Bread really seems daunting to many people who are otherwise confident cooks. My first advice to people is to lower their standards: Your lumpy, under-risen loaves will still taste better than store-bought bread. Don’t be afraid to fail, and always eat your failures. You put good stuff in, and as long as you don’t burn the crap out of it, it will be good.
It is also a process, like playing the piano, that awards practice. In particular, knowing when bread is well-kneaded is a feeling that is unmistakable when you know it but that can only be approximated in words.
Whole Wheat Bread, the currently evolving recipe
- 1/2 cup warm water
- 2 heaping teaspoons dry yeast
- 2 1/2 cups buttermilk
- 1/3 Cup Molasses
- 1/4 Cup vegetable oil or butter
- 1 Cup White Flour
- 2 tablespoons Wheat Gluten
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 3+ Cups Wheat Flour — as needed.
- Combine yeast and warm (not hot, around 110F) water with a couple teaspoons whole flour and stir. Set aside. It should bubble a bit after 5-10 minutes, indicating the yeast is alive.
- Mix buttermilk, molasses and butter/oil in a pan on a stove. I use a digital thermometer to warm it up to 110F while stirring. If you don’t have a thermometer, you can just stick your finger in it. It should be like bathwater you could climb into without it stinging.
- When your liquid mix is warm take it off burner. Add a cup of white flour and the warm liquid to the yeast & water mix. Stir until smooth.
- Add salt and gluten and stir until fully mixed.
- Add a 1/2 cup of whole wheat flourr and stir until fully mixed in.
- Keep repeating step 4 until the dough mix starts separating from the side of the bowl.
- Turn out on liberally floured counter or breadboard. Cover your hands in flour and knead dough. Every time dough starts getting sticky add a few tablespoons whole wheat flour and continue kneading.
- When dough ceases to be sticky to touch, continue kneading for 5 minutes or so.
- Cut into 2 equal sized blobs. Roll and stretch blobs until they’re long enough to touch both ends of the bread pan.
- Add a teaspoon of oil to each bread pan. Put the dough blobs in pans and roll them around so that they’re well coated in the oil.
- Set aside to rise. Use a clean towel or plastic wrap draped loosely over the bread pan. Keeps dirt and vermin out, and heat in, while not restricting fresh air flow.
- Allow to rise until bread is above the edge of the pan.
- Put in 400 F oven for 25-35 minutes. It is done when the top is dark brown and when you thump it it has a hollow thud quality.
- knock out of pan onto a wire rack to cool.
The inside of the bowl will have dough stuck to it. When you turn out the dough to knead, you can rub off the bits of dough from the bowl into your big dough blob. Waste not want not. If you don’t have experience kneading, you can watch videos on Youtube about it.
The two main gestures are stretching and folding. You do it because it stimulates the protein in the flower, in combination with the liquids, to form long chain molecules that give the the dough structural integrity, such that small bubbles of gas can form as the yeast consumes starches and sugars.
There are endless variations one can introduce. If you beat an egg white and brush the top of the loaf it will make it shiney. You can add nuts or dried fruit. You can substitute a cup of oatmeal for some of the flour — in that case, heat the buttermilk mixture almost to boiling, and drop in the oatmeal. Let the oatmeal absorb liquid as the mixture cools — again, to warm going on hot.
Rising time is quite variable, and depends most on ambient temperature. In fact you can put the dough in the refrigerator and let it rise over-night. One good method is to put a dish of boiling water in your oven (before turning it on) and put the loaves in the oven.