In the recipes and how-tos I post on this site, you’ll find the following ingredients:
Whole Wheat Flour
I grind my own using a BlendTec Kitchen Mill, which you can find less expensively through other websites (oddly enough). I purchase hard red wheat and hard white wheat through my church in 25 lb bags. I store a bunch of them in my basement, in and on plastic bins so they are off the ground. I would like to move towards 5 gallon buckets with airtight seals for longer-term storage, but our turnover on wheat is fairly high so for the short term I haven’t worried about it.
I grind enough for a week or two at a time, and store it in a great container with an airtight seal (a Snapware MOD, actually):
Some people advocate storing flour in the fridge, but fridge space is a precious commodity around here and I haven’t had any trouble keeping mine at room temperature in the cupboard, even for a few months.
You can absolutely use store-bought flour, though I haven’t had too much experience with it so I can’t recommend a brand to you. If you do grind your own, I do recommend white wheat for a more mellow flavor and a lighter end loaf. You will want HARD wheat. The soft wheats are lower in protein (gluten) and better for things that chemically-leavened such as cakes and cookies rather than yeast breads.
Any yeast bread recipe will need to be modified for YOUR flour. Generally, you’ll want to use the same amount of water, oil, honey, yeast, etc. that the recipe calls for… but when it comes to the flour part you’ll need more or less depending on the protein content of your flour. Protein absorbs more water, but you can’t really know how your flour will act until you try it. The key is to look at the dough and feel it to see if you’ve added the right amount of flour. It’s absolutely worth it to measure carefully as you add so that you can write how much you used on the recipe. Being careful the first few times will save guess-and-checking every time you make the bread.
In my experience, it’s a myth that the humidity or warmth of the day will significantly affect how much flour needs to be added for a given recipe. It will change rise times, but the amount of flour needed will vary mostly on the following three factors:
1) Type of flour, as mentioned above.
2) Accuracy of your water measurement. It’s ok to use your dry cups to measure, but just make sure you’re consistent from batch to batch. (Always use dry cups or always use liquid cups.)
3) Accuracy of your flour measurement. I always spoon flour into the cup and level it. I never tap the cup to settle the flour, or use the cup to scoop the flour. Either of those will increase the amount of flour per cup inconsistently and cause variation in how many cups of flour need to be added. I don’t need that extra stress in my life, so I just got in the habit of spooning and leveling.
If you are going to do any kind of consistent bread baking, invest in a 1 or 2 lb block of yeast. Don’t buy the wussy packets at the store because you’ll end up saving money buying a block. The block is vacuum packed so you can store it for a year before opening it and it’ll keep an extra year or so in your fridge. Just store it in a tupperware (bigger than the one below) and shove it in the back so you can pull it out when needed.
I buy Active Dry yeast at Costco for ~$4 for a 2lb block. Yay Costco.
Active Dry yeast – My yeast of choice. Mainly because Costco carries it at a great price, but also because it works for any kind of bread I want to make.
Rapid Rise yeast – Less versatile. It comes with ascorbic acid already in there, and that is helpful for things like sandwich breads and rolls, but it’s detrimental for things where you want a slower rise like pita bread, pizza crust, or artisan breads. Also, my dough conditioner, which I add to sandwich bread and rolls, contains ascorbic acid already.
Instant yeast – Smaller, more uniform particles than Active Dry and dissolves faster in dough so you can skip the “warm water” step. It’s generally preferred for bread machines, but I get great results with active dry. You might find you need a bit less instant yeast ~25% less, because it tends to have fewer dead yeasties.
BE KIND TO THE YEAST… and it will be kind to you. You can kill yeast with too-hot water, so test your water on the inside of your arm like you would test a baby’s bottle. It should be noticeably warm but nowhere near “hot”. Also, don’t add your salt directly to your yeast. Wait until after you’ve added some other ingredients. Salt kills the yeast as well.
Proofing and the “warm water” step: If you’re concerned about whether your yeast in the fridge is dead, sprinkle some in warm water with some white sugar. It should foam after a few minutes. This is called proofing and you do not need to do this with sugar for regular bread baking. However, I do start every loaf (non bread machine loaves, that is) with warm water and sprinkled yeast. I wait until the yeast dissolves and then I get on with the show.
When the yeast first starts to dissolve:
You can see below that this yeast is nearly dissolved, but still has some granules left. It never takes the 10 minutes recipes say it will unless the water is much too cold.
