Basic Whole Wheat Bread




Nice loaf!

Alicia wanted to make our bread out of whole wheat flour ground from wheat berries by us on our boat, and "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book" is a godsend for people wanting to do such a thing.  Laurel Robertson and Co. are whole wheat fanatics, and they excitedly coach you through every step and cheer you on for making such a brave, pro-active step towards good bread and good health.

This recipe has become the standard around here, and Alicia usually makes it every week.  It makes enough dough for two standard sized loaves, one of which usually gets almost completely demolished straight from the oven (pigs).

There is no hiding behind flashy ingredients here:  with only six, it's up to you and the yeast to make something really good.  If you make the yeast happy and use quality flour, this bread bakes up high and the honest, comforting taste of wheat will sing out.  It's packed with nutrition and will sustain you the way whole wheat bread has sustained human beings for thousands of years.  
Toasted and buttered, it's hard to beat and it's great for all types of sandwiches, too!

There's going to be a lot of yapping in this recipe because the outcome has everything to do with your actions and choices.  But you can do it! Even if you make some mistakes, chances are you'll still end up with some tasty bread, and your next loaf will be even better as you get more comfortable with things.

Ingredients:

6 cups of finely ground whole wheat flour (if you buy it at a supermarket, the King Arthur brand is good- check the date to make sure it's fresh)
2 1/2 tsp salt

2 tsp active dry yeast (check the date on this, too)
1/2 cup warm water, about wrist temperature

2 1/4 cups warm water
2 tbs honey (NOT raw), molasses or other sweetener
2 tbs oil  (optional)


To Begin:

Start with your active dry yeast - which is really a live thing in a state of suspended animation made possible by modern science.  When active dry yeast is summoned from hibernation, it's fragile.  Treat it nicely, the way you'd like to be woken up out of a deep sleep!  If possible, use a coffee mug or some other small ceramic container that holds in heat.  Pre-rinse it with warm water just to take the chill off, even.  Then, put your 1/2 cup of warm water in the mug and sprinkle the dry yeast on the surface.  Carefully mix it so that every grain gets wet, and try to gently break up any floating chunks.  Good morning!   Let the yeast sit for 5 minutes to wake up.

Stir together your flour and salt in a large bowl, and in a smaller bowl combine the 2 1/4 cups of warm water, sweetener and oil in a bowl.  Dig a well in your flour mixture and pour in the water/sweetener/oil mixture and the water/yeast mixture.

Kneading:

Stir the ingredients into a smoothish dough and begin kneading, either in the bowl (if its big enough) or on a floured countertop.  Avoid adding a  lot of flour right away if the dough feels excessively sticky - it takes whole wheat flour a bit longer than white to absorb moisture, and you may just need to give the flour some time to catch up.  Knead for a few minutes before deciding on more flour.  

Knead for about 20 minutes.  This can be boring or soothing, depending on how you look at it.  But in order to get some really good bread, you've got to spend the time.  Pay attention to the way the dough changes as the minutes pass - it should go from sticky and messy to smooth and bouncy by the time you're done.  You'll be able to see the gluten forming  - look for long, stringy looking threads about halfway through the kneading time.  The dough will go from being somewhat fragile to strong and resiliant.  It's sort of cool to watch it unfold as you work on it!

Rising:

Turn your ball of dough into a big bowl, cover it with plastic wrap, and set it in a warm-ish spot.  The length of time needed for the rise is dictated by how warm your spot is.  At 80 degrees, the rise should take about 1.5 to 2 hours.  A lower temperature will take longer - about 2.5 hours for 70 degrees, for example.  

When is it done rising?  Lots of recipes tell you it's when the dough has doubled in size, but a better test is to wet your fingertip and poke it into the dough.  If the subsequent hole doesn't fill in, the first rise is finished!  Moisten your hands and deflate the dough and form the dough back into a ball again.  If your poke mark does fill back in, put it back in the warm spot and give it some more time.  Bread that's given plenty of time to rise tastes best!

It's interesting to understand what's happening during the rise.  The yeast organisms are fully alive now, and they're growing and multiplying in the dough.  They give off carbon dioxide as they do their thing, creating gas bubbles that make the dough rise up.  But the yeast organisms can't freely move around on their own, and so after they've eaten up all they can in their immediate vicinity, the dough will stop rising.  Deflating the carbon dioxide gas from the dough and kneading a little moves the yeast to fresh air and untapped nourishment to feed on.  

Now:  the second rise.  Put the dough back in the bowl and the bowl back in the warm spot.  Let it rise for about half the time it took for the first rise - the yeast is really active now that it's been feeding for a while.  Do the finger-poke test again and when you deem the dough ready, it's time to proof!

Proofing:

Form the dough into loaves (or loaf) and place it in your greased pan(s).  If you can manage it, sit the dough-filled pans in a spot that's a little warmer than the spot you used for rising.  Let the loaves rise in their pans for about half an hour, or until the loaves' centers have arched a little higher than the height of the pan's sides.  Also, proofing dough likes humidity.  Maybe set the pans somewhere safe in the bathroom and take a long, steamy shower?  If you can't do this, and you don't even have a spot slightly warmer than your proofing spot, don't worry.  Just put the pans in the rising spot and leave them there for about 45 minutes.    About halfway through your proofing time, preheat your oven to 425 degrees.

Baking:
  
Finally!  Time to bake!  Place your loaves in the hot oven.  After about 10 minutes, turn the heat down to 325 degrees.  Bake your bread for 45 minutes to an hour.  You'll be able to tell when it's nearing done by the way your kitchen smells like the most comforting, homey place on earth, the bread turns golden brown on top, and when you thump on the bottom of the pans, they sound hollow (weird to read, easy to recognize when you hear it).

Turn those babies out of their pans, let it cool as long as you can stand to wait, and get out the butter.  You deserve a big, warm slice!

Wrap the loaves in plastic after they've cooled for a couple of hours and store in the fridge.  


 


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