Making bread is one of my absolute favorite things in the world. I got my start in baking through sourdough, and just took off from there. I’m at the point now where I very rarely buy bread, because I’m baking it so often. But as wonderful as it is to enjoy a loaf of freshly baked bread, it can be pretty intimidating to start learning how to do it on your own. Trust me when I say baking bread is actually a lot easier than it looks! This easy whole wheat sandwich bread is my go-to for a yeasted bread that I can use for sandwiches or toast (it also makes great croutons!). It only takes a couple of hours start to finish, and tastes better than anything you can buy at the store.
Before we get started, let’s talk about some basics of baking bread. There are several different types of breads, that are typically defined by the leavening agent. The leavening agent is what is used to make the dough rise. Here are the main types of bread. Today, we will be baking a yeasted bread.
- Quick breads: leavened with baking soda and/or baking powder. These are closer to a cake, like a pumpkin or zucchini bread. These do not require kneading or rising time, and do all the rising in the oven.
- Yeasted breads: these use commercial yeast, like dry active yeast, or instant yeast. This is typically what you buy at the store. These require kneading, and typically have two rises.
- Sourdough bread: this bread is naturally leavened, meaning the yeast used to raise the dough is wild, and not commercially manufactured. Sourdough has a characteristic sour flavor, crusty exterior, and takes much longer to make than yeasted breads. Sourdough typically has one room temperature rise, called a bulk fermentation, and one cold rise in the fridge, called a cold proof, which is mostly for developing flavor.
Since this whole wheat sandwich bread is a yeasted bread, we will use commercial yeast, knead it to develop strength, and give it two rises. The first rise will be before shaping, and the second rise will be after we shape it into a loaf.
Let’s talk yeast
There are several different types of yeast that you can choose to use for baking. The primary types are:
- Dry active yeast: this yeast needs to be bloomed in warm water before using. It is a two-rise yeast.
- Instant dry yeast: this yeast can be added directly to the dough and is also a two-rise yeast.
- Rapid rise yeast: this yeast is designed to work quickly, and is not good for refrigerated doughs or long rises. It is meant to be used with only one rise.
- Fresh yeast: also known as cake yeast, and typically used in Scandinavian baking.
- Wild yeast: used for sourdough bread. This yeast is also known as a sourdough starter, and exists as a living culture that needs to be fed and maintained over time.
In this recipe, we will be using instant dry yeast, also known as IDY. Instant dry yeast is my preferred type of yeast to do for non-sourdough loaves, as I find it works more consistently than dry active yeast and produces a better flavor.
Need to knead
Kneading is crucial for developing gluten, which gives bread its strength. Gluten is a type of protein that forms through the activation of water mixed with the flour. Kneading creates chains of gluten, and that gluten gives the bread structure so it rises properly and has the correct texture. When you knead bread and see ropey looking threads, what you’re looking at is gluten.
There are a few different ways to knead bread. The first is by hand, which takes a bit more time, but can be very therapeutic. It’s also a great way to start learning how different doughs behave and how to handle them.
You can also use a stand mixer for your kneading. This recipe calls for the use of a stand mixer, but if you don’t have one, you can knead by hand.
Tools you need for this bread
There are several optional tools for this recipe. I like to use a stand mixer, but if you don’t have one, you can knead by hand. I also recommend using a kitchen scale, as measuring by weight is far more accurate than volume in baking. If you don’t have a scale, I’ve included volumetric measurements as well, but please be aware that they are not as exact and your results might vary depending on how you measure. If you plan on baking a lot, I definitely suggest investing in a kitchen scale! They’re inexpensive, and so worth the accuracy (and fewer dishes to wash!).
This recipe makes two loaves, so you will also need two 8.5″ x 4.5″ loaf pans. 9″ x 5″ is also great.
How to make this whole wheat sandwich bread
This bread calls for several ingredients: water, instant dry yeast, milk, neutral oil, bread flour, whole wheat flour, honey, salt, and butter. We will use the mix of bread flour and whole wheat flour because bread flour has a higher protein content than whole wheat. This means it is stronger, easier to develop, and gives a more consistent structure. Since whole wheat is a weaker flour, the bread flour is crucial to having a proper structure. But don’t worry! This bread still has plenty of whole wheat flavor.
First, we will mix all the ingredients together except for the butter in the bowl of a stand mixer. If you’re mixing by hand, simply do this in a large bowl with a silicone spatula or a danish dough whisk. For the mixer, mix on medium low with a dough hook until a dough ball forms. Add the butter, one small piece at a time, until it is fully incorporated. If mixing by hand, knead the dough on a clean tabletop and add the butter in a little at a time until it is fully added.
Keep kneading until you reach the windowpane stage. This means that if you stretch a little bit of dough between your fingers, it gets thin enough that you can see through it without tearing. Windowpane is the result of proper gluten development. If the dough is too wet and sticky, you may add bread flour, one tablespoon at a time, until the dough is tacky but not messy. Go slow if you do this so that you do not add too much flour.
Shaping sandwich loaves
Once the dough reaches windowpane, we’ll let it rise for about 60-90 minutes until it has doubled. After the first rise, we’ll press the air out of the dough and using a bench knife or regular knife, divide the dough into two even pieces.
Press the first piece of dough into a rectangle, and with the short end facing you, fold the bottom third up towards the top third, like you’re folding a letter. Fold the top third down to overlap with the bottom third, and then rotate the dough 90° so that the short side is facing you again. Roll into a log shape, then pinch the ends closed. Give it a little press with your hands on either side to lengthen it a little, and place into one of the loaf pans, smooth side up. Repeat with the other portion of dough.
Now we will let the dough rise again for about 45-60 minutes until puffy and risen, before baking. Cool on a wire rack and enjoy for sandwiches, or with homemade butter.
How to store this whole wheat bread
I like to store my bread in a plastic bag in the fridge to prevent it from drying out and to extend its shelf life. You can also keep it in a bread box or other airtight container. If you live in a warm or humid environment, I recommend keeping the bread in the fridge to prevent it from molding quickly.
I hope you give this Easy Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread a try! Be sure to tag me on instagram so I can see your bakes, and leave me a comment below! Your feedback helps other bakers who are giving this recipe a try, and I love hearing about your bakes!