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sandwich bread smackdown

March 30, 2011

In my imaginary life, I make bread every week so that I never have to buy the packaged stuff. (I’m also Martha Stewart in my imaginary life, but I digress.) So, it was pretty much a given that I would try Peter Reinhart’s light wheat sandwich bread recipe. And I did, and it was delicious and soft and squishy, and all was right with the world.

But then. THEN. Then, Cook’s Illustrated, who’s in a constant battle with Mr. Reinhart as to who gets to be my bestest bestie, published its own recipe for wheat sandwich bread. And I might not have paid much attention (well, okay, I probably would’ve paid attention regardless) except that this recipe was *vastly* different from Reinhart’s.

Can you see the CI loaves, creeping in the background?
Naturally, I decided that the best way to spend my spring break would be to test out both recipes, a la The Way the Cookie Crumbles and my type-A tendencies. And so, I spent one oh-so-lazy, oh-so-carefree (*sigh*) afternoon putting Lola to work with some bread dough. (Note #1: Do not, I repeat, DO NOT leave the CI dough unattended while it’s kneading. I turned my back to do some dishes, and the next thing I knew, the dough had crept up over the hook attachment and was working its way into the actual mechanism turning-thingy. Not cool.)

CI’s the darker one, on the left; Reinhart is on the right.
They were both pretty similarly-simple doughs, and they each call for one annoying-to-procure ingredient—Reinhart’s for powdered milk and CI’s for wheat germ (seriously?). Both of which I have a lot of excess right now, because it’s apparently impossible to buy these things in quantities that wouldn’t serve a family of 20 in the event of a natural disaster, so I’m betting I’ll be making bread again (or, uh, reconstituted powdered milk…or weird cereal) at some point in the future. Anyway, your decision between the two might be decided right off the bat depending on whether you’re closer to a regular-type grocery store or a Whole Foods (which was the only place I could find wheat germ in small[er] quantities).

And again, CI on the left, Reinhart on the right [here I am, stuck in the middle with noms].
And now, the moment you’ve all been waiting for: The Taste Test. Which was, um, inconclusive. There was no clear winner here—my (extremely scientific) survey found that Chris, my dad, and Chris’s sister liked CI’s version better, while my mom, Chris’s mom, and I liked Reinhart’s, and Chris was the only one whose preference wasn’t pretty clear. I thought the CI version definitely had a nuttier, darker flavor (my dad asked if there was molasses in it), and it was also a little bit denser and drier (which might have more to do with the fact that I possibly-probably-definitely overcooked it, bringing me to note #2: when you stick a thermometer in these puppies, you might want to test both loaves, because I only did so *after* they’d both been in the oven for about 10 minutes longer than called for, only to discover that the loaf I *hadn’t* been testing was over the done temperature). Reinhart’s loaf was probably prettier, too, in terms of domed-top-ness, but let’s be honest, that’s not really what I’m looking for in a sammich. The conclusion, though, is that they’re both equally yummy, freeze well, and make awesome lunches. So, base your decision on whether or not you feel like trekking to Whole Foods. Or on whether you want one loaf or two, since CI makes double the fun. Oh, and on whether or not you forget the night before to make your biga for the CI version. No judgment, I do it alllll the time.

