Whole Wheat Bread was my first journey into bread baking. To perfect the loaf of whole wheat wonder was the goal.
I began in Lubbock, Texas, buying whole wheat flour in bulk from the health food store and finding inspiration from the bread served at the Rainbow Inn vegetarian restaurant (Dave still loves the “Broccoli Supreme” meal I copied from the Rainbow Inn. We had a menu, 8.5 x 11, basic 1970’s copied on regular white paper, for years ..maybe still do, somewhere. That meal of brown rice, steamed broccoli, homemade cheese sauce, topped with sunflower seeds became a staple during lean economic times as our family grew. It was what one of us ordered at the Rainbow Inn with the money I earned from typing a paper for Dave’s office mate in grad school.).
I had many attempts with whole wheat bread. The first ones were hard, not the attempts, the loaves. Hard enough that door stops would have been a good used for them. Some were mealy in consistency. Occasionally, when cut, there would be a cavern in the middle. Rarely did my loaves rise above the edge of the pan. My husband gamely ate almost every crumb… Hmmm. I remember my dad saying he would eat sawdust if it had whipped cream on it. One night, he was served up a bowl of saw dust with whipped cream that he took and ate. BUT, as I recall, he ate it alone in the back yard. Maybe there were slices or loaves that didn’t exactly get consumed by my encouraging husband, after all.
Here is the recipe and instructions for the whole wheat bread that I eventually settled on and perfected. I have to give credit to an important friend for the simplicity of ingredients. Thanks, Addie, wherever you are.
How to make Whole Wheat Bread
Put 6 cups of flour in a large bowl. Add to the flour, 1⁄2 cup sugar, 1 Tablespoon salt, 1 Tablespoon yeast. In a 4-cup measuring cup, measure 3 1/2 cups of warm water and 1⁄4 cup of oil.
Add water/oil to flour mixture, stirring with a wooden spoon until all the flour is involved.
Begin to add flour, 1⁄2 cup or so at a time, lifting a side of dough and putting the flour under the mass. Knead, making sure flour is all absorbed into the dough, adding flour until you can’t add any more. Then, keep kneading until the dough is a round, pliable mass of dough that doesn’t stick to your hands. Then, knead a little bit more.
Dump the dough out of the bowl. Oil the bowl. Put the dough back in the bowl, upside down. Then dump it back out and put it back in the bowl, right side up.
Let the dough rise until double. Really. Wait.
Punch the dough down, and divide it into three even pieces. (Unless you have large pans, then, maybe two pieces. Or two larger and one smaller…then you need a small pan as well.)
No need to knead this time. Just pat out into a rectangle. (No need to be perfectionistic about this. It needs to fit into your pan, so the rectangle should be about as wide as the pan is long. ) Roll the rectangle into a tube….pinching the dough together as you roll.
Oil the pans. Put the tube into the pan upside down….then dump it out and put it back in, right side up. Push it into the pan a bit.
Let the dough rise until it is above the edges of the pan. Really. Wait. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
When the loaves have risen, put them in the oven. Move the racks around so that the loaves are in the middle of the oven.
Bake for 35 minutes.
Take the pans out of the oven, smear butter on the tops, and let the loaves sit in the pans for 5 minutes or so. Then, put them out on a rack that allows air to flow under the loaves.
Eat. Enjoy. Gloat.
The type of flour is not as important as some of the other ingredients. We used to buy bushels of wheat right out of the farmer’s field. It was another of the benefits of marrying a Kansas farm boy. At first, we were able to buy it after it had been cleaned, so it could go right into the grinder. When we lost that source and bought some that I had to pick grasshopper legs and chaff and hulls out of, I went back to buying flour at the store. I also pretty quickly went from a hand grinder to an electric one. It took a long time to hand grind the wheat and I couldn’t find anyone to stay at it with me for very long….kind of like the Little Red Hen.
I often put a cup or two of white (unbleached, preferably) flour into my whole wheat bread. It gives it a lighter texture and softer loaf. I have been known to up the white flour to half of my whole wheat bread if I am anticipating it will be eaten by someone who only knows white bread or the “new” wheat bread that is often only mass-produced white bread with caramel coloring.
(Personal rant…..Read the labels! Wheat is wheat, whether it is bleached or organic or sifted. If you want store-bought whole wheat bread from the grocery store, buy one that says “whole wheat flour” as its first ingredient. Otherwise you are getting white bread with some caramel coloring. Thankfully, this has improved in recent years. )
I know people who bake bread with bread flour but, frankly, I have not seen enough of a difference to warrant the extra expense for my purposes. Family bread. Warm-from-the-oven, smelling-heavenly, soft and full of flavor. Plain old, whole wheat flour out of a bulk bin or from the grocery shelf works fine.
The yeast is important. Yeasts vary in flavor. When I started baking bread, you could still buy cubes of yeast, but if you can’t get those now, you are not missing anything. Dry yeast is fine and much simpler to use. It is hard to “kill” dry yeast. With cubes of yeast, the temperature of the water was crucial. Now, not so much. If you mix the yeast into the flour before you add the water, the water can be a bit warmer (but, still, not hot). I am not a fan of fast-acting yeast.
When our five kids were home and we went through several bakings of bread a week, I bought yeast in a 2-pound package from Sam’s that was vacuum-sealed. I found one after a recent move and it was past dated by 5 years. I wanted to bake bread, so I tested it and it was still “alive” and I am still using it. If you aren’t sure your yeast is going to be able to make your bread rise, you can test it. Put about 1⁄4 cup of warm water in a small bowl or measuring cup. Add a tablespoon of yeast and put a teaspoon of sugar on top of the yeast. Stir it all together. Let it sit for a few minutes and see if it starts to bubble up. If it does, it is good to use. Add it into the flour with the water and oil.