Bread-making has long been a hobby of mine. When we were newlyweds I collected recipes hand over fist, looking for perfect loaves. I quickly learned that great technique plus high quality ingredients make the best bread. Given flour, water, yeast, and salt I can make beautiful and delicious loaves with no recipe at all.
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This was a nutritionally motivated choice Dad & I made for our family about 3 years ago. We've removed all white flour and white sugar from our diets. This necessitated a lot of changes in how I handled bread dough. I was blessed to receive The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book and my loaves have never been better. We hope to get a grain mill in the near future.
I knead the bread for insanely long periods of time.
Almost no one kneads dough long enough. Even if you make a sponge or pre-ferment the dough, it takes 15 to 20 minutes in a stand mixer to get whole wheat dough to the stage where it is perfectly smooth and developed. Until the dough is satiny-smooth and "windowpanes" without tearing, you're not done kneading! Whole wheat dough should be creamy white with little specks of visible bran. If you've added oatmeal or cornmeal mush to the dough, it won't windowpane as cleanly as plain wheat dough unless you add additional vital wheat gluten.
|Windowpane test on white dough|
Rounding the dough before rising and again before forming the loaves allows the loaves to rise higher and lighter.
As you can see in this video, it's also great for home made pizza dough!
Two long, slow rises give incredible flavor.
I do not like or use instant yeast. I use about 1 teaspoon of active dry yeast in a two loaf recipe. If the first rise takes less than 90 minutes, the dough doesn't have time to develop flavor. A second rise not only boosts flavor, but also gives the bread a finer texture. Most of my recipes call for an overnight sponge, biga, or poolish, that develops both flavor and gluten.
I steam-bake my loaves in covered, parchment-lined, foil-sealed graniteware chicken roasters for a terrific crust and crumb.
My first loaves of whole wheat bread were dense and had thick, burned tasting crusts. Yuck. No one in their right mind would eat that! After much trial and error, I now place the loaves into the roasting pans to rise, brush or mist them with 2-3 Tbsp. water after rising, slash, seal, and bake. The result is soft chewy bread with a parchment thin crackly crust...sublime. If you want to try this, bake sealed at 450 for 15 minutes, and then remove the lids, reduce the heat to 350, and finish baking (5-8 minutes, or to 180 degrees). Almost any pan with a tight fitting lid will do.
|Honey Oatmeal dough risen, wet, and slashed|
|Sealed with foil and ready for the oven.|
|Argh! Someday I will learn to use my lame properly.|
There are many reasons to make whole grain loaves at home. Nutritionally, whole grain bread made with milk has the same complete proteins as meat or beans. It's a good choice economically, too. Whether or not you choose to stick to whole grains, I hope you always enjoy the simple pleasure of making your own bread.