I’ve been baking bread from scratch for about 2-1/2 years.  Not long, by any standard, but long enough to have picked up a few tips along the way.  I am by no means an expert, nor do I play one on the internetwink, but maybe what I’ve learned will help you, too. 

I started baking our bread because I couldn’t find a decent loaf of bread in the store for under $3.79 (for a small loaf!) that didn’t have high fructose corn syrup and/or partially hydrogenated oil in it.  I’d be spending a fortune on bread each week!  There is also something immensely satisfying about creating bread from scratch.  Doing so feeds my inner health-food freak, knowing that I’m providing a healthy staple for my family, and knowing exactly what’s going into our bread. 

Our daily bread of choice is a simple 100% whole wheat bread.  I tinker with the recipe sometimes, adding this or that, but it’s usually the same basic recipe.  Believe it or not, it is possible to make a loaf of 100% whole wheat bread that does not resemble a brick.yes.gif

First, a few words about ingredients.  I mill my own wheat flour.  Don’t be too impressed, it’s really very simple.  If you don’t mill your own flour, buy a good brand (King Arthur produces the best flours, IMHO), and keep it in an airtight container in your freezer.  The oils in the wheat germ begin to go bad (rancid) as soon as the wheat is milled; protecting it from heat and air will prolong the life of your wheat flour.

I use SAF Instant Yeast, available in bulk from the King Arthur Flour company’s website The Baker’s Catalogue.  This stuff kicks buns!  Instant yeast is not the same as rapid rise, which requires only one rise.  Instant yeast is called instant because it does not need to be proofed; you throw it in with your ingredients.  It’s also a little more forgiving in the temperature department.  (Have you ever killed your yeast when proofing it with too hot water?)

Sweeteners…I prefer honey.

Fats…it really depends on my mood, but I use unsalted butter, extra light olive oil, or organic coconut oil. 

Egg…adding an egg to your dough will increase it’s protein content, as well as provide lecithin, which improves the texture of the finished product.  If you don’t have eggs on hand (or just don’t want to use one), substitute approximately 2 oz of liquid for the egg.

Vital Wheat Gluten…is made from the protein of the endosperm of the wheat berry.  Adding it to your loaf will improve rise, texture, and shelf life.  You can play with the amount of gluten you add to your loaf; I usually use 2 TBS.

Milk or dry milk…also improves the texture of your bread.  If you don’t have dry milk on hand, substitute milk for the water in the recipe. 

This recipe yields one 9″x5″ loaf of bread.  If your normal recipe uses a 8-1/2″ and 4-1/2″ pan, this will be too much dough for your pan.  Following the techniques in the recipe will still work for your recipe, though.  I use a KitchenAid Pro5+ mixer for my wheat milling and bread making.  Meet Bing:

 Bing

wub2.gif  Yeah, I love that thing.

Here we go:

Daily Bread

3-1/2 cups whole wheat flour (traditional, white wheat, or blend of both)

1 cup warm water (or warm milk, if not using dry milk)

2 TBS vital wheat gluten

1/4 cup dry milk

1 egg

2 TBS butter, melted

1 TBS honey

1-1/2 tsp. salt

2-1/4  tsp. instant yeast

First, take all of the flour and water and place it in the bowl of the mixer.  Place bowl on mixer and attach the flat paddle attachment.  Mix on speed 2 until all of the flour is evenly moistened.  Remove the paddle and cover the bowl.  Go make yourself a cup of tea or coffee and relax for 20 to 30 minutes.  HAH!  OK, go get busy and come back in about 20 to 30 minutes.  Whole wheat flour takes longer to absorb liquid than all-purpose flour.  This process will hydrate your flour, soften the bran, and allow gluten strands to strengthen.

Uncover your bowl and put the paddle back in the mixer.  Save that plastic wrap, you’ll be needing it again.  Put the rest of the ingredients in the mixer bowl and turn to speed 2 until the dough is well mixed.  It should start to clean the sides of the bowl.  (About a  minute or so.)  Remove the paddle and replace it with the dough hook.  Knead on speed 2 (use ONLY speed 2 with a dough hook on a KA mixer) for 5 to 7 minutes.  If you have a 5 or 6 qt. wide bowl, it may take a few minutes for the dough to come together, as 3-1/2 cups of flour is about the minimum amount of flour that works with a dough hook in a KA wide bowl. 

At this time, you may need to add a spoon or two of more flour.  DO NOT add too much flour.  The dough should be a little tacky or sticky, not smooth like white dough.  Remember, it takes WW flour longer to absorb liquid than AP flour.  If you continue to add flour hoping to get it the consistency of white bread dough you will add too much and produce a brick.  (Been there, done that; baked a doorstop.rolleyes)  Keep an eye and occasional hand on your mixer.  5 to 7 minutes is longer than KA recommends, but most mixers can handle it with no problem.  If your mixer sounds like it’s straining or gets hot, turn it off and finish by hand.  No bread is worth killing your mixer over!  5 to 7 minutes on a mixer will be at least 15 minutes by hand.  (Have I told you that I love my mixer?)

