Update: As of November of 2010, I no longer add the extra gluten listed in my original recipe. I’ve read that we Americans get too much gluten in our daily diets and I just feel better not using it. My loaves are still fine for our family, but are probably not quite as high as the loaves pictured here. I’ve listed it as optional now in the recipe below.
A few years ago, I started to teach myself to make bread. My family has eaten many a leaden loaf of bread without complaints (for which I’m eternally grateful!) in my quest for an easy whole wheat loaf that makes great sandwiches as well as toast. I’ve experimented with many different flours (Barley-Rye-Spelt bread, anyone?) and in the end adapted a great recipe that’s quick and easy and turns out a consistently good loaf.
First, though, why bother learning to make your own bread?
- It tastes WONDERFUL.
- You know exactly what’s in it.
- It takes less hands-on time than running to the store (revelation to me!)
- It’s cheap – these two loaves cost about .65 cents each (and I’m probably over-estimating).
- It just makes you feel good.
- It tastes WONDERFUL.
Convinced? Me, too! And I want to encourage you that you, too, can make bread… I swear. Just give it a try and DO NOT be discouraged by any tiny, leaden loaves you may turn out (usually still good for toast and breadcrumbs) it’s all a part of the learning. Trust me on this – I know. Just keep practicing.
Steps to make your own soft 100% w.w. sandwich bread:
1. Combine warm water*, yeast, and 2 cups of flour in the bowl of a stand mixer (this can, of course, be mixed in a bowl by hand- I’ve just never done it that way!) and let sit 15 minutes to create a “sponge.” *I use warmest tap water without a problem, but if you’re unsure, you want to use a thermometer and have your water between 105 and 110 degrees – hotter than this will kill the yeast!
2. Add oil and then add honey. Look at how all the honey just slides right out of the cup when added after using it for the oil – no scraping needed. A lovely little trick.
3. Now add the salt, (add gluten here, if using) and 4 cups of flour and combine well.
4. When it’s mixed together and looks like this, it’s time to change to the dough hook on your machine (or for those doing it by hand, turn out on floured surface to knead). Knead for 6-7 minutes (or 10 by hand).
5. After about 6 min., it will be cleaning the sides of the bowl. If it is sticking at all during the kneading process, you can add a little flour, a TB at a time. Be careful not to add too much – the dough should stick slightly to your finger when you touch it, but not cling to it. It’s ok if the dough still sticks to the bottom of the bowl (biggest tip: don’t add too much flour – the dough should not roll out of the bowl on its own).
6. Prepare two 9 x 5″ pans while dough is kneading. Grease them anyway you like. I love my Mr. Misto – I just fill it with whatever oil I want and never have to buy a spray from the store – reusable and frugal. Yea! In order to get it in the corners I use my silicone brush. Oh, and I think I’m due for new pans, don’t you?
7. Turn the kneaded dough out onto a floured surface and cut in half. I use a tea towel dusted with a bit of flour- the dough doesn’t stick as much, so you use less flour, plus it’s easy clean-up. Smoosh the dough down into an even-looking oval shape that you can cut in half. I used a fancy-pants dough scraper, but a regular long knife works just as well.
8. Shape the loaves:
- a) pat each half into a fairly even oval the length of the pan. I used to sweat over trying to shape a loaf – using a rolling pin and making it big, then I realized its not rocket science it only needs to be big enough to roll up a bit.
- b) roll up gently.
- c) pinch the seam together and then pinch the ends and bring them in toward the seam…
- d) so that it looks like this when shaped.
9. Fit the shaped loaf into your prepared pan and repeat with the other loaf. Another reason I like using a towel to shape them: I simply take the tea towel, shake it off gently over the sink, and use it to cover the pans. You can get out a new towel or use plastic wrap if you shaped them on a cutting board.
10. Set them in a warm place. Don’t worry too much about this – the counter is fine, even the top of the fridge – just no cold drafts. I do have a cupboard right above our heating vent that is always warm and since we keep our house on the cool side in the winter, I will put the loaves in there. But when it’s warm out, I just use the counter.
11. Set a timer for 50 minutes, then turn the oven to 350 degrees to preheat for the last 10 minutes of rising time.
12. When the loaves have risen 1/2-1″ above the pans (1 hr. for these loaves), put them in the preheated 350 degree oven for 15 minutes, then turn them around for even cooking and bake another 15 minutes, for 30 minutes total. Notice one is bigger than the other? It’s all about embracing imperfection here at Oregon Cottage! Also the bigger one seems to have a growth on the side – it’s a bubble and I just don’t worry about those things!
13. Take the loaves out of the oven after 30 min. (you can do a test, turning them out and knocking on the bottom for a hollow sound, but if your oven is truly at 350 they will always be done at 30 min. – I never test with this recipe anymore). Run a spatula around the edges right away to loosen any sticking parts.
Oh, and here’s one of my favorite things – this spatula is the BEST. It’s plastic, but sorta sharp for a spatula, so it gets EVERY last bit of dough from the pan and is better at loosening things out of pans than knives because it’s not sharp enough to actually cut through anything you don’t want it to. They are hard to find (I got my first set as a gift – I can’t cook at all without them anymore!) and currently the only place I’ve seen them is in the King Arthur Flour catalog.
14. Let cool 30 min. to 1 hour before cutting or you’re gonna smush the bread down when you try to cut it! I know it’s hard, but have patience, it will be worth it in the end. Then, if you’re like me, cut off one of the lovely ends, spread it with just a bit of real butter and bite into that soft, crispy wonderfulness…there’s just something about fresh-out-of-the-oven bread!
15. Cool them completely before storing or freezing. To freeze, double wrap in plastic bags (reused from produce bags, of course) and freeze until you need them. They freeze beautifully and you’ll never have to run to the store for bread again!
- 6 to 6-1/2 c. whole wheat flour (ww regular, ww bread, or white whole wheat all work great)
- 2-1/2 c. warm water (between 105-110 degrees)
- 1-1/2 TB instant active dry yeast (not rapid rise) - regular active dry yeast can be used as well
- ⅓ c. honey
- ⅓ c. oil
- 2-1/2 tsp. salt
- (1-1/2 TB. vital wheat gluten- OPTIONAL (I don't use this anymore))
- Combine water, yeast and 2 cups of the flour in a mixing bowl. Set aside to sponge for 15-20 minutes, until risen and bubbly (warmer weather takes 15 min, cooler temps usually needs 20).
- Add honey, oil, salt, (gluten, if using), and 4 cups of flour. Mix until dough starts to clean sides of bowl. Change to dough hook (or turn out to knead by hand), and knead 6 to 7 minutes (10 by hand). Add only a few tablespoons of flour at a time if dough sticks to sides, being careful not to add too much.
- Form into two loaves and place in greased 9x5" pans. Allow to rise in a warm place for about 60 minutes, or 15-30 min. longer if needed to reach ½ to 1-inch above pans (i.e., cold kitchens may need the longer time). Preheat oven to 350 degrees ten minutes before rising time is done.
- Bake for 30 minutes, rotating halfway through if needed.
- Immediately remove from pans to cool on a rack. Allow to completely cool before slicing.