Tag Archives: bread challenge

Bread Challenge: An Update and a Recipe

Honey-Oatmeal Sandwich Bread

I’ve been dead silent about my Bread Challenge for a while, but I did do quite a bit of bread baking this spring (not so much during the summer…).  I had one failure (I fault the recipe because my Mom had similar issues as me), some mediocre results, and a really good sandwich bread.

I have learned quite a few things during this challenge:

  • While I still need practice, and I am definitely learning how to tell when my bread has been kneaded enough.
  • I know how to make adjustments for my climate and altitude:  add an extra tablespoon of water, and do an extra rise before shaping the dough.
  • After a number of attempts making a 100% whole wheat loaf, I have decided that I prefer recipes that use a bit of all-purpose or bread flour.  The white flour adds a little more gluteny stretch, which I prefer.
  • It no longer seems like a “big deal” to make bread.  It just takes a little planning to get started early enough in the day.

I am now feeling pretty confident with my basic bread-baking skills, so I would like to start spreading my wings a bit more.  Perhaps trying some rolls or maybe even a baguette.  For my next challenge, I am considering this hamburger bun recipe:  Beautiful Burger Buns.

This bread is a failure…it shouldn’t be so flat!

My favorite bread recipe so far is called “Honey-Oatmeal Sandwich Bread”, and it comes from King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking.  I thought I would share it with you!  I give instructions for using a stand mixer, but feel free to substitute whatever method (hand kneading or bread machine) that you prefer.

Honey-Oatmeal Sandwich Bread

Print Recipe

  • 1¼ cups (10 ounces) boiling water
  • 1 cup (3½ ounces) rolled oats
  • 2 tablespoons (1 ounce) unsalted butter, cut into 3 pieces
  • 1½ teaspoons salt
  • ¼ cup (3 ounces) honey
  • 1 cup (4 ounces) whole wheat flour
  • 1 2/3 cups (7 ounces) unbleached all-purpose flour
  • ¼ cup (1 ounce) nonfat dry milk
  • 2 teaspoons instant yeast

Place the boiling water, oats, butter, salt, and honey into the bowl of a stand mixer.  Mix well using the flat paddle beater and let the mixture cool to lukewarm.

Add the remaining ingredients to the mixer bowl.  Mix again, just until the flour and liquid are combined.  Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let the dough rest for 45 minutes.

Uncover the bowl and switch to the dough hook.  Knead the dough on low speed until you have a soft, smooth dough, about 15 minutes.  Stop and scrape down the bowl and dough hook as needed.

Place the dough in a lightly greased bowl and cover it.  Let rise until doubled in bulk, about an hour.

Lightly grease a 9×5-inch loaf pan.  Oil your hands, then gently deflate the dough and shape it into a 9 inch log.  Place it in the prepared pan.  Cover it gently with greased plastic wrap.  Allow the bread to rise until it is crowned 1½ inches above the rim of the pan, roughly 1 to 1½ hours.  Preheat the oven to 350°F when the bread is almost fully risen.

Uncover the bread and bake for about 45 minutes, until it is golden brown.  Tent it with foil after 20 minutes to prevent over-browning.  The bread should register 190°F when tested with an instant-read thermometer.

Turn the finished bread out onto a cooling rack.  Cool the bread completely before cutting it.


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Bread Challenge: “No-Knead” For Success

When I announced my Bread Challenge, I mentioned that I have had success with no-knead artisan breads using the method and recipes in Jim Lahey’s book My Bread: The Revolutionary No-Work, No-Knead Method.

My mom and sister have been doing the bread challenge with me, and when they wanted to give one of Lahey’s breads a try I was game.  We made the Stecca, which is a thin baguette Lahey developed to use for sandwiches.

The secret to no-knead breads is the very long, slow rise.  The dough is mixed quickly and thoroughly, and then allowed to sit for 12 – 18 hours.  The long fermentation allows the gluten and complex flavors to develop.  These are truly the best breads I have ever made!


For the Stecca, after the dough has it’s overnight rest, and then another rise, it is cut into quarters and stretched out on a lightly oiled pan.  I still need practice getting the dough to stretch evenly, but I guess it adds to the rustic look.  Lahey suggests either simply brushing the loaves with olive oil and a sprinkling of coarse salt, or embellishing them with tomatoes, garlic, or olives.  I left two plain to use for sandwiches and added garlic and olives to the other two loaves.

Ready to bake!

The night I made these I assembled sandwiches for dinner.  I used a sandwich recipe from the same book, though I must admit I did not use all home-made ingredients as the recipe recommends.  I did try making the home-made aioli but it was a major FAIL.  Still, even with “store-bought” mayonnaise, sun-dried tomatoes, and roast beef, the sandwiches were fabulous.

Roast beef sandwiches with sun-dried tomatoes and arugula

We ate the embellished loaves for dinner the next night with some soup.

