Sourdough Home

Myrtle Allen's Brown Bread
Introduction to Baking

To start with, this is NOT a sourdoughMyrtle Allen's Brown Bread recipe. It's just a very nice bread recipe, included on the Sourdough Home web site to help beginning bakers get used to the mechanics of baking.

This recipe is from James Beard's "Beard On Bread." I've added to the instructions considerably, on the assumption that you, the reader, have not baked before. If you have baked before, I hope the voluminous instructions won't be too tedious.

This recipe makes one loaf, and will take about 5 minutes of preparation time, 1 1/2 hours of rising time, and about 50 minutes of baking time.

Volumetric MeasurementIngredientGramsBaker's Percentage (7)
3 3/4 CupsWhole Wheat Flour, preferably stone ground (1)488 Grams100%
1 TBSPSalt31.5 Grams6.45%
1 1/2 Packages (3 3/4 tsp)Active Dry Yeast (2)(4)(5)10.5 Grams2.15%
2 CupsWarm Water (3)476 Grams97.54%
2 TBSPMolasses, Honey, Agave Syrup or Ribbon Cane Syrup (6)42 Grams8.6%

Notes about the ingredients:

  1. Whole wheat flour goes rancid fairly quickly, so make sure you are getting fresh flour - buy a brand that moves quickly in your store.
  2. A package of yeast is about 2 1/2 teaspoons, so you need about 3 3/4 tsp of active dry yeast.
  3. Check the temperature of the water with a thermometer - if it is above 100F you run a very real risk of cooking, and killing, the yeast.
  4. If you prefer to use Instant yeast, use 1/2 as much as you would of Active Dry yeast, or about 2 tsp or 5.25 grams.
  5. Most recipes request that you proof active dry yeast. I have not found it necessary to do so.
  6. Many whole wheat recipes use a bit of sweetener to take the edge off the bitterness some people taste in whole wheat flour. You may use molasses, honey, agave syrup or ribbon cane syrup. Some people feel molasses imparts a heavy taste and makes the bread taste salty. If you prefer to not use honey and find molasses to be too heavy, agave syrup or ribbon cane syrup are very nice alternatives.
  7. Baker's percentage is something we'll explain later in the tutorial, and yes, it is correct that the total is more than 100%  Stay tuned!

Measuring flour, salt and yeast for myrtle Allen's Brown Breasd
Flour, salt and yeast in the mixing bowl

If you are using cups, measure the flour by using a tablespoon to fill a measuring cup, spoon by spoon until the cup is overly filled and then use a knife to level the cup and insure the cup is full, but not overly full. Put the whole wheat flour in a large mixing bowl. Add the salt and yeast. Stir together.  If you are weighing your ingredients, put your bowl on a set of scales, tare the scales, add the amount of flour called for, tare the scales and add the salt, tare the scales again and add the amount of yeast called for.

Mix the sweetener and water together. Pour the mixture into the bowl with the flour. Stir well.  The resulting batter should be wet and sticky. If the batter seems too dry, add a bit more water. If it seems too wet, add some more flour. You shouldn't see any dry flour in the batter or bowl, and the batter shouldn't seem soupy.

Again, we are working on creating a batter, rather than a dough, so it should be fairly liquid.  Because whole wheat flour varies a lot in its ability to absorb water, you may have to adjust the amount of flour you use. However, the recipe isn't too finicky and a bit too wet is better than a bit too dry. I added about 1/2 cup (60 grams) of additional flour when I made this batch of bread.

Spray a bread loaf pan with "Baker's Joy".  Baker's Joy is a spray oil that has flour in it, so you are oiling and flouring your baking pan in one step. If you can't find Baker's Joy, there are other similar products such as "Baker's Secret" and Pam now has a spray oil that has flour in it.  If you can't find any of these products, you can always oil your baking pan and dust it with a bit of flour.

Pour the batter into the oiled bread loaf pan. Smooth the surface with a wet spatula, spoon, or even moistened fingers. Cover with some cling wrap or a shower cap, and set the loaf aside in a warm place until it doubles in size, usually about 1 1/2 hours.  Try to make sure the cover does not touch the batter, as the batter will stick to the cover and that will cause problems when you uncover the loaf.

About an hour and 15 minutes into the rise, put a rack in your oven into the lower third of the oven and start pre-heating your oven to 450F/230C. It will take most ovens about 15 to 20 minutes to heat up. Check your oven temperature with an oven thermometer - many ovens are as much as 50 degrees off. You can get a decent thermometer in most grocery stores for around $5.00.

Once the batter has risen, remove the cover from the loaf pan and put the loaf pan into the oven as quickly as possible.  If you let the dough rise too much, the top may collapse, which is what happened on this loaf.  It still tastes fine, but it isn't as pretty as we might hope.

Also, when the oven is open it will lose heat as long as the door is open.  Once the loaf is in the oven and the oven door is closed, set a timer for 25 minutes.

When the timer goes off, open the oven door, look at the bread, and using oven mitts or hot pads turn the bread around.  Most ovens have uneven heat so we move the bread to try to get an even color on the crust.  If the the bread looks burned or too dark, turn the heat of the oven down by 50 degrees and cover the loaf with a sheet of aluminum foil. If the bread hasn't started coloring, increase the heat by 50F.

Once you've moved and checked out the loaf, close the oven door, and set the timer for another 15 minutes.  When the timer goes off again, use some oven mitts to pull the bread out of the oven. Pop the bread out of the pan onto a cooling rack. Shove a quick reading thermometer into the bottom of the bread. At sea level, you are shooting for an internal temperature of about 205F. If you tap the bottom, it should sound hollow. If it isn't done, put it back in the oven.

At altitudes above 5,280 feet, shoot for 195F. If you can't get the loaf out of the pan, use a table knife to loosen the bread so you can dump the loaf out and use m ore Baker's Joy next time.

Once the bread is done, put the loaf on a cooling rack, turn off the oven if you're done baking, let the bread cool at least an hour, and then cut it. The bread should have a lovely flavor, and have lots of fairly large holes in the loaf.

If you want the bread to have a crispier crust, you can put the loaf - out of the bread pan - back into the turned off oven for another 20 minutes.

Some troubleshooting comments....

Since this bread wasn't kneaded it won't be as well developed a loaf with a nice smooth crust and crumb as you might like. It is a bit rustic.  Also, it tends to spread out when it rises above the bread pan. That thinner area will tend to be darker than the rest of the loaf. Don't worry, even if it burns a bit, as long as the rest of the loaf is fine.

If the loaf is too dark, bake it at a slightly lower temperature next time. If the loaf is too light, bake it at a slightly higher temperature next time. If the inside of the loaf is too dry, bake for a shorter period next time. If the inside of the loaf is too wet, bake for a little longer next time. You may have to play with baking times and temperatures a bit to accommodate your altitude and your oven.

If you find specks of flour in the loaf, that suggests you didn't stir the dough quite enough. Stir a bit longer next time, looking for clumps of flour as you do so.

If your bread didn't rise, the most common problems are using outdated yeast, using water that was too hot (which killed the yeast), using too much salt, using too much flour, and/or using too little water.  If you still have problems, please drop me a note through our "Contact Us" page.

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