rosemary wheat bread

Ever since my sophomore year  I've had the same bag of bread flour (guys, I'm graduated now...).  Every few months I would say that I was going to use it and my roommates would all laugh and go, "yeah right!".  Well, this weekend I finally made that bread and it was so good! (I may or may not have had to buy new flour because the bag I already had was expired, but let's not get caught up in the details).  In recent years I have made bread a few times while visiting home and I always love making it.  It takes a long time to make but it's really not that hard and it's a nice project to do when you just want a relaxed day at home. Also, it makes the house smell amazing.

This recipe is adapted from a simple whole wheat bread recipe from this book (see the original recipe here).  It's a really good jumping off point for experimenting with different flavors.  This time around I chose to add rosemary, which works really well with the subtle sweetness of the bread. 
First you will need to make a sponge, which I guess is also sometimes called a starter (more info here).

For the sponge you need:
3 cups warm water (105 to 115º)
1 cup dried buttermilk
2 tablespoons active dry yeast
3/4 cup honey
3 cups whole‐wheat flour

Mix together all of the ingredients until smooth.  The sponge should be thick but still liquidy (not doughy).  Cover with saran wrap and let rise in a warm place for an hour.  It should double in size.  Stir it carefully with a wooden spoon.
Once your sponge is ready you can begin adding the rest of the ingredients to make your dough.

You will need:
1/2 cup vegetable oil 
1‐1/4 tablespoons salt
2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh rosemary
2 to 2 1/2 cups whole-wheat bread flour
3 cups white bread flour

Sprinkle the oil, salt, rosemary and 2 cups of the flour over the sponge and beat hard until smooth.  Add the remaining flour 1/2 cup at a time with a wooden spoon until a soft dough is formed that just clears the sides of the bowl. NOTE: The original recipe uses all wheat flour but I prefer using almost half wheat and half white.  You may not need to use all of the flour so alternate between white and wheat flours. Next, begin kneading the dough on a lightly floured surface. Be careful not to add too much flour as you go because the dough should remain a little bit sticky. Place in an oiled bowl, turn once to coat the top, and cover with saran wrap.  Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 1‐1/2 to 2 hours.
  
Next, divide the dough into 3 equal portions.  Shape into 3 round balls and place them at least 4 inches apart on an oiled or parchment‐lined baking sheet that has been sprinkled with rolled oats or corn meal (I like cornmeal because it gives it a little crunch).  Cover loosely with saran wrap and let rise for about 45 minutes (or what I did was refrigerated over night and then took it out for a bit the next morning before baking it). When the dough is almost ready to be baked, preheat the oven to 375º.

Before you put the dough into the oven you want to very gently (so you don't deflate them) brush the tops of the loaves with a generous coat of rosemary infused oil. Then sprinkle with large grain sea salt (be generous with this too--it's the best part!).  To make rosemary infused olive oil, put 1 cup of olive oil and around 5 sprigs of fresh rosemary in a small saucepan.  Heat over medium heat for around 5 minutes.  Let it cool a bit and put it into a small container with the rosemary.  This should last in the refrigerator for about a month.
  
Bake your loaves in the center of the oven for about 40 to 45 minutes, or until the loaves are
deep brown and hollow sounding when tapped.  The author recommends putting aluminum foil over the tops to control browning, and I would definitely suggest doing this.  Also, keep an eye on your bread and make adjustments as necessary, especially if this is your first time baking bread or if you have a finicky oven.  My oven is a bit hard to control so I had some trouble getting my bread to bake evenly (also, one shelve collapsed and a loaf fell to the floor and deflated...ugh).  When your bread is done, enjoy as much of it as possible while fresh and warm! I would highly recommend eating this with some sort of squash soup (later this week I will share a simple recipe that I used).  Happy baking!