There's something quintessential about homemade bread. Which is why people don't give it a go more often. They want it homey, warm, soft, inviting, and of course pretty--with a golden crust and a middle that melts in your mouth. It's like trying to create the perfect Christmas day. And there's more than a little pressure in that. Also, homemade yeast bread takes some time--maybe not in hands-on effort, but in raw hours. And who wants to spend time mixing, kneading, waiting, punching, and waiting some more to come out with a tasteless burned brick or something gooey in the middle. Yeah, not me either.
But wait, don't leave just yet. There is a simple method that will make it come out each time and I even have some tips for the working or the time-pressed. Because, as most of us know, good homemade bread is something else. And it's cheap too. Also, below I have pictures.
First, a basic recipe. There are fancier recipes out there. There are things that call for potato flakes, gluten, and molasses. And there are more expensive recipes too--ones requiring eggs, milk, butter, and honey. None of these recipes is bad. In fact, I've had lots of homemade bread in my day and when made well, it's all very good. I'm using this recipe because it is very basic and because it is very cheap. When you're eating on $6/day, you need to keep things as skinny as possible without allowing them to get gross. This recipe does just that. If, however, you'd like to replace the water with milk or the sugar with honey or molasses. If you'd like to throw in some potato flakes or several teaspoons of gluten, you certainly may. But know this: You don't need to.
A few notes on yeast:
1. In the little containers at the grocery store, it can be pricey. It's one of the few purchases that I think is way more affordable at a store like Sam's. If you don't have a membership, beg this gift from relatives or friends who do. 4oz from Walmart costs about $3.50; 32 oz from Sam's costs about $4.50. That's $.87/oz versus $.14/oz. The estimated cost below is from warehouse pricing.
2. You can freeze yeast. This is most likely necessary if you buy the bulk packages. One of my sisters claims she's kept hers in the freezer for years. You can also use it straight from the freezer.
3. If it's old, it won't rise as well. Just give it more time; it'll get there.
4. If you don't want your bread to rise quickly, use less yeast--I'm going to recommend 1 Tbsp instead of the 3 Tbsp in the recipe. Put it in the fridge if you want it to take even longer. This way you can start it in the morning and go to work. Or do it at night and finish it in the morning. If you've refrigerated the dough, you'll want to warm it a bit once it gets in the loaf pans (unless you want that to take a while to rise too). Put the pans in the oven and set the oven for 200 degrees for one minute. Then turn the oven off. Leave the loafs in and they'll rise up happily in about 30 minutes. (Just remember to take them out before heating the oven to cook or you'll end up cooking them a bit early.) Some people love the slow rise because they feel it enriches the flavors of the actual wheat.
Basic 100% Whole Wheat Bread
Makes 2 loaves
Hands-on time: 30 minutes
Wait time: 1 1/2 hours
Total time: 2 hours
3 Tbsp yeast
10-12 C whole wheat flour
2/3 C sugar
4 C warm water (about 110 degrees F or warm, but not hot to the skin)
1/2 C vegetable oil
1 Tbsp salt
Mix yeast, water, and 4 C wheat flour. Let sit until doubled (about 1/2 hour). It'll be wet and bubbly.
Add oil, sugar, salt, and 2 more C wheat. Mix. Continue adding wheat by the cup-ful until you can't mix it. Then throw it out on the counter to knead it. (If you've got a Kitchenaid, you play by your own rules. Put ingredients in the bowl, adding the flour gradually as you mix it using the dough hook.) You'll knead it about 8 minutes until it's tacky, but not super sticky.
Place it in a covered (I use a dish towel, but plastic wrap works too) bowl and let rise until doubled (about 30 minutes).
Punch it down and divide it in half. Shape into loaf-looking things and put in greased loaf pans. Let rise until double (30 minutes).
Preheat oven to 350 during last part of rising. Bake bread 40-50 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted in middle reads 180-185.
Leave in pan for about 10 mintues, then loosen sides and turn out to cool completely.
I like to slice it up and put all but 1/2 loaf in the freezer. Homemade bread doesn't keep as long as regular because it has no preservatives (halleluiah). Freezing it keeps it nice and fresh. It also keeps you and yourn from eating the whole loaf hot in the first hour.
Should you allow it to get a bit stale, don't despair. You can microwave it for about 10 seconds and that perks it right up. Or you can toast it. It makes the greatest toast.
And now, the pictures.
After you've gotten the dough so it can't be stirred anymore, you'll turn it out for kneading. Don't kill yourself trying to stir as much as possible in. Just turn in out when the going gets tough. (Note: This is a good tip for bread, but not for life. Thank you.) Smash the dough with hands and fists, turning and flipping it as you go. When it gets sticky, add more flour (by the 1/2 C at first and then as your dough looks more like dough, just sprinkle it on).
Keep kneading it (do it with palms and fists; don't poke or stab it with your fingers). Knead it, then fold and press and knead, then turn and fold and press and knead. I find it extremely therapeutic. The feel and smell of the dough, the rhythm of the kneading. It's fun for me. (If you think that's sick-o, but still want homemade bread, get yourself a Kitchenaid. Or Bosch. Or go buy cheap bread from the Sara Lee outlet. It is so gross it will surely inspire anyone to make her own, kneading or no kneading.)
I even had Kip do a video if you really don't get the whole kneading thing. Because that's the type of food blogger I am.
When the dough is slightly tacky, but not sticky and not hard as a rock, put it in a bowl to rise. Cover it with a clean dish towel or some plastic wrap. Recipes always say to use an 'oiled' bowl. I have never once oiled my bowl and do not know why you would need to.
Let it rise.
When you've got it punched down form it into 2 loaf-like blobs and put them in 2 greased loaf pans. Cover the pans with a dish towel or plastic wrap.
Bake at 350 for 40-50 minutes or until an instant read thermometer reads 180-185 degrees. The temp will rise another 10 degrees or so while it sits there. Note: Until I got an instant read thermometer, I always had to cut into mine to check. It's a terrible method, but it let me know if it was done or not. And bread split in half and thrown back in the oven was better than bread with a big circle of dough in the middle. Or bread that is burned after all that (weeping) waiting. If you don't have a thermometer and you're not sure, I recommend cutting it open. Of course, if your oven temp is fairly reliable, you can probably trust 45 minutes and save your bread the violence.
I admit I just like to look at it.
Leave it in the pan for 10 minutes to cool. Then loosen the sides with a knife and turn it out to cool the rest of the way. (Or cut it open hot and eat it messy chunks of it like a big pig.)
Breaking bread together. Just because it's quintessential doesn't mean it has to be impossible. Enjoy it, friends, with those you love.
Newsflash: If you read the comments, you may notice there was a discussion of how much yeast is necessary. I tried this bread today (2/12/11) with half the yeast (1 1/2 Tbsp) and I'll be darned if it didn't rise just as fast as it did with the 3 Tbsp. The texture, etc. seemed just as it always does. Save yourself some money and don't worry about using quite all that much yeast. Unless you just like to inhale the stuff. In which case, I won't stop you.