If you haven’t tried a no-knead bread recipe yet, I highly recommend it!  I am not going to include a recipe here because they are readily found elsewhere.  Here are a couple of places to start:

Mark Bittman started the no-knead craze by writing about Jim Lahey and his method in the NY Times.  A link to the basic recipe and a video showing the technique is there too.

Steamy Kitchen has a great post about the Stecca, with detailed pictures and the recipe.


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Bread Challenge: Maple-Walnut Oat Bread

I am really enjoying my bread challenge.  Each loaf of bread I make is better than the one before and I am learning a lot!

This week’s bread was called “Maple-Walnut Oat Bread” and it came from King Arthur Flour’s book Whole Grain Baking.


I focused on two things while making this bread:  kneading it enough and letting it rise enough once it got in the pan.


One of the most difficult things for me in learning how to bake bread has been knowing when I have kneaded the dough enough.  Recipes say things like “knead until smooth and elastic”, but what does that really mean?  My sister told me about the “window test”, in which you stretch a little piece of the dough between your fingers and if it makes a thin sheet without breaking then you can stop kneading.  I tried this and it seems to have helped.  I found this link which talks about kneading and shows a nice picture of the window test.

I really think I got the dough kneaded enough this time (or at least very close!).  Not only could I stretch the dough thin fairly well (a little tricky with the walnuts), but I could see the strands of gluten starting to form.


Another problem I have had making bread is I don’t feel the bread is quite tall enough.  I suspect I haven’t been letting it rise quite high enough for the final rise.  I have also been getting “lumpy” tops, rather than smooth.

This is the first loaf I baked. You can see that the top is a little lumpy.

This time I made two changes during the final rise.  Normally I let my dough rise in the laundry room on top of the dryer.  It’s a nice, warm little spot.  I was starting to suspect that the act of carrying the pan of risen dough back to the kitchen was causing it to fall a bit, resulting in my lumpy loaves.  So this time I did the initial rise in the laundry room, but did the final rise in the kitchen.

The other change I made was to let it rise a little higher in the pan.  The recipe said to let it rise so it crowned an inch and a half above the pan.  I actually took out a ruler and waited until it got high enough.

Nicely risen and ready to bake!

Other Adjustments

I also made my now-usual altitude adjustments:  I added an extra tablespoon of water, and let the dough rise a second time before shaping it for the final rise.  I remembered to use my bread improver this time too!


This is definitely my best loaf so far!  I know I say that each time, but really it just means I’m learning and improving.  The flavor is wonderful!  And it has a nice soft texture that is perfect for sandwiches and toasting.  I finally got a nice smooth top, rather than a lumpy one.

I am looking forward to continuing my bread challenge and continued bread improvement!  If you are interested in making Maple-Walnut Oat Bread for yourself, you can find the recipe here on King Arthur Flour’s site.

Nice smooth top.


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Bread Challenge: White Loaves

For my next challenge bread, I made the White Loaves from Baking with Julia.  The Tuesdays with Dorie group made these a few weeks ago and all the loaves I saw looked wonderful.  It seemed like a good recipe to try.

My mom and sister also made the same bread the same week I did.  Our results were mixed.

I made a few changes to the recipe.  Some of my changes were to adjust for altitude and some of them were for added nutrition and taste.  Here are my changes:

  1. I substituted white whole wheat flour for half the bread flour.
  2. I used 8 teaspoons of KAF Whole Grain Bread Improver.
  3. I let the dough sit for about 30 minutes after the initial mix but before kneading to allow the whole wheat flour to absorb more liquid.
  4. I added an extra 2 tablespoons water to account for my dry climate and higher altitude.
  5. After the first rise I punched down the dough and let it rise a second time before shaping and doing the final rise.


This is the best loaf bread I have made so far!  The texture was good – nice and “springy” to the touch, for lack of a better word.  The bread was great toasted and it also made a nice turkey sandwich.  I really  liked the flavor added by the white whole wheat flour.  My bread did not rise as high as many of the TWD loaves I saw, perhaps because of the whole wheat flour I used.

Yummy Turkey Sandwich

My mom liked her bread but didn’t love it.  It was a little chewy and yeasty.  But she was very pleased with her results since she hadn’t made a loaf of bread in years.

Mom's bread. The bread on the left was baked in a taller glass pan and the one on the right was in a wider metal pan.

My sister thought her bread was fine untoasted, but great toasted.  She didn’t care for the crust – it wasn’t what she thought it should be.  She and I both worried about our mixers; they got really hot while mixing!  The dough for two loaves was a little too much for our mixers to handle, and we both stopped the kneading process before we should have because we didn’t want to hurt our mixers.

My sister's bread. She only has one bread pan, so she made the second loaf a boule.