Take out your dough – it should be a little sticky and have about the firmness of…the belly of a sleeping cat.  HUH?  That description comes from skipc (a homeschooling dad, no less!) over at the KA forums.  I haven’t held a sleeping cat for a number of years (ka-CHOO), but I think skip is on to something.  Knead the dough 4 or 5 times to get it into a smooth ball; oil a large bowl; place the ball of dough in the bowl and turn the dough to coat it with oil.  Grab that plastic wrap you set aside and cover the bowl. (Save that plastic again when you uncover the bowl.)  Place the bowl in a warm spot and leave it be until the dough doubles.  With SAF Instant Yeast, this is done in about 45 to 60  minutes at my house, depending on where I put the bowl.

Not sure if your dough has doubled?  Poke it with two fingers and see if the holes spring back.  If they do, your dough is not ready yet.  When your dough has doubled, punch it down (punch it in the middle and fold in each side), put it on the counter and press it into a rectangle (more or less) with the heel of your hands.  Roll it up, pinch the ends and tuck them under to make a nice log the length of your pan.   Oil your bread pan and place your dough log, seam side down, in the pan.  Take your plastic wrap (you didn’t throw it away did you?), oil it, or spray it with non-stick vegetable spray and loosely cover the bread pan.  You don’t want air to get to the bread, so make sure the edges are down, but leave room in the middle of the plastic for the dough to rise up.

Place your bread pan in a warm spot and let the dough rise until it’s a little more than an inch higher than the edge of your bread pan.  Preheat your oven to 375 degrees.  While the oven is heating slash the top of your loaf with a very sharp knife or razor, about 1/4″ deep.  This gives the dough more room to rise as it bakes, and prevents the dough from tearing at any weak spots.  And hey, it looks nice, too.  Recover your loaf with plastic until it’s ready to go in the oven.

REMOVE the plastic.  Bake for 35 minutes.  Turn out on a rack to cool.  You may notice that your crust is as hard as a rock when you first take it out of the oven.  Don’t panic!  It’s important that you let a loaf cool for at least 20 minutes before slicing.  The moisture in the loaf is concentrated at the center of the loaf when you take it out of the oven.  You want that moisture to evenly disperse all the way to the crust for the best texture.  It will also be easier to slice.

Here is a pic of a loaf I made yesterday:

Whole Wheat Bread (Click pic to enlarge.)

Other tips:

-When measuring your flour, fluff it up in its container, gently spoon the flour into your measuring cup, and scrape off the excess flour with the back edge of a knife.  King Arthur flour recommends this method to prevent using too much flour in your recipes. thumbsup

-Don’t let your dough over-rise.  You’ll end up with coarse, crumbly bread. 

-Don’t rush the rise by placing your dough in too warm a place to rise. 

-If you don’t have time to bake during the week, mix your dough and freeze it before the first rise: Oil the ball of dough, wrap it in plastic, and freeze in a freezer bag until ready to use.  The night before you want to bake, unwrap the frozen dough, oil it again, and place it in a lightly oiled bowl.  Cover the bowl and set it out on the counter overnight.  Your dough should be thawed and doubled by morning (depending on how warm/cold your kitchen is.)  Punch down your dough, shape and let rise again; bake as directed.  This very slow rise overnight will produce a very tasty loaf!  This works for white or wheat dough, and is worth trying even if you’re not in a hurry to bake in the morning.

Some bakers get very scientific with their bread, measuring and weighing every grain and drop.  I start to loose my mind if I do that.  Learn the basic ratios, learn to feel your dough, and have fun.  Most mistakes are still edible.wink

Enjoy!

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It’s good to have a day that offers obvious reasons to smile.  I needed one of those today, and was blessed.  First, the simple blessing: my bread rose beautifully today.  My last few loaves (of 100% whole wheat bread) had not been rising well at all.  Odd, as I’ve been making bread for a couple of years now and, for the most part, get consistent results.  I’d been playing with the recipe, but not really paying attention or keeping track of what I was doing.  (DOH!….erm, maybe that should be DOUGH! 😉 ) I finally figured out to add more water and change the way I hydrate my flour before making the dough and viola!  Big, happy bread.  thumbsup.gif

The next blessing was better by far.  My DS6 has been writing “[DS6] Loves Mom” on his DoodlePro for over a month telling me that it was a movie he was making.  Yesterday he wrote on our school whiteboard “[DS6] Loves Mom Opened.”  I asked him what that meant, and he informed me that his movie opened and is now in theatres.  icon_lol.gif

During recess today, DS10 helped DS6 make paperplate puppets with popsicle sticks.  At lunch, they went up to their bedroom and brought down to the livingroom their various toy containers to build a “puppet wall.”  They also added a few other game boxes stacked on each other.  They wrote me a ticket to “[DS6] Loves Mom” and gave it to me so I could get in to see the show.  DS6 accepted my ticket and directed me to my seat (the sofa) and the show began.  It was adorable (I took DS6 for ice cream) and silly (we were all giggling), and even had a bad guy (the ice cream store owner who told us there wasn’t enough ice cream and was closing the shop).  Oh, I laughed!  A play in 5 acts.  It was wonderful. 

I got a picture of their curtain call:

The Puppet Show (Click pic to enlarge.)

And miracle of miracles, they even took all of their boxes back up to their room!  icon_eek.gif  I heard them talking before dinner.  They’re working on another show.  smile.gif

I’m so glad I homeschool.  sweetheart.gif