While my week with Fit Stanley was definitely eye-opening and educational for me, as he cooked for me and pushed me to work hard and kept me out of the candy stores, I taught him a thing or two during our visit as well.
His first lesson was in the art of baking homemade bread. This is my favorite go-to recipe for my regular bread-baking for sandwiches and toast and such. It is so super simple you will wonder why you haven’t been baking YOUR own bread all this time.
Don’t be intimidated though-I totally used to feel that way about baking bread but I eventually got the hang of it. And I’m going to tell you all of my secrets anyway, so you don’t have to find out through trial and error like I did.
It all starts with my favorite kitchen appliance: my Nutrimill grain grinder. You all remember the little love affair I have going with my Nutrimill right? That baby will give Fit Stanley a run for his money.
Coming in a close second to my Nutrimill, however, is my Bosch mixer. Isn’t she beautiful? This is the best stand mixer on the market if you ask me. What’s that? Oh, you didn’t ask. So sorry.
The recipe I will be using is one I have adapted and tweaked (of course) as I have used it over and over again. I have tried MANY whole wheat bread recipes-probably pretty much every single one you can find on the internet and I wish I were joking.
This one, by far, is the one that yields the most consistent results, the highest rise and the best texture. So I stick with what works.
First, let me preface this by saying that I only just got my Bosch and my Nutrimill in April of this year (tax time baby!!!) and I was making bread long before that. So you do NOT have to have these tools in order to make a good loaf of bread. All you need are two working hands and a bit of elbow grease.
I would be happy to do another tutorial on making the bread by hand if anyone wants me to do that. Just say the word. I’ll get around to it eventually.
And no, I do not own a bread machine and don’t plan on buying one.
Step 1. Proof your yeast.
A lot of bread recipes these days, I have noticed, skip this step and just add the yeast in with the rest of the ingredients. I ALWAYS proof my yeast. I just think it gives better results and it also is a reliable way of knowing for sure that your yeast is alive.
So, PROOF YOUR YEAST.
But, Chick, I’ve never made bread before (don’t feel bad, neither had Fit Stanley), and I have no idea what you mean when you say, “Proof your yeast.”
Aren’t you glad I am so accommodating? While I am sure there is a perfectly scientific explanation for what “proofing” is, you won’t find that here. Proofing, in Chick terms, is feeding your yeast and causing it to grow so that it gives your bread a good rise. You do know that yeast is alive right?
I know. Creepers.
And what does yeast eat? Why sugar, of course. Just like the rest of us!
Yeast also loves warm, moist environments, so proofing is basically the process of providing the right environment for your yeast to grow.
First, measure your yeast into a small bowl. For a single loaf of bread, use 1 1/2 teaspoons.
Just a tip: buy your yeast in bulk as there is a SIGNIFICANT savings when you do so. I get two big packages of it at Sam’s for $4-something and stick it in the freezer. It lasts forever.
I make 4 loaves at a time so I use 2 tablespoons of yeast.
Next, you will add your “sugar”. I use raw honey that I get through our local co-op, but you can use pretty much any sweetener you like-maple syrup, sugar, sucanat, honey, molasses. Molasses is probably the healthiest of those options but I find it to be very strong-flavored so if I use it, I cut it with something a little sweeter like sugar or honey.
For one loaf, use 1 1/2 tablespoons of honey. For four loaves I used about 4 tablespoons, so I didn’t quite quadruple it. I used 2 tablespoons in the proofing and added the rest later.
Next, add your warm water. You don’t want it scalding or you will kill your yeast, but you don’t want it cold either or it won’t grow properly. For one loaf, use 1 1/4 cups of warm water.
For mine, I used 2 cups in the proofing and added the rest later.
Meanwhile, as you wait for your yeast to proof…
Cue Jeopardy theme music…
You can get to work on:
Step 2. The rest of your ingredients
For this recipe, for one loaf, you will combine 3 cups of whole wheat flour, 1 1/2 teaspoons of salt, and 1 1/2 tablespoons of dry milk powder.
Admittedly, this stuff isn’t the best stuff for you, but remember this is the best recipe I have found. And you can feel good knowing that your family is not getting bread full of enriched, bleached flour, preservatives and all manner of man-made ingredients that you can’t pronounce.
