Monday, March 4, 2013

Best Whole Wheat Bread

I am a very lucky woman! I grew up in a home where my mother made everything homemade. Yes, including bread! There were 11 in our family, so we used a ton of bread each week. I remember my mother making 6 loaves at a time at least twice a week just to keep up. My grandfather, her dad, was a wheat farmer, so he kept us supplied with plenty of wheat. I truly didn't know how lucky I was until all these years later!

For Christmas, my husband got me an electric grinder. I began making homemade bread as soon as it arrived. My family was hooked right away, and I no longer buy bread from the store. It is definitely more work, but the 10 minutes of kneading is quite worth it! The only thing better than the smell of homemade bread coming out of the oven, is eating it hot from the oven with lots of melted butter on it!

Here is my mother's tried and true recipe with only two modifications by me... I use butter instead of shortening and honey instead of brown sugar. Also, she always made it using half wheat flour and half white flour because it does rise better and tastes much better too! I make it the same way. You can make it with all whole wheat flour, but it will be more dense and won't rise as much.

Whole Wheat Bread

1 package (or 2½ teaspoons) active dry yeast
¼ cup warm water
½ cup honey (or light brown sugar)
1 Tablespoon salt
¼ cup butter, cut into small cubes
1½ cups hot water
1 cup warm tap water
3½ to 4 cups whole wheat four
3½ to 4 cups all purpose four

Place salt, honey (or brown sugar), and cubed butter in a very large mixing bowl.

Place yeast in a separate small bowl. Add just a little honey (or a pinch of brown sugar) to the yeast in the small bowl.

Add ¼ cup warm water to the yeast mixture and stir. Place in a warm place to allow yeast to rise. While yeast is rising, add 1½ cups of boiling water to the large mixing bowl, and stir until sugar and salt is dissolved and butter is melted.

Add 1 cup warm tap water to the large mixing bowl.

Stir 3½ cups of whole wheat flour into mixture in large bowl.

This mixture should now be warm, but not too hot. Add yeast mixture and stir well.

Add 3½ cups of all purpose flour.

Stir until mixture is mostly dry.

Use hands to knead the flour into a nice dough. I usually begin kneading in the large bowl,

...and then turn dough onto my lightly floured counter top to really knead it well.

Knead the dough for 10 minutes, adding flour as needed. The dough should be a little sticky, but should not stick to the counter or your hands. If it is too sticky, add more flour. The kneading can also be done with a stand mixer and dough hook. It will not take 10 minutes on a stand mixer. Just add enough flour so that the dough is not sticking to the sides of the bowl. When it is no longer sticking to the sides of the bowl, it is done kneading.

Now grease the large bowl with some shortening, and place dough in greased bowl. Cover with a clean dishtowel and let the dough rise until doubled in size. I found a great way to help my dough rise quickly! I have two rice heating pads that I made. I place these in the microwave for 2½ minutes on high heat. Then I place my bowl of dough in the microwave on top of the heating pads and close the door. My dough rises nicely in 1½ hours. If it is a really cold day, I reheat the rice pads after 45 minutes. I came up with this technique because my husband likes a cold house, and yeast needs warmth to rise!

When the dough has doubled, punch down the dough and divide dough in half. Form a ball out of each half. You are now ready to shape each ball into a loaf. There are many ways to do this, but my mother taught me a special way to do this. Her method eliminates almost all air bubbles and produces a loaf that holds together very well. You can see a video of her method here. I have typed up, as best that I can, written instructions for this method.

Place ball of dough onto a lightly floured counter top. Using a rolling pin, roll the dough into a nice long rectangle that is about a foot wide. Be sure you roll it until there are no more air bubbles. Now beginning on one end of the rectangle, roll the dough just a little toward the opposite end. Pinch down the dough all along the seam. Roll dough one turn again, and pinch down the seam again. Repeat this process until the dough is all rolled. Be sure to pinch all seams together. This helps minimize the air bubbles.

Now fold both ends of the roll under, so that they meet in the middle of the underside of the loaf. Again, pinch all seams, holes, etc. together on bottom and sides. Now place dough in pan with ends on the bottom. Press dough down in loaf pan evenly. Repeat for second loaf.

Again, I heat my rice pads and place the loaves on the rice pads in the microwave to rise. Don't forget to cover the pans with the clean dishtowel. This should take 35 minutes. I usually set my timer for 30 minutes. When it goes off, I preheat my oven to 350 degrees and reset the timer for 5 minutes. When my timer goes off, the bread and oven are both ready.

If you have regular pans, cover each loaf with foil and bake 30 minutes, and then remove the foil and continue to bake another 30 minutes or until tops are golden brown. If you are using pullman pans, put lids on the pans and bake for 35 minutes. (See notes regarding pullman pans.) Cool on wire rack. Makes 2 loaves.

Be sure you have a long serrated knife to cut your bread! The bread is much easier to cut after it has cooled. Be sure to store your bread in a bread bag away from moisture and heat.

After much research, I found the perfect bread pans! They are called pullman pans. They make perfect loaves every time, and the bread fits in all the sandwich/bread containers for my kids' lunches!

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