Saturday, March 21, 2009

Whole Wheat Bread with Golden Raisins and Pecans

Back in January, the Lazy Bakers took on the challenge of baking Jeffrey Hammelman's Whole Wheat Bread with Pecans and Golden Raisins (say that five times fast). I was excited about the prospect of baking bread but also nervous. I have baked a total of two breads in my lifetime. Both were a basic flour-yeast-water-salt kind of deal with a rise after kneading and a second rise after shaping before putting in the oven. There was no talk of proper bread temperature or oven spring or steam. So when I cracked open Bread I realised that this was going to be a completely different ballgame.

So I put off baking the bread for a few months.

Bread Attempt
I've never used my dough hook before!

March 15, 2009
Name of bread: Whole Wheat with Pecans and Golden Raisins
Occasion: Catching up with the Lazy Bakers
Constituents: Half whole wheat, half white bread flour, toasted pecans, golden raisins

My bread sort of came out as a bust. I would have labeled this a complete fail but it still is fairly tasty and my roommate and I have already eaten over half of it since Sunday. If I have to be completely honest I would have to admit that my roommate and I are partial to carbs in almost any form, bread being one of our favorites. This is why neither of us bake bread, and why I keep hippie bread in the house. I have no control around good bread.

Jeffrey Hammelman's book is as chock full of information and tips as this bread is of nuts and raisins. However I found it hard to find all his information when I needed it. Perhaps if I had sat down and read the book like a novel instead of a recipe book I would have been more confident to bake. As it was, I spent time re-reading his introduction and discussions on ingredients and the proper steps of baking bread, but didn't find the information on proper water temperature until the bread was already in the oven. His step-by-step instructions on shaping bread were really helpful and easy to follow (especially for making an oblong loaf) for which I am grateful.

I also need to plan better when I want to bake bread. I had to leave for several hours right around the time the bread's first rise should have been done, so I decided to let the bread rise in the refrigerator. In hindsight I think I could have left it on the counter all day to rise, as the kitchen never really gets above 60°. When I came back home five hours later, I decided to pull the bread out and let it finish its first rise at room temperature.

I kept looking in Bread for Jeffrey Hammelman's advice on what to do with bread dough that you've retarded in the refrigerator--should I let it come back to room temperature before using? Does it matter? What about before I bake it? At what point in a bread dough's life cycle is a good time to retard dough--the first rise? The second rise? Is it okay to retard it for both rises? How long should bread be left to retard in the refrigerator? Can I pull it out after only a few hours and finish rising on the counter?

I never found any information in his book answering my questions, so I just decided to guess.

I guessed that the dough should come back up to room temperature, but it never really made it back up to the 76°F Hammelman stipulates the dough should be at. By 1 am the bread was at about 70° and just about doubled in bulk. But I was tired and exercising poor judgment, so I stuck it back in the refrigerator so that I could go to bed. I should have shaped the loaves before putting them back in the refrigerator, but I didn't figure that out until after the bread was in the oven the next day.

Bread Attempt
Beginning of the first rise

The next morning when I pulled it out of refrigerator, the dough had shrunk down to about the size it was after first mixing. After hours sitting in my bedroom with the heat cranked to 70° (the only place in the apartment where you can sort of control the ambient temperature) I finally gave up and shaped the bread and let it sit out on the counter for the second rise. I only have one loaf pan so I decided to make rolls out of the rest of the dough. After shaping three rolls I decided to shape the rest of the dough into an oblong loaf. Shaping dough is fun!

The second rise didn't give much spring to the dough; I think at this point it was mad at me for changing its temperature so much in the last 36 hours.

After about two or three hours, I popped my bread into the oven, almost gave myself a steam burn, and waited nervously for the bread to bake. I was pretty convinced I was going to bake a bunch of little rocks studded with raisins and nuts, but what came out were nice looking little rolls and two little oblong loaves. The bread didn't rise much in the oven, either, but it had a nice crackly crust and smelled tangy and bready. The inside was dense and chewy, much like a bagel.

Bread Attempt
One of those oblong loaves came out of the loaf pan!

A bagel, huh. I can eat that.

And I have, as did my roommate. It was good with hunks of mild cheddar, or lots of salted butter.

Bread Attempt

Oh well; not quite a bust, but not quite a success either! Let's see how I do with the Bara Brith.

To see what this bread ought to have looked like, please visit
Breadbasketcase: Whole Wheat Bread with Pecans and Raisins
Melinda (and Jeanette): Whole Wheat Bread with Sultanas and Pecans


  1. ECL,
    I agree that Hamelman's instructions could be a lot more straightforward. That's why I love Rose's cookbooks--she has a lot of instructions, but they all make sense! You know, I still think this looks pretty good! And it sounds like it tasted good, too, which is the main thing. (You know, I've been baking an average of a loaf of bread a week for three years, and I still bake breads that have to be toted to a dinner party hidden in a grocery bag).

  2. The proof is always in the tasting, and if you liked it it was successful.
    Personally, I think your bread got dizzy with all it's ins and outs and waiting around for you!
    My oven conked out right in the middle of baking Rose's stud muffin bread, which I did about 2 years ago.(It is in my very second blog post)I was having a girl's get together, and was counting on the bread being a star bake. My neighbor fired up her oven and we did a transfer bake. It turned out wonderful. Amazingly so! I think bread is pretty forgiving on exacto instructions, deviations or diversions.
    I haven't done my Bara Brith yet. I am going to make my own citrus peel and I keep putting it off. My excuse is that I have been painting the kitchen...for the last 3 weeks! Yeah, right. You know I am just being lazy about it!

  3. Your bread looks yummy. I have never attempted bread as I am not very good at making even biscuits. I always seem to over work everything when it comes to bread making. Maybe after reading a few more blogs like this one I might be inspired to try it once more.

  4. I think I would have added all that stuff when shaping it. Crazy recipes!

  5. BBC, yes I pined for Rose's precise instructions when baking this bread! Hearing you tell me that this bread looks pretty good is quite a lift to my ego. Thanks!! Let's hope the Bara Brith turns out even better.

    Melinda, I agree with you about my dizzying bread. I sure confused the heck out of it. I just candied my citrus peel tonight! It was fun, if not time consuming to cut away all the pith.
    What color did you paint your kitchen? When I first moved to Portland I decided to paint my bedroom and it took several weeks! Sometimes paint is like that, I guess :)

    Laurie, I was worried I would overwork the dough as I tend to overwork pie crust. I was so worried that I almost underworked it; had I not found Hammelman's instructions on how to shape bread I never would have touched it! If you really want to be inspired to bake bread, visit Marie at Breadbasketcase.

    Kitty, my KitchenAid almost had a stroke and died when I was mixing all that dough and stuff! I smelled the tang of yeast and the burning of motor parts. Scary!