Cook’s Illustrated’s Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread
2 cups (11 oz.) bread flour
1 cup warm water (100-110 degrees)
1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
3 cups (16 1/2 oz.) whole-wheat flour, plus extra for kneading
1/2 cup wheat germ (in baking aisle with flours or with hot cereals)
2 cups whole milk [I used skim, because our only whole milk was expired and I’m one of those people who really can’t tell when milk smells rotten. In retrospect, that might have contributed to the dryness, as well.]
1/4 cup honey
4 teaspoons table salt
2 tablespoons instant or rapid-rise yeast [yep, that’s right, 2 tablespoons]
6 tablespoons unsalted butter, softened
2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1. For the biga, combine bread flour, water, and yeast in a large bowl and stir with a wooden spoon until uniform mass forms and no dry flour remains, about 1 minute. Cover bowl tightly with plastic wrap and let stand at room temperature (70 degrees) overnight (at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours).
2. For the soaker, combine whole-wheat flour, wheat germ, and milk in large bowl and stir with wooden spoon until shaggy mass forms, about 1 minute. [For some reason, my soaker ended up being wayyy more liquidy than it was supposed to be, but I doubt that affected the end result too much, so no worries if it happens to you, too.] Turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead until smooth, 2 to 3 minutes. [Uhhh yeah no way I was going to “knead” the Creature from the Deep.] Return soaker to bowl, cover tightly with plastic wrap, and refrigerate overnight (at least 8 hours and up to 24 hours). [Hmmm, I’d left it out at room temperature…not sure why. Nobody got food poisoning of the six people who ate this, though, so it’s all good.]
3. For the dough, tear soaker apart into 1-inch pieces and place in bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook. [I just dumped the whole bowl of gloppiness in.] Add biga, honey, salt, yeast, butter, and oil. Mix on low speed until cohesive mass starts to form, about 2 minutes. Increase speed to medium and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, 8 to 10 minutes. Turn out dough onto lightly floured counter and knead 1 minute. Shape dough into ball and place in lightly greased container. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and allow it to rise at room temperature 45 minutes.
4. Gently press down on center of dough to deflate. Holding edge of dough with fingertips, fold partially risen dough over itself by gently lifting and folding edge of dough toward middle. Turn bowl 90 degrees; fold again. Turn bowl and fold dough 6 more times for a total of 8 folds. Cover and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in volume, about 45 minutes.
5. Adjust oven racks to middle and lowest position, place baking stone [or overturned rimmed baking sheet] on middle rack, and heat oven to 400 degrees. Spray two 9 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pans with nonstick cooking spray. Transfer dough to well-floured counter and divide into 2 pieces. Working with 1 ball of dough at a time, pat each into 8-by-17-inch rectangle. With short side facing you, roll dough toward you into a firm cylinder, keeping roll taut by tucking it under itself as you go. Turn loaf seam side up and pinch it closed. Place loaf seam side down in prepared loaf pan, pressing gently into corners. Repeat with second ball of dough. Cover loaves loosely with plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature until almost doubled in size, 60 to 90 minutes (top of loaves should rise about 1 inch over lip of pan).
6. Place empty loaf pan or other heatproof pan on bottom oven rack and bring 2 cups water to boil on stovetop. Using sharp serrated knife or single-edge razor blade, make one 1/4-inch-deep slash lengthwise down center of each loaf. Pour boiling water into empty loaf pan in oven and set loaves on baking stone [or baking sheet]. Reduce oven temperature to 350 degrees. Bake until crust is dark brown and internal temperature registers 200 degrees on instant-read thermometer, 40 to 50 minutes, rotating loaves 180 degrees and side to side halfway through baking.
7. Transfer pans to wire rack and let cool 5 minutes. Remove loaves from pan, return to rack, and cool to room temperature, about 2 hours.
Cook’s Illustrated

Peter Reinhart’s Light Wheat Bread
2 1/2 cups (11.25 oz.) unbleached high-gluten or bread flour
1 1/2 cups (6.75 oz.) whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 tablespoons granulated sugar or honey [I used sugar—I know honey would have made a more accurate comparison, buuut we were running low.]
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons powdered milk
1 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
2 tablespoons shortening or unsalted butter, at room temperature
1 1/4 cups water, at room temperature

1. Stir together the high-gluten flour, whole-wheat flour, sugar (if using), salt, powdered milk, and yeast in a 4-quart mixing bowl or in the bowl of an electric mixer. Add the shortening, honey (if using), and water. Stir or mix on low speed with the paddle attachment until the ingredients form a ball. If there is still flour in the bottom of the bowl, dribble in additional water. The dough should feel soft and supple. It is better for it to be a little too soft than to be too stiff and tough.
2. Sprinkle high-gluten or whole-wheat flour on the counter and transfer the dough to the counter. Begin kneading, or mix on medium speed with the dough hook. Add more flour if needed to make a firm, supple dough that is slightly tacky but not sticky. Kneading should take about 10 minutes, 6 minutes by machine. The dough should pass the windowpane test [meaning, roughly, that you can tear off a little piece and stretch it far enough to see light through it before it breaks] and register 77 to 81 degrees F. [Mr. R, I love you and all, but I have never once measured the temperature of my dough.] Lightly oil a large bowl and transfer the dough to the bowl, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
3. Ferment at room temperature for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, or until the dough doubles in size.
4. Remove the dough from the bowl and press it by hand into a rectangle about 3/4 inches thick, 6 inches wide, and 8 to 10 inches long. Form it into a loaf by working from the short end of the dough, rolling up the length of the dough one section at a time, pinching the crease with each rotating to strengthen the surface tension. It will spread wider as you roll it. Pinch the final seam closed with the back edge of your hand or with your thumbs. Place the loaf in a lightly oiled 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch bread pan; the ends of the loaf should touch the ends of the pan to ensure an even rise. Mist the top with spray oil and loosely cover with plastic wrap.
5. Proof at room temperature for approximately 60 to 90 minutes, or until the dough crests above the lip of the pan.
6. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees with an oven rack on the middle shelf.
7. Place the bread pan on a sheet pan and bake for 30 minutes. Rotate the pan 180 degrees for even baking and continue baking for 15 to 30 minutes, depending on the oven. The finished loaf should register 190 degrees in the center, be golden brown on the top and sides, and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
8. When the bread is finished baking, remove it immediately from the loaf pan and cool it on a rack for at least 1 hour [1 hour less than CI! Yesss!!!] before slicing and serving.
Source: Peter Reinhart’s The Bread Baker’s Apprentice: Mastering the Art of Extraordinary Bread

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