Bread tends to come and go with the seasons around here, all but disappearing during the summer only to return triumphantly in autumn—a bit like a bear in reverse hibernation. A few years ago, I launched my quest for the perfect loaf of homemade bread. After veering off course significantly and often, I concluded (unsurprisingly) that there is no such thing as the perfect loaf, but rather a perfect loaf for every occasion.
Although late to the party, I (like most before me) was a quick devotee of Jim Lahey’s no-knead bread. All knobby crust and big air pockets, it’s the perfect loaf for dipping in oil and vinegar or scooping up the last bit of chili con carne at the bottom of your bowl. In fact, for about two years, I hadn’t looked back.
But after eating so many white-bread jamon y queso sandwiches in Ecuador and Peru (I swear it’s the official snack food of the continent), I found myself craving the soft, pillowy sandwiches of my elementary school days: less chew, more stick to the top of your mouth-edness. Clinging to that idea, I reviewed what I knew and set out to make it better.
The result? Ham and cheese sandwiches all week.
- 1 cup warm water
- 1¼ tsp active dry yeast
- 2 tbsp molasses
- 2½–3 cups whole-wheat flour
- 1 tbsp + 1 healthy pinch granulated sugar
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ cup olive oil
- 1 egg white
- 1 tsp water
- 2 tbsp old-fashioned rolled oats
- In a small bowl, stir together the yeast, a pinch of sugar and ¾ cup of warm water. Let stand until foamy (about 5 minutes).
- In a measuring cup, whisk together the remaining ¼ cup of warm water and molasses.
- In a large bowl, mix together the sugar, salt and olive oil and 1 cup of flour. Add the molasses and yeast mixtures, stirring well. Stir in enough of the remaining 1½–2 cups of flour, ½ cup at a time, for the mixture to form a soft dough.
- Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface. Knead for 8 minutes, or until smooth and elastic. Shape into a ball.
- Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled bowl, turning to coat. Let it rise, covered, in a warm place until doubled in size (about 1 hour). Punch the dough down and let it rise, covered, 45 minutes more.
- Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Grease a loaf pan and set it aside.
- Lightly knead the dough and then shape it into an oval. Transfer the loaf to the pan and let it rise, covered with a kitchen towel, for 45 minutes.
- Brush the top of the loaf lightly with egg wash and sprinkle with rolled oats.
- Bake in the middle of the oven for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake for 20–25 minutes more, until golden brown. Turn the loaf out onto a rack to cool.