The quest begins: honey oat sandwich bread v. 01

JUMP TO RECIPE>>

I was on the hunt for a new sandwich bread recipe to try last week, partly as a distraction from, you know, *gestures vaguely* the everything, and partly because my current go-to isn’t made with whole wheat in mind. It has a tendency to either misbehave in the proof and get really rough and open crumbed, or dry out and stale quickly, and I don’t love that. Plus, I love honey-oat sandwich bread, and this doesn’t quite fit the bill.

Enter King Arthur Baking Company’s Vermont Whole Wheat Honey Oatmeal Bread. It ticked a bunch of my boxes – it is designed specifically for whole wheat flour, it includes both honey and oats, and it has a lovely nearly-one-bowl mixing method that melts my little dishes hating heart. So I baked it. And it was delicious. A beautiful, pillowy-soft crumb that reminded me of the best kinds of cheap squishy supermarket sandwich bread, the faintest whiff of cinnamon to play off the oats, enough tooth to keep things interesting, and, best of all, it didn’t get noticeably dry or stale-tasting until nearly the end of the week.

It was, however, very sweet. We’re talking cinnamon roll-without-the-icing type sweet. Which was amazing spread with butter for breakfast, or for PB&Js…not so much what I’m going for in ham and cheese.

So I decided to hack it.

Step 1: Reduce the sugar

A small bowl of flour on a digital scale. A spoon rests on the bottom corner of the scale. Behind the bowl are arrayed a number of baking ingredients, including honey, rolled oats, all-purpose flour, and instant yeast.

This seems like the easiest thing to fix, right? Just pull the sugar back and Bob’s your uncle.

Not quite.

Sugar plays a number of important roles in baked goods – first, it inhibits gluten development by stealing water from the flour1, which keeps bread and other baked goods soft. Similarly, because sugar is hygroscopic (it absorbs water very readily), it also helps prevent water from evaporating during baking, which results in a moister, more tender crumb3. This water-stealing behavior also means sugar can act as a preservative after baking. It will draw water from the atmosphere, helping to prevent staling2,3.

So I can’t just cut the sugar dramatically and expect the same result. I’m going to need to take other steps to protect the texture. But I’ll solve that problem later. For now, I will focus on figuring out how much sugar I need to remove to get the flavor that I want.

An overhead view of baking ingredients in the bottom of the bowl of a stand mixer. Each ingredient is in separate piles. Going clockwise from the top, there is salt, rolled oats, a chunk of butter, dark brown sugar, honey, and cinnamon.
I find it helps to put your ingredients in visibly distinct piles when measuring. If you get distracted, you can clearly see what you have already done.

For that, I turn to baker’s percentages.

A baker’s percent frames all ingredient proportions in relation to the flour by weight. The flour is always 100 percent when using baker’s percentages, and everything is calculated relative to that. So, looking at the King Arthur sandwich bread recipe we have:

Traditional

  • 482 grams all-purpose flour
  • 170 grams whole wheat flour
  • 106 grams dark brown sugar
  • 21 grams honey
  • 454 grams water

Baker’s Percents

  • 100 percent flour
  • 16 percent dark brown sugar
  • 3 percent honey
  • 70 percent water

For clarity, I have left out ingredients unrelated to the changes I’m planning to make. The first thing to notice is that both flours are taken together to figure out the rest of the percentages. The second thing to notice is that between the sugar and the honey, this bread formula is 19 percent sugar. That is too much sugar.

I couldn’t find much solid research on how much sugar it takes to create the dough properties I was looking for, but at least anecdotally, 10 percent is the point when bread starts to taste sweet. To be on the safe side, I decided to start by aiming for a total sugar content of 8 percent.

I didn’t want to touch the amount of honey, since that is one of the key flavor beats in this loaf. So, I cut the dark brown sugar back to just 33 grams, or 5 percent of the total flour weight.

Step 2: Preserve the crumb

Now that I’ve cut the sugar, how do I keep that gorgeous pillowy crumb? I originally thought about increasing the amount of water in the dough to start with, but that would make the dough pretty much impossible to shape into a traditional sandwich bread loaf. I also thought about decreasing the oats or whole wheat flour but dismissed that idea pretty quickly since I want to keep those flavors at the forefront.

And then I remembered: tangzhong.

A small silver pot sits on the stove. It contains an ivory paste the consistancy of play-doh with a small wood-handled spatula sticking out.

Popularized across Asia by Chinese cookbook author Yvonne Chen, a tangzhong is a pre-cooked paste made of a portion of the dough’s flour and water. Pre-cooking the flour does two things: it gelatinizes the starches so that they can absorb more water, and it creates structure in those starches so they can hold onto that water. This results in a dough that is less sticky and easier to knead, and a final product that will stay soft longer because it retains more water during baking.

