In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir until the dough starts to leave the sides of the bowl. For easiest, most effective kneading, let the dough rest for 20 to 30 minutes in the bowl; this gives the flour a chance to absorb some of the liquid, and the bran to soften. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased surface, oil your hands, and knead it for 6 to 8 minutes, or until it begins to become smooth and supple. (You may also knead this dough in an electric mixer or food processor, or in a bread machine programmed for "dough" or "manual.") Note: This dough should be soft, yet still firm enough to knead. Adjust its consistency with additional water or flour, if necessary.
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl or large measuring cup, cover it, and allow the dough to rise till puffy though not necessarily doubled in bulk, about 1 to 2 hours, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface, and shape it into an 8" log. Place the log in a lightly greased 8 1/2" x 4 1/2" loaf pan, cover the pan loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap, and allow the bread to rise for about 1 to 2 hours, or till the center has crowned about 1" above the rim of the pan. Towards the end of the rising time, preheat the oven to 350°F.
Bake the bread for 35 to 40 minutes, tenting it lightly with aluminum foil after 20 minutes to prevent over-browning. The finished loaf will register 190°F on an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center.
Remove the bread from the oven, and turn it out of the pan onto a rack to cool. If desired, rub the crust with a stick of butter; this will yield a soft, flavorful crust. Cool completely before slicing. Store the bread in a plastic bag at room temperature.
Tips from our Bakers
- Why the range of water in the dough? A lot depends on the weather, the season, and how you measure flour. You'll need the lesser amount of water in the summer; or when it's humid/stormy; if you measure flour by weight; or if you sprinkle your flour into the measuring cup, then level it off. You'll need the greater amount of water in winter; when it's dry out, and the humidity is low; or if you measure flour by dipping your cup into the canister, then leveling it off.
- The liquid sweetener you choose makes a difference. Molasses produces the darkest loaf, one with old-fashioned flavor. Honey yields a lighter, milder loaf. Maple syrup makes a less-sweet loaf — unless you use real maple syrup, in which case it'll be similar to a loaf made with honey, albeit with a faint hint of maple.
- If you're someone who tends to taste whole wheat as somewhat bitter, try substituting 1/4 cup of orange juice for 1/4 cup of the water in this recipe. A bit of orange juice tones down whole wheat's somewhat tannic taste.
- Want to prolong the shelf life of this bread? Try the tangzhong technique, an Asian method for increasing the softness and shelf life of yeast bread. Begin by measuring out the flour and water you’ll be using in the recipe. Now take 3 tablespoons of the measured flour and 1/2 cup of the water; put them in a saucepan set over medium-high heat. Cook the mixture, whisking constantly, until it forms a thick slurry; this will take about 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 minutes. Transfer the cooked mixture to a bowl, let it cool to lukewarm, then combine it with the remaining flour, the remaining water (+ 2 additional tablespoons), and the other dough ingredients. Proceed with the recipe as directed. Well-wrapped and stored at room temperature, your finished loaf should stay soft and fresh at room temperature for at least several days.