Vermont Whole Wheat Bread is a classic recipe made in the traditional way, with flour, buttermilk and yeast. Easy to make, it is a flavorful everyday sandwich bread, or toast for breakfast with a slather of Carrot Orange Marmalade. This recipe is adapted from my newest cookbook, The Vermont Country Store Cookbook, featuring updated New England fare.
If this is your first time making bread, a small kitchen thermometer will help to find the correct temperature for liquid. The ideal temperature for liquid to activate dry yeast is 105°F–115°—too hot or too cold will destroy the yeast and the bread will not rise. You can also use it to check the loaves for doneness, which ensures a lovely full loaf with good texture.
No buttermilk? You can make your own by adding 1 tablespoon lemon juice or apple cider to 1 cup milk. Allow it to stand for 10 minutes. Buttermilk activates the yeast and adds a nice sweet and sour note to the dough.
2 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon (or one packet) dry active yeast
5 1/2 cups fine-grind whole-wheat flour
1 1/2 cup unbleached white bread flour, plus more for pans
1 tablespoon kosher salt
3 tablespoons unsalted butter, soft
1 tablespoon vegetable oil, plus more for pans
In a small saucepan, heat the buttermilk to warm to the touch, but not hot (stick a finger in to check). Pour the buttermilk into a large bowl. Sprinkle in the yeast and stir in the honey (which gives the yeast something to eat) and allow it to bloom for 10 minutes. Don’t wait much longer, as everything should be mixed together while still warm.
In another large bowl, stir together the whole-wheat flour, one cup of white flour, and the salt. After the yeast mixture has developed, slowly stir in the flour, one cup at a time. This can be done in a mixer fitted with a paddle, or with a thick handled wooden spoon, mixing the dough in a circular fashion. Once the dough has started to form, add the egg, mixing to blend, and then the softened butter.
Once the dough is less sticky and more like a ball, remove it from the bowl to a clean lightly floured counter top or breadboard. Knead the dough, pressing into it and pulling back, pushing it again until it is smooth and elastic. This activates the gluten in the bread, and the more it is kneaded, the better the texture will be in the final bread. Knead until it forms a cohesive ball, and when two fingers are pressing into it, they impressions fill back in. This may take up to 10 minutes.
Clean the bread bowl, dry, and place 1 tablespoon oil in the base. Place the dough back into the bowl, flip it to cover both sides lightly with oil, and cover it with plastic wrap, which will keep the heat sealed inside the dough. Set it in a warm place near the stove or in a furnace room if it is winter, until doubled in size, about one hour. At the end of the hour, punch down the dough to take out the air, and divide in half.
Lightly oil two loaf pans, and shake a little flour inside to coat. A thin coating of flour lets the baked bread easily release from the pan. Cover with plastic wrap again, and allow the dough to rise for 45 minutes to an hour.
Preheat the oven to 375˚F. Once the loaves have doubled, dust the tops with flour. Bake the loaves for 50 to 60 minutes, rotating them halfway through baking, to an internal temperature of 205˚F. to 210˚F. Remove the loaves from the bread pans to a rack and let cool.