Next, you will add the rest of your wet ingredients. For one loaf, add 1 1/2 tablespoons of butter. (I also added the other 2 tablespoons of honey, and the rest of the water-3 more cups to make 5 cups total for the four loaves, at this point).
Next, you will check to see if your yeast is ready. The proofing takes about 10 minutes and it is very easy to tell if you have a good proof:
This is what your yeast should look like, all bubbly and frothy and foamy. Yes, those are technical baking terms. You can easily tell if your yeast has been having a feast if it looks like this.
Add this mixture to the rest of the ingredients. I also like to add ground flax seed and gluten to my dough at this point. I never measure the flax meal-a couple of heaping tablespoons ought to do it.
The gluten increases the protein content of your bread, and helps to bind your dough together and give a better rise for fluffier bread. I use about 1/2 tablespoon per cup of bread. So if you are making one loaf, it would be 1 1/2 tablespoons of gluten. Both of these ingredients are completely optional.
Step 3. Mix.
Next, just mix in your stand mixer or with the dough hook attachment on your hand mixer.
Now this is the important part. You want the texture to be just right-not too dry and not too wet. It should start to pull away from the sides of the bowl. You don’t want it sticky. If it is sticky you can add more flour, a quarter cup at a time, until you get the right texure. If it is too dry you can add a bit more water.
This is probably the hardest part but if you do it a couple of times you will learn what it looks and feels like. It should be able to peel right off of the bowl and your hands and not stick.
If you are using a stand mixer, you will want to let it knead for about 8 minutes. If you are doing it by hand it can take a bit longer, and up to 20 minutes to get the right feel. Just think of it as a really great arm workout!
Step 4. Rise
Next, put your dough into a larger, greased bowl. It will need room to grow so be sure your bowl is big enough so that the dough can double in size.
Cover your dough. With a clean towel, not Fit Stanley. He’s such a ham.
I love the flour sack towels for this purpose. They are light-weight and give the dough room to breathe and you don’t run the risk of getting any towel fuzz into your dough. Not that I have ever done that or anything. You can get them at Wal-mart and Bed, Bath and Beyond.
Why, Fit Stanley, I think you’ve grown!!!
You want to keep your dough in a warm, draft-free place to rise. This process usually takes about an hour. However, remember how yeast loves that warm, moist environment? So depending on the humidity level and temperature in your home, your dough my rise faster or slower than that.
If you’re in a rush for time, a good way to rise your dough very quickly is to, while you are making your dough, put your oven on it’s lowest setting and boil a pot of water on the stove. Turn the oven off once it reaches that low temperature (on my oven it is 170 degrees) and keep the door shut. Then once your dough is ready, place the pot of steaming water and the bowl with your dough in it in the oven. This basically creates a sauna for your dough and the yeast will love you for it.
Ta-da!!! I bet you are glad you used that really big bowl now aren’t you?
Step 5. Punch it out!
Flour a flat surface.
Next is my children’s favorite part: turn the dough out on your floured surface and work out your frustrations by punching it down. Knead it for a couple more minutes and then simply shape into a loaf (if you are making multiple loaves, you would divide them at this point and then shape).
Place your shaped loaves into greased bread pans. I only own 3, so I freeze the fourth loaf. I simply spray some saran wrap with cooking spray (comes off easily when I remove it from the freezer that way) and wrap it up and then wrap that in foil. When it’s time to bake it, I just plop it into the bread pan and allow it to rise again and bake as usual.
Step 6. Rise…again
Cover. Again. Let rise. Again.
The second rise shouldn’t take as long as the first-usually about a half hour.
Step 7. Bake
Bake at 350 for 25-30 minutes.
The finished product. Guaranteed to be much yummier than Wonderbread.
Step 8. Eat
Perfect! Great job, Fit Stanley!
Step 9. Ward off the crowds of people who flock to your house as they smell the yummy goodness of your fresh-baked bread. Make your friends jealous. Be the cool mom. Save the world.
Disclaimer: I cannot be held responsible for any family feud that transpires as you fight with your family members for the last slice. You might want to go ahead and use my 4-loaf method. I also cannot claim responsibility for profits lost for bread manufacturers the world over. Because I guarantee you will never go back!