Love it. It’s one of the more expensive ingredients in making your own bread, so try to find a good deal and don’t be afraid to buy it in bulk. It will not crystallize if you keep the top very clean and you keep it in an even-temperatured (not-too-cold) part of your house. I buy mine in 5 lb bottles at Costco for $10 each.
I prefer Canola oil, just for health reasons (I like the fatty acid profile better than corn or safflower oil). But regular vegetable oil will work fine. Oil does not keep well longer than a year, so don’t over-buy on this one.
I use a tablespoon for oil then I turn right around and use it for honey so the honey slides right out. I keep that “goopy” tablespoon around for subsequent batches of bread on the same day because it’s the single hardest thing to clean at the end.
I substitute unsweetened applesauce for half the oil, whenever I have it on hand, for my bread. You can’t tell the difference and it cuts empty calories.
If a recipe calls for olive oil, use it. It has a very unique flavor that other oils just can’t compete with.
I often use oil to grease pans, prepare my hands for shaping dough, and to oil plastic wrap to put on top of rising dough. It’s really invaluable for working with whole wheat doughs because they are stickier doughs, by necessity.
I don’t use a coarse salt. If I did, I’d have to worry about dissolving it. I don’t need that kind of aggravation.
Salt is cheap. I always pour mine over the sink or the counter. That way, if I spill, I’m out less than a penny of salt… instead of potentially ruining an entire recipe.
Free. Simple. Why do I have a section about water? I will say that in my experience, using milk (or unsweetened soymilk) instead of water makes for a richer, moister dough. Water makes for a lighter, flakier dough. I prefer water for my whole wheat dinner rolls but I do use milk when I make my decadent, not-at-all-whole-grain cinnamon rolls.
Strictly unnecessary, but I find it helps make my rolls chewier and more decadent (yet nice and light!), and it gives me an extra half inch or inch rise on my bread (which translates to a lighter loaf). It also helps make my whole wheat pita dough more manageable.
I buy this in #10 cans (3.5lb) from Honeyville Grain online. They last for 5+ years on the shelf, then a year or so after you open them. Incidentally, I also buy fantastic steel cut oats and 6 rolled grain medley from Honeyville (and this next time, brown rice!). I split the 50lb bags with a friend and repackage in my own storage containers. They do flat-rate shipping and often have 10% off if you sign up for their email updates. Terrific steel cut oats and the 6 grain makes perfect homemade muesli. Did I digress? I believe I did.
I understand you can also find vital wheat gluten locally, specifically Whole Foods carries it in their bulk bins.
You may see “dough conditioner” or “dough enhancer” at the store. This is different. I can’t tell you how it’s different, exactly, because every company puts different stuff in theirs.
Here’s what is in mine:
1 batch of dough conditioner contains:
- 12 TBS lecithin granules
- 3 TBS powdered ascorbic acid
- 3 TBS corn starch
- 2 TBS ground ginger
I mix this up and keep it in a tupperware at room temperature in the cupboard next to my other bread-making supplies. I use 1/2 tsp per loaf (approximately) and I find it does the following: Makes for a faster rise (ascorbic acid), a softer end product (ascorbic acid + lecithin), keeps the bread softer for days (lecithin), and keeps the bread from going bad as fast (ginger).
I recommend coaxing a friend into wanting some as well so you can order the ingredients together and split up the results.
I buy my lecithin granules from Swanson Health Products online but you can also find them at stores, typically in a canister in the “supplement” section. I believe some people add it to smoothies(?)
You can buy Fruit Fresh in the canning aisle of your local grocery store in place of ascorbic acid, but I would maybe use 4 TBS in a batch if you do that, because Fruit Fresh is not 100% ascorbic acid. You can also find powdered ascorbic acid sometimes in the supplement section of stores. I bought mine online from Now Foods but I was making 60(!) batches of dough conditioner, which offset shipping costs considerably.
I highly recommend Penzeys Spices for ground ginger, mainly because I recommend them for all spices. They have reasonable prices and the quality is outstanding. Plus, you can buy in bulk bags instead of always getting jars you have to toss.
Corn starch is cheap and you might even be able to skip it, but it helps the dough conditioner not to cake, I think.
I recently put together more than 50 batches for friends of mine, and it ended up costing $2.50 a batch and each batch makes ~80 loaves of bread. Not bad! But it was cheaper because we pooled our money for ingredients.
Next up: Part III – Technique