Making Bread

I’ve been making my own bread now for a few years. It has taken a while to get my loaves to the point where I feel good about giving them away. They are not bricks of burned yeast anymore. That’s good. I usually bake bread every week and a half. So with so much baking going on around here, I thought I’d write quickly about the things that I have learned through trial and error.

Although I have experimented with many recipes, I always go back to the one I will include at the end of this post. It is simple and has really never failed me.

Yeast: When I first started making bread, I was very intimidated by using yeast. I’ve always been afraid of it. I know, a strange fear…but really, its true. Your yeast and how you handle it will make or break your bread. But over the years, I have come to understand that it is not very hard, really. Especially if the recipe you use does not ask you to proof your yeast first. I do recommend that you experiment for yourself, though, so that you get a feel for the correct temperature for the water and such. There are two types of yeast: instant vs active dry yeast. I have not really noticed a difference in using one over the other (and honestly, I am not versed on the difference between the two…something about the size of the yeast)  I use SAF Instant Dry yeast and it works great. I store my yeast in the freezer in an air tight quart mason jar. It stays dry and since I cycle through it pretty quickly. But in case I go on a bread making boycott or something, the yeast should stay good for at least 6 months or so. I have read in different forums about whether you need to bring the yeast to room temperature before proofing it or using it. The census shows that it really depends on your yeast. For me, I always just use it right out of the freezer and I have not had any problems. However, I should try it at room temperature and see if there is a difference. If you have experience or knowledge about that, let me know! Things to note: Yeast feeds on sugars (honey or sugar work great) and salt slows the growth of yeast. That means its best to add your salt after the yeast has been activated sufficiently. If you shy away from making your own bread because of the yeast, go proof some right now and get over your fear like I did. Its liberating!

Wheat flour:
A few years ago I received a Nutrimill for Christmas. Best gift ever! Since then I have been grinding my own whole wheat. I use anywhere from 50/50 to 100% whole wheat/white wheat in my bread. I have found that it is important to grind my wheat as fine as my mill will allow to get the perfect loaf. I do like the texture of a coarse grind, but if your wheat is too coarse, the sharp edges of the  flour will cut your gluten strands during mixing and kneading. Once that happens you can kiss goodbye to a nice fluffy loaf. I wish I would have known this before I ground up about 5 pounds of wheat berries recently. I made the mistake of just turning my mill on and dumping the whole lot of wheat berries in and walked away. I didn’t even think about adjusting the coarseness or speed of the mill. Now I have a large bucket of whole wheat flour that I can only use for things like pancakes. I think I may be able to use my Vitamix to break it down finer…but that’s just a mess waiting to happen. I’ll let you know how that goes.

dough enhancers:
There are a few things you can add to your dough to help it raise better. Especially when baking with 100% whole wheat, using vital gluten, ascorbic acid or vinegar, ginger root and/or soy lecithin in your recipe can help get a better rise in your dough. (Do your own research for actual recipes…there are a TON out there!)  I’ll be honest here, this is a new thing for me- I have experimented with different enhancers and have not had complete success with any of them. I still just go back to my basic recipe. I am still on my dough enhancing journey. If you want to call it that. I have found that really its the mixing and kneading process that will determine the quality of my bread.

kneading/resting:
There is something about kneading my bread by hand that is very rewarding to me. I get a better feel for the correct texture when I can dig my hands in and get a mini work out while I’m at it! For the sake of time and being more available to my two little tykes running around, I have begun using my Bosch to mix in all of the flour except the last cup or so, then I will knead in the remaining flour right in the bowl that the dough will raise in. Also, using the mixer helps in keeping the dough warm and cultivating a better environment for the yeast to grow. Letting the dough rest for about ten minutes in the middle of kneading helps create a smoother dough too. There are some recipes that you let the dough raise two times, three times, or only once. In my recipe, I knead the dough. Let it rest. Finish kneading it. Let it raise for about 45 minutes (or until it doubles in size- the time varies depending on the temperature of my kitchen and the dough). Then I punch it down, being careful not to work the dough too much. I cut the dough into four parts, shape into loaves and then let it raise again in the bread pans, about 20 minutes. Then it is ready to toss in the oven.

Baking:
When baking, be careful not to over-bake! 20-25 minutes is really all you need. My oven is never consistent, so I really have to watch it.  When I begin to really smell the baked bread smell is about when the loaves are done. Baking time varies also by how many loaves are in the oven at time and also the ratio of white to wheat flour. For some reason I really love that there are so many variables! But in general, I set my timer for 20 mins, and then check the loaves. I take them out just before I think they are done, like I do with cookies. That ensures the loaf stays softer, longer.

Eating:
Yes. Do eat it. But be careful not to over-dose on it! Be wary of eating too many carbs in one sitting and also, consuming a TON of gluten can sometimes be problematic for a few folks (like me…more on that later). Top warm bread with butter, olive oil, flax-seed oil, your favorite jam, natural peanut or almond butter or an egg for a scrumptious healthy snack! Yummy!

Storing:
It’s important that you take the bread out of the pans soon after they come out of the oven or they will go soggy. Place them on a cooling rack and cover them with a dish cloth. The steam that escapes will soften the crust. I like to rub olive oil on the tops which helps keep it soft once it is fully cooled. Store the bread in a plastic bag, eat it immediately or gift it right away while it is still warm! You can also freeze it for a few months, but it’s never as tasty that way. Because there are no preservatives in homemade bread, it will go moldy faster if you don’t eat it within a week. The older it gets, the drier it gets, which makes for great french toast bread or bread crumbs for other recipes!

The Recipe:

4 Cups warm water
2 TBS yeast
1 TBS salt
1/3 Cup oil (any kind will work- I usually use Canola or Olive)
1/3 Cup honey
10 Cups flour (in any combination of white/wheat. You may need more or less flour depending on the texture you like)

Combine the water, yeast and honey. Let it sit for 5 min or so. Add oil, salt and then mix in flour. Knead to perfection. Let rise. (see “Kneading/Resting” above for details) Bake about 25 minutes at 350 degrees F.
Phew! I got it all out…I think. Baking bread is a lot of fun and extremely rewarding for me. Its yummy, healthy and helps me feel a sense of accomplishment as well as saving my family money! You just cannot go wrong! I hope you’ll give it a shot.

Stay tuned for a photo/video documentation of my making bread! I know…you’re SO excited!

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