A tangzhong is typically made from between 5-10 percent of the flour in the original recipe, at a ratio of one part flour to five parts liquid by weight. It is also important to note that this technique works best in doughs with at least 75 percent hydration, that is, doughs that contain 75 percent of the total flour weight as water or another liquid.

Let’s look at the original recipe again.

Traditional

  • 482 grams all-purpose flour
  • 170 grams whole wheat flour
  • 106 grams dark brown sugar
  • 21 grams honey
  • 454 grams water

Baker’s Percents

  • 100 percent flour
  • 16 percent dark brown sugar
  • 3 percent honey
  • 70 percent water

Right off the bat, I can see that my hydration is too low. I know it would probably be fine to just bump it to 75 percent, but I want to play it safe and take it all the way to 80.

Here’s why. I know in the original recipe the oats soak for a while in the water, and I also know that I’m going to have to take some of that water out to make the tangzhong. I want to make sure that the oats have enough water to soak properly, so I’ll add an extra 5 percent to make up the difference. That means my recipe now calls for 522 grams of water.

Two unrisen loaves of bread in grey metal loaf pans. A white towel is crumpled up next to them.

Now, the tangzhong. Again, I’m going to play it safe here and start on the low end of the flour range – I’ll set aside 5 percent, or 33 grams. I’m also going to use only all-purpose flour in the tangzhong, just because I haven’t tried it with whole wheat before and I only want to mess with so many things at once, you know?

Since I know that tangzhong pastes are typically a 1:5 ratio, I need to set aside 163 grams of water.

Which means the final recipe now looks like this:

Honey- oat sandwich bread v.01

Tangzhong
  • 33 grams all-purpose flour
  • 163 grams water
Dough
  • 449 grams all-purpose flour
  • 170 grams whole wheat flour
  • 33 grams dark brown sugar
  • 21 grams honey
  • 359 grams water

King Arthur original

  • 482 grams all-purpose flour
  • 170 grams whole wheat flour
  • 106 grams dark brown sugar
  • 21 grams honey
  • 454 grams water

Step 3: Bake!

My changes worked! This recipe is by no means perfect, and I’ll talk about the things I still want to tweak in a moment, but I produced two delicious, perfectly servicable loaves of sandwich bread. By and large, the tangzhong did exactly what I was hoping it would – my loaves had a super squishy, pillowy texture that made gorgeous, relatively crumb-free slices. And that crumb stayed that way for about 4 days – pretty good for homemade.

That said, I think I can do better.

For one, I find myself missing some of the sweetness of the original loaf. I’m still not looking for a super-sweet bread, but the sugar highlighted some of the nuttiness of the oats and wheat in a way that makes this bake feel a bit flat in comparison. I’m thinking of two ways to fix this – toast the oats, and bring the total sugars up to about 10 percent. It shouldn’t be noticeable, but it should give me the depth I’m looking for.

I also think I’m going to pull the cinnamon back a bit. I love what it does for the oats, but without the sweetness of the sugar, a full teaspoon feels out of place.

Finally, I’m going to try increasing the amount of flour in the tangzhong. If it works the way I think it should, using 8-10 percent of the total flour weight will make the final sandwich bread even fluffier and improve its shelf life.

For now, it’s lunchtime. And I have sandwiches to make!

Honey-oat sandwich bread v.01


Yield: 2 loaves Time: approximately 3 hours Source: heavily adapted from King Arthur Flour

There are a lot of advantages to making your own sandwich bread. I could wax poetic about the warm, homey smells that fill your kitchen, the meditative rhythm of living your day around rises and rests, the gut-deep satisfaction of seeing your own loaves cooling on the counter, heck, even the convenience of slicing your bread however thick you want it that day.

But if you already make your own bread, you know all these things already. And if you don’t, well, there’s probably a darn good reason for that, and you don’t need me to convince you otherwise.

If you want to try, though, you absolutely do not need a stand mixer to make this recipe. You’ll just need to knead by hand, which will take longer. Next time, I’m hoping to test a no-knead method alongside the mixer – so stay tuned.
 
A quick note on storage: Always store your bread at room temperature – somewhat counterintuitively, your refrigerator will speed staling. I keep one loaf on the counter in a sealed gallon ziplock with most of the air squeezed out, and wrap the other in two layers of plastic wrap to freeze for the next week.

