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.