Before I get on with this, I’m warning you my motivation is on its way back, and I was a little camera happy this morning.
I realize bread making is a little time consuming, but I think it’s worth the effort. You’re probably wondering how I manage to bake bread several times a week when I work a full time job. Here’s the beauty of working from a shop located on the same property where I live. I can head to my kitchen on my lunch break, and mix up a batch of dough and knead it. It’s not uncommon to find a batch of dough rising in my office. At the end of the work day, I take it back to my kitchen, ready to pop in the oven.
I don’t know why I haven’t blogged my bread recipe before. I make it so often I could do it in my sleep. I’ve fiddled around with different ways of making bread over the years. The resulting conclusion of all this fiddling….. the books, famous chefs, food network, etc….. they’ve made it WAY too complicated. No wonder so many people are intimidated by homemade bread. Seriously folks, bread has been the staff of life, successfully feeding and nourishing mankind for thousands of years….. it can’t be that complicated! Of course, in the last 100 years, we’ve managed to corrupt the stuff beyond what our ancestors would recognize as bread. However, that’s a whole ‘nuther conversation. Anyway, I’ll show you how I make bread, and I’m warning you…. I break a lot of rules.
I don’t have a convenient local source for bulk organic grains and flours, so I have them shipped from Heartland Mill out of Kansas. You can shop online, but I tend to phone my orders so I can have them ship on my business’ UPS shipper account. I’ve got a negotiated volume discount with UPS. Heartland’s prices are fantastic, and even with shipping I’m paying less than if I bought 5 pound bags of organic Bobs Red Mill from the local grocery. I purchase in 25 or 50 pound quantities, depending on the type of flour. I tend to use about twice as much all-purpose flour as I do whole wheat flour. I’m still working on that. I keep my flours and grains in 6 gallon buckets stored under some of my canning shelves in the basement.
Yes, I’m a little OCD. Yes, I know the shelves are bowing a little. Drives me nuts! I’ve got a bunch more shelving on the opposite facing wall. Everything in the buckets is organic: durum semolina for pasta, rye flakes, steel cut oats, arborio rice, wild rice, green coffee beans, whole wheat flour, unbleached all-purpose flour. The wooden crates are where onions, squash, and sweet potatoes are stored. The large jars on the shelves are dried herbs, spices, dried fruit, and other things of that sort. I have an arsenal of herbal witch doctory on that shelf. Top shelf is elderberry juice, jams, salsa, and assorted pickled veggies and relishes. If you’ve ever received a food gift from me, it’s a good bet it came from the top shelf.
So, on to bread making. This is my base recipe for bread, and I vary it depending on what I’m making. If I’m making raisin bread I’ll add more honey, a little cinnamon and some raisins. I’ll form it into focaccia and slather it with olive oil and olives, artichokes, or roasted red peppers. I’ll form it into bagels, boil, then bake them. This recipe produces one average sized loaf. I don’t like to make 2 loaves at a time, since I prefer fresh bread and there are only 3 of us in the house these days.
Honey Whole Wheat Bread
1 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
1 tablespoon vital wheat gluten
1 tablespoon active dry yeast
Up to 1/4 cup honey
1 to 1 1/2 cup warm water
I usually just throw my ingredients into the bowl without measuring: one part each of whole wheat flour and all-purpose flour, about 1/2 palm full kosher salt, a scant palm full active dry yeast, and a palm full vital wheat gluten. I decided to be kind and give you some measurements. I warned you I break rules. No messing with extra containers, softening yeast in water ahead of time. I just dump all the dry ingredients together and give them a quick stir with my spoon.
A little bunny trail here with some information on ingredients. Bread does not taste good without salt. (period). Most recipes don’t call for enough. I use more salt. Salt does tend to slow down the activity of yeast, yeast feeds on sugar, and this recipe includes plenty of honey. See where I’m going with this? I’ve never had a problem with the salt preventing the yeast from doing its job.
I include vital wheat gluten when using whole grain flours because I get a better rise from the dough as well as a lighter crumb in the finished bread. You can choose to leave it out, but you’ll probably end up with a heavier more dense loaf of bread.
Next, combine the honey, egg, and warm water. A quick aside on water amounts. The amount can vary depending on your flour. My current batch of flour needs about a cup, but I’ve needed to use as much a 1 1/2 before. If your dough is a little too wet, just work a little more all-purpose flour into it when you knead the dough. I’ve developed a sense for how the dough should feel, and know when I need to use more or less water.
Don’t worry if the warm water causes the egg white to get a little hazy, because you’re just going to mix it up like this.
And then dump the wet into the dry.
Stir it until it forms a rough dough.
Dump it onto the lightly floured counter top and knead for about 5 minutes. At this point I walk away from it, and let it rest for 5 minutes while I do something else. I took the time to refill the nearly empty flour canisters I keep on my counter. Knead the dough for a few more minutes, until it feels smooth and elastic. Drizzle a little olive oil in the bottom of a bowl and turn the dough in the oil to coat it.
Cover the bowl with a cloth and set it in a warm draft free place to rise until doubled in size. Rising time will vary depending on too many factors to list. Expect anywhere from 1 to 2 hours for the first rising. This batch took 2 hours because the house was cool this morning. This is one of my favorite vintage tea towels. It’s too pretty to use for any messy kitchen work, so I use it as a proofing cloth.
Once the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, knead it a few times, and place it back in the bowl with a drizzle of oil to rise a second time. The dough will rise more quickly the second time.
After the dough has doubled a second time, punch it down, knead it a few times, form it into a loaf, and set it aside to rise for the last time. I love crusty free form loaves, but my guys don’t care for crust, so I bake the bread in loaf pans. I do whatever it takes to keep them from requesting that soft, tasteless, chemical laden, plastic wrapped stuff that passes for bread these days. This last raising will take as little as 30 minutes.
Once it has doubled, place the loaf in a 350 degree oven for approximately 30 minutes. Yet another bunny trail….. baking time and temperature. 350 for 30 minutes is what works for me. My oven is not properly calibrated, so I bought an oven thermometer to make sure my oven is properly preheated. As I mentioned before, my family likes a less crusty, soft crumbed bread. If I had it my way, I’d make a crusty free from loaf baked at about 400 or 425 for about 20 minutes, on a stone, and with steam for the first few minutes of baking. My point being, do what works for your quirky oven and personal taste.
I know you’re supposed to let the bread cool before cutting if you don’t want to mangle your loaf. Mangling be damned! I wanted a piece so I cut it right away, slathered it with some homemade strawberry vanilla jam, and made myself very happy.