Ingredients

Tangzhong
  • 33 grams all-purpose flour
  • 163 grams water
Dough
  • 99 grams old-fashioned rolled oats (do not use instant oats, they will not absorb enough water)
  • 57 grams unsalted butter, cold is fine
  • 33 grams dark brown sugar
  • 21 grams honey
  • 8 grams (2.5 teaspoons) Diamond Crystal kosher salt
  • 2 grams (1 teaspoon) ground cinnamon
  • 359 grams water, boiling
  • 449 grams all-purpose flour
  • 170 grams whole wheat flour
  • 11.5 grams (1 tablespoon) instant or active dry yeast

In the bowl of your stand mixer combine oats, butter, dark brown sugar, honey, salt, and cinnamon. Pour in the boiling water and stir until the butter has melted completely. This mixture needs to cool to between 100-110°F (38-43°C) before you add the yeast. This should be just about the point where your first thought after sticking a finger in the mixture is “hmm, that’s pleasantly warm” and not “Oh, hot, very hot, I need to stop touching this.”

While your mixture is cooling, make the tangzhong. In a small saucepan, whisk together the flour and water until no lumps remain. Cook over medium-high, stirring constantly, until the mixture thickens – it should look semi-translucent and have the texture of stiff pudding. (You can also do this in the microwave – just whisk the flour and water together and microwave 30 seconds. Stir thoroughly, and return to the microwave for another 30 seconds. Repeat this process until the mixture has thickened). Allow your tangzhong to cool.

Once your oat mixture has cooled, add both flours, the tangzhong paste, and the yeast. Using the dough hook or spiral, mix on medium-low speed (on a Kitchen-Aid, this will be speed 2) until the dough comes together. Continue to knead for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough seems cohesive and sticky, but still handleable. It will not come anywhere close to clearing the sides of the bowl. You will feel like it is on the verge of being too sticky. It’s ok, I promise.

Once the dough comes together, scrape it out of the bowl onto a barely-wet counter. Get as much out of the bowl as you can, then lightly grease the inside of the bowl with nonstick spray (or a thin coat of oil). Gently round the dough into a ball on the counter, then return it to the greased bowl and spray the top lightly with oil. Drape a towel over the bowl and allow to rise at room temperature until slightly more than doubled (in my kitchen this took about 40 minutes, but I expect this could go up to an hour depending on your flour and the ambient temperature).

Grease two 9x5x4″ loaf pans.

Remove the dough from the bowl. During the rise, the flour should have finished hydrating and the dough should now feel slightly tacky. Dump it onto your counter and divide in half (I didn’t find I needed to flour my countertop, but if you want to, feel free). Stretch each half into a rectangle approximately 8″ wide and as long as it takes to get the dough to be about 1″ thick. Fold the two corners closest to you up and towards the center – like you are starting a paper airplane with the point facing towards you – and press gently to seal. Then, starting at the point you just made, roll the dough up tightly into a log, tucking the ends in as you go.

Once it’s all the way rolled up, place it seam side down with the long edge parallel to the edge of your unfloured countertop. Place the knife-edge of your hands along the far side of the loaf and gently scrape it a couple inches towards you, keeping your hands touching the counter the whole time- this will tighten the skin and help to seal your seam.

Place the loaves seam-side down into your loaf pan and press gently to fill the corners. Cover with a towel and allow to rise until the top of the loaf has crested about 1″ over the edge of the pan at its highest point. For me, this took about 30 minutes.

If you want, you can lightly spritz the top of the loaf with water and sprinkle it with rolled oats. You could also cut decorative slashes in the top with a razor blade or a very sharp knife. Neither or these things is necessary, but they do look pretty.

Bake the loaves until they are golden brown all over and register between 195°-205°F (90-96°C) at the center of the loaf, 35-40 minutes, rotating the pans halfway through baking.

Turn the loaves out of the pans immediately, and allow to cool completely on a wire rack (if you have that kind of self-discipline) before slicing.


1 On Food and Cooking: the Science and Lore of the Kitchen, by Harold McGee, Scribner, 2004, pp. 525–525.

2 Bread Science: the Chemistry and Craft of Making Bread, by Emily Buehler, Two Blue Books, 2009, pp. 101–101.

3 Baking and Pastry: Mastering the Art and Craft, John Wiley & Sons, 2016, pp. 63–67.

Add comment

Hi! I’m Jessi

A culinary degree and two years of professional experience has not stopped Jessi from making stupid mistakes – she just makes them more efficiently. She habitually reads cookbooks before bed, loses track of time on Wikipedia, and yells at cooking shows like dads watching football. She lives in Brooklyn with her husband Jackson, five plants, and more cookbooks than a 600 square foot studio should hold.

Weekly Newsletter

Patreon

Recently…