I AM A creature of rigid habit, which drives my wife bananas but leaves me ample time to think Great Thoughts. Every day that I eat lunch at home -- which is usually six days a week -- I serve myself the same meal. It takes approximately three minutes to prepare and five to eat, it is obscenely nutritious, andI love it as much now as I did when I first ate it many years ago: Remove Honey Wheat-Germ Bread from refrigerator. Cut two generous slices. Spread mayonnaise on one side of each. Cover one with sharp cheddar cheese, preferably of the white Vermont variety. Add two or three leaves of Boston lettuce, sprinkle with freshly ground pepper, cover with the other slice of bread. Serve, if on a diet, with fake-sweetened iced tea; if not, with beer or ale. Eat, drink and get back to work.
But if you are going to treat yourself to this certifiable treat, you are going to have to make yourself some Honey Wheat-Germ Bread--because without it, this would be just another better-than-average cheese sandwich. I have been making this bread for nearly a decade, ever since I found the recipe in Bernard Clayton Jr.'s magisterial "The Complete Book of Breads," and I swear by it. From start to finish is 3 1/2 hours at most, of which only about half an hour is actual kitchen time. While the dough is rising, rising again and baking, I find there's plenty of time to read a book, write a book review or a column--or procrastinate.
Clayton's recipe yields two loaves, but I always double it. The bread freezes very well; it seems sensible to get twice the bread for the same amount of work. But before giving you the recipe, a couple of comments.
First, like virtually every other American cookbook author, Clayton calls for far too much salt and sugar in his recipes. He evidently operates on the assumption that a package of yeast needs approximately a teaspoon of salt with which to interact, but that's far more than is necessary; a third or a fourth of that works just fine, with happy results for the blood pressure. In this recipe I haven't reduced the amount of honey because I like the taste of it; but you can, if you want to, and you'll still get great bread.
Second, I have found that when I make large amounts of bread, I get more uniform loaves if I weigh the dough on a kitchen scale after dividing it. Then I can move small clumps of dough from one lump to another until each lump weighs the same. In this recipe the lumps should weigh about a 1 1/2 pounds apiece.
HONEY WHEAT-GERM BREAD (4 loaves) 3 to 4 cups unbleached flour, approximately 1 cup nonfat dry milk 6 tablespoons wheat germ 1 teaspoon salt 4 packages dry yeast 4 cups hot tap water 1/2 cup vegetable oil 1/2 cup honey 6 cups whole-wheat flour
In a large bowl put 2 cups unbleached flour and stir in milk, wheat germ, salt, yeast and water. Add vegetable oil, honey and 4 cups whole-wheat flour. Beat with electric mixer or beater at medium-high speed for 3 minutes. Add remaining 2 cups whole-wheat flour and stir with heavy spoon. Add remaining unbleached flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough forms a mass; you may not need as much as 2 additional cups.
Knead the dough on a counter top that has been sprinkled with unbleached flour. If dough gets sticky (and it will) add small amounts of unbleached flour. After 5 or 10 minutes, the dough should be smooth and elastic. (Clayton recommends punching the dough and slamming it against the counter to hasten the kneading process. I endorse this suggestion wholeheartedly, as it provides an excellent way to vent one's anger against authors, publishers, editors and other malefactors.)
Put the dough in a large buttered bowl and flip it to coat all the dough with butter. Cover with a dish towel and place in a warm spot -- at this time of year an unlit oven is very good. After about an hour the dough should have doubled in size. One good test is to stick your finger into it; if the dent doesn't spring back, you're ready.
Divide the dough into 4 equal pieces, shape them into loaves and put them in buttered 8 1/2-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pans. Cover with the dish towel and allow to rise until the top of the dough is level with the top of the pans, about 50 minutes.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees, or 325 if using glass pans.
Bake the loaves for 50 to 60 minutes. To test doneness remove a loaf from its pan and rap its bottom; if you get a nice hollow sound, the loaf is cooked. Dry on wire racks. Freeze in plastic bags.