Tassajara (Kneaded) Whole-Wheat Bread

Whole-wheat Tassajara BreadNo-Knead Bread is nice, but sometimes. . . well, pardon the pun, but you need to knead. Whether it’s the relaxing catharsis of kneading warm dough, or the time constraint of having forgotten to start dough rising a day early, or the desire to make something other than round white bread, making “normal” bread is still something I miss. So, yesterday, I decided to pull out my Tassajara Bread Book and make something new.

The results were very pleasing; achieving whole-wheat bread that’s light and even and fluffy can be a difficult task, thanks to the reduced gluten content of whole-wheat flour. (Gluten is the protein that gives yeast breads their fluffiness and springiness; it’s present in the highest quantities in white bread flour, and it’s developed by plenty of rising and kneading.) Tassajara recommended a technique a little more lengthy than my standard “knead, rise, shape, rise, bake” method, and it worked well.

A word of caution, though. This recipe looks long and complicated. It isn’t. (Well, it’s long, because good bread needs a long rising time, but you can do other things during that time.) What’s hard about making good bread is that it’s a genuine craft, the kind of skill that relies more on the memory of your hands than of your head. You have to know what weight and softness different doughs should have, how to guide the dough into smooth shapes that rise into perfect loaves, how to score the surface with even, shallow slashes. It’s a craft that I can’t claim to have mastered yet. I’ve tried to describe the technique I use in detail, here, but the best way to learn to make good bread is to bake it, again and again, and to watch other bakers at their craft. Enjoy the journey.

P.S. Sorry about the poor photo; I didn’t think to get a picture until the bread was mostly gone!

Tassajara Whole-Wheat Bread
adapted from the Tassajara Bread Book
makes 2 loaves of bread
total time, including rising time: 4 1/2 hours

3 cups lukewarm water (feels slightly warm against the wrist)
1 tablespoon live dry yeast, or one package (don’t use “nutritional yeast”!)
1/4-1/3 cups sweetening (honey or brown sugar is best)
1 cup dry milk powder
4 cups whole wheat flour
1 heaping tablespoon salt
1/4 cup vegetable or olive oil, plus a little extra
3 cups white flour, plus 1-2 more cups

Large mixing bowl
Sturdy spoon (wooden is best)
Kitchen towel (not terrycloth!), or plastic cling wrap
Large wooden cutting board, or a clean kitchen counter
Two metal loaf pans
A very sharp, unserrated kitchen knife, or utility knife, or clean razor

  1. Pour the water into your bowl. Add the yeast and stir to dissolve. Mix in the sweetening and dry milk.
  2. Stir in the whole wheat flour to form a thick batter. Mix well with a spoon for 100 strokes. Cover the mixture loosely with a damp towel or a piece of plastic cling wrap. Place in a warm area, such as a sunny window or an oven with the oven light turned on.
  3. After 60 minutes, the dough should have risen noticeably and should smell warm and yeasty; if it hasn’t risen at all, the yeast is probably bad, and you’ll need to start over. Uncover and mix in the salt and oil.
  4. Fold in the first three cups of flour with a spoon, until the dough becomes stiff and pulls away from the sides of the bowl.
  5. Sprinkle flour generously over a kitchen counter or large wooden board. Turn out the dough onto the board and sprinkle more flour on top.
  6. For 10-15 minutes (really!), knead (*) the dough, sprinkling flour as necessary to keep it from sticking to your hands or the counter. By the time you’re done, the dough should be very smooth, with only a slight stickiness when you touch it (no more than a Post-It note). Be careful not to add too much flour; the dough should be soft enough to fold over itself, and should yield to the touch when you poke it. If you accidentally add too much flour, just sprinkle on a little water and knead it in.
  7. Clean out the bowl that you’ve been using, and put a tablespoon or two of vegetable oil in the bottom. Shape the dough into a ball, drop it in the bowl, and roll it around so that it’s covered in a light film of oil. Cover loosely with a towel or cling wrap.
  8. Let rise 50 minutes in a warm place. Uncover, and knead the dough for four or five strokes to deflate the air bubbles. Cover.
  9. Let rise another 40 minutes. While you’re waiting, clean and dry the counter or wooden board, and grease two loaf pans with oil, shortening, or nonstick spray.
  10. Turn the dough out onto the clean counter and knead for four or five strokes. Divide the dough in half.
  11. For each half, knead it a couple of times, then roll it out with a rolling pin until it’s a bit longer and thinner than a piece of computer paper – about 12″x7″. Roll up the dough into a log, starting with the short end closest to you, and folding the edges inward as you go. The resulting dough should be a thick cylinder that doesn’t bulge in the middle or the ends (**). Seal the edge by pinching the dough together for the full length of the edge.
  12. Place each log of dough in a loaf pan, seam-side down. Let rise 20 minutes. About halfway through the rising, score the bread with a sharp, unserrated knife (***). Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F.
  13. After 20 minutes, the top of the loaves should be a bit higher than the edge of the pan; if they’re not that high yet, let them rise for a few minutes. Keep in mind that the bread will continue to rise in the oven.
  14. Put the bread loaves in the 350 degree oven for about one hour. Check after 45 minutes. The bread is done when the top is a rich brown color and the bread makes a hollow sound when you rap it with your knuckles.
  15. Remove the bread from the oven and turn out immediately onto a cooling rack. (If the bread sticks, carefully slide a knife around it to loosen it.) If you plan to use the bread for sandwiches, wait until it’s completely cool before slicing, so that you retain the shape and moisture. I like to slice and freeze the bread, so that I can pull off and thaw slices of “fresh bread” for sandwiches or toasting, without it growing stale. Enjoy!

(*) Kneading. It’s a motion that might feel a little awkward at first, but it quickly settles into a pleasantly relaxing rhythm. Take the dough and fold it over itself, toward you. Press down (hard!) into the dough with both your palms to squish it into itself. Rotate the dough a quarter turn, and repeat. You should be using the muscles in your arms, especially as you add more flour, but it should never be painful or cramping to your hands; if it is, try a different position.

(**) Rolling dough into a really even cylinder is one of the tricks of a good baker; it makes the bread rise into the puffy, smooth crown that makes great sandwiches. It takes a long time to get the feel right, though. Don’t despair if you can’t get it the first few times; at worst, your bread will be a bit unevenly shaped. This method differs from mine in some ways, but it’s illustrated, if you’re having trouble envisioning what I’m describing.

(***) Scoring bread well is harder than you’d think, but it’s another secret of professional-looking loaves. Basically, you want your knife or razor to be as sharp as possible, and you want to make a quick, steady, unhesitating slash that doesn’t go too deep. If you go too slowly or use a dull blade, the bread will tear and look uneven. Again, this takes practice; even if you don’t get it right the first time, your bread will still taste good.

This entry was posted in Food.

12 comments on “Tassajara (Kneaded) Whole-Wheat Bread

  1. Becca says:

    Indeed, one of the best bread recipes ever. Thanks for posting it, I don’t have the original book anymore.

  2. Stratus says:

    yum… good recipe.. I’ve never baked bread before that wasn’t a mix – and the details given here were good enough that I managed to make some delicious bread first try!

  3. George Yotov says:

    I will definately try this recipe.

  4. Anita Reed says:

    I have used this recipe since 1975 and it is the only whole wheat bread I make and I bake once a week. I also add wheat germ and whole ground flaxseed meal. It’s delicious!

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