All-in-all, I consider our loaves to be a success!  Did you make any bread in the last week?  If so, put a link in the comments and I will check it out!



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Bread Challenge: Altitude Matters

I’ve talked before about my challenges baking cakes at my apparently high altitude (~4400 feet).  But somehow I thought I was immune to altitude problems when it came to making yeast breads.  My dough rose nicely after all.

After making my last loaf of bread, I started thinking about what I could do differently to improve the texture.  It suddenly occurred to me that perhaps my altitude was affecting my breads.  I did some research and learned a lot!

Second Try at the 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

According to my book High Altitude Baking, yeast bread dough rises more rapidly above 3500 feet.  And since the development in flavor depends in part on rising time, bread at made at higher altitudes may not be as flavorful.  Most sources I looked at suggest punching down the dough and letting it rise a second time before shaping and doing a third rise.  This extra rising time allows the flavors to develop and allows for “the changes in the gluten that make bread tender, light and of good flavor”.  This might also explain why I have had success with the no-knead artisan breads:  they take advantage of a long, slow rise.

I also found out that my dry climate as well as my higher altitude causes flour to be drier and thus absorb more liquid.  Recommendations to remedy this include using less flour or adding more liquid.

100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread

With this new information I made another loaf of 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread. I made the following changes:

  1. I used the orange juice recommended by the book to improve flavor, which I left out last time.
  2. I added an extra 2 tablespoons of water.  This was a little too much: the dough was pretty sticky and I had to add a touch more flour to make up for it.  Next time I will try only 1 tablespoon.
  3. I let the dough rise a second time before shaping.  Unfortunately I had to leave the house before the first rise was finished so I had to punch it down early.  I didn’t want to risk it rising too much and collapsing.
  4. I accidentally left out the dough improver.  Oops!

Results:  Much better than the first loaf, but still needs improvement.  The texture was much improved and it toasted better.  I didn’t discern any change in flavor by using the orange juice.  The bread was a little soft and wanted to break apart easily, especially when toasted.

Next time I use this recipe I will make the following changes: Use only 1 tablespoon of extra water.  Let the dough finish the first rise before punching it down.  Remember to use the bread improver.


Next Challenge

My mom and sister are participating in the bread challenge with me.  Next bread-related post I will share some of their results as well as my results baking the “White Bread Loaves” from Baking with Julia.

We would love to have you participate too!  If you wish to join in the fun, make a loaf or more of bread, then leave a link to your blog post or photos (if you don’t have a blog) in the comments or send to me though the Contact Me page.  Next week I will to a round-up and will do so at the end of every month.


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Bread Challenge 2012

I have decided that this year I am going to challenge myself to improve my bread-making skills. I have always liked the idea of baking bread on a regular basis. My results have been mixed: some winners, some losers, and a whole lot of mediocre.

Quick breads have always worked well for me, and in the last couple of years I have had success with artisan breads using the no-knead method described in Jim Lahey’s My Bread. Where I struggle is with everyday breads used for toast and sandwiches. This is where I will focus my efforts, at least initially. I also intend to focus on whole grain breads since bread is the primary way I get whole grains into our diets.

To help ensure success, I purchased a couple of products designed to improve breads: King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Bread Improver and their Baker’s Special Dry Milk (why yes, I have drunk the KAF Kool Aid).

The top is a little lumpy.

One of my biggest “issues” with homemade bread is the texture.  It just isn’t the same as store-bought bread.  It is hard for me to explain what is different, it just isn’t as smooth and soft, and it doesn’t toast the same.  I don’t know if the texture I get is just the way it is with homemade bread, or if it is something I can strive to improve.

For my first challenge bread, I turned to King Arthur Flour’s book Whole Grain Baking. I made the “100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread”, which they describe as “the Holy Grail of 100 percent whole wheat breads”. This book is great because they give a lot of tips for successful baking, such as letting the dough rest before kneading to allow the whole wheat flour to absorb more of the liquid.

It slices nicely.

So how did it turn out? At first blush, this bread has the best texture of any sandwich bread I have ever made, but it still toasts a bit differently than store-bought bread.  It has a nice amount of moistness and has stayed fairly fresh for several days now.  It tastes good toasted and spread with my orange fig jam.  One minor complaint is that it has a bit too much of a “whole wheat” flavor, for lack of a better way to describe it. A blurb in the book discusses the use of orange juice in their recipes to help temper the “tannic flavor” of the whole wheat. I didn’t have any orange juice, so I left it out.

What’s next? I want to try the “100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread” again with orange juice to see how it changes the flavor. After seeing all the wonderful loaves of white bread made recently by the Tuesdays with Dorie folks, I would like to try that recipe as well. Lola’s Kitchen successfully substituted half of the bread flour with white whole wheat flour, something I definitely want to try!

I will keep you all updated with my bread-making efforts! Anyone want to join me in this challenge?


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