-RAISIN WHOLE WHEAT BREAD

Follow Whole Wheat Bread recipe, adding 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon with white flour. After rolling dough into rectangle, sprinkle with 3/4 cup raisins and lightly press them into dough. Roll up tightly as directed.

Step-By-Step: Shaping the Dough

  1. After dough has doubled, gently punch it down and transfer to lightly floured work surface. Roll out to an oblong rectangle approximately 8 inches long and 6 inches across.
  2. With long side facing you, roll dough firmly into a cylinder, pressing down to make sure that dough sticks to itself.
  3. Turn dough seam side up and pinch closed.
  4. Place dough, seam side down, in prepared loaf pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and return to warm, draft-free spot. Let rise again until almost doubled, 30 to 40 minutes.
  5. Just before baking, make three diagonal slashes about 1/4-inch deep across top of loaf with serrated knife.
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