Wheat sandwich bread, Mk. 4

I developed this recipe for a whole-wheat sandwich loaf based on a formula from King Arthur Flour's Web site and ideas about the baking process from Alton Brown's I'm Just Here for More Food. The recipe has only been tested with KAF organic white whole wheat flour. White whole wheat flour is still entirely whole-wheat, but made from a different kind of wheat that gives it a lighter color and finer texture. I've presented this recipe using the sponge method; it can also be made via the regular straight-dough method if you are short on time.

This is the fourth version of this recipe, and is the result of my search for a loaf specifically better suited than the original for sandwiches. There are three key changes: I went back to using powdered milk, which keeps the sponge from developing a boozy flavor; I switched to diastatic malt powder as the yeast food; and I fortified the flour with additional gluten. Whole-wheat flour contains tiny shards of bran, which can cut into the strands of gluten that normally develop during kneading; adding additional gluten helps to counteract this, allowing this loaf to rise higher than the old one.

Sponge

7½ oz white whole wheat flour
1 oz butter
13 oz water
2 tsp instant yeast
2 tsp diastatic malt powder
3 tbl KAF vital wheat gluten

If using tap water, boil it in the microwave, then add the butter, and let it cool to 105°F. If using bottled water, heat it to 105°, and melt the butter separately.

Combine all ingredients in large bowl; cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature for about half an hour. Then refrigerate for 12–24 hours.

Loaf

  sponge
1½ tsp salt
7½ oz white whole wheat flour
1 oz KAF Baker's Special milk powder
  egg wash
  baking spray

Bring sponge to room temperature; this may take a couple of hours. If your kitchen is cool, preheat your oven or warming drawer to its lowest setting and turn it off immediately when that temperature is reached.

Combine flour, milk powder, and salt in a small bowl. In the bowl of a stand mixer, add the flour mixture to the sponge and mix using the dough hook until mostly combined. Let stand for ten minutes. Knead for 10 minutes; the dough should still be somewhat sticky after all of the flour is integrated. At the end of the kneading period, flatten a small ball of dough between your fingers and stretch it; a translucent membrane should form before the dough tears.

Lubricate a clean bowl or container with baking spray. Form the dough into a ball (it should already be most of the way there from the kneading), and place it in the bowl, covering with plastic wrap. Let it rise in the (now only slightly warm) oven for one hour.

Lubricate a nine-inch loaf pan with baking spray. Turn the risen dough onto a floured work surface and press into a flat oblong with your knuckles, popping as many of the gas bubbles as possible. (Any bubbles you leave in the dough will turn into enormous voids during baking.) Fold the dough in thirds, like a wallet, and repeat twice, rotating the dough 90° each time. Form the dough into a loaf shape and drop it in the pan, covering with plastic wrap and proofing in the slightly warm oven as before, for about 45 minutes or until the dough crowns the lip of the loaf pan by about an inch.

Remove the pan from the oven and preheat to 375°F. Spread egg wash over the top of the loaf with a pastry brush. Using a serrated slicer or bread knife, cut a 1/8-inch groove in the top of the loaf. Bake for 35 minutes or until the internal temperature reaches 190°F. Let cool on a wire rack for fifteen minutes, then depan the loaf and continue cooling for at least one hour before slicing.