Whole Wheat Yeast Breads – Why Me and Why You

Part I – Why Me and Why You
Part II – Ingredients
Part III – Technique
Part IV – Recipes

Recently, I hosted four nights of “how-to” for whole wheat yeast bread baking for the women’s group of my church. It was a bit chaotic with so many women in my smallish kitchen, and I was incredibly intimidated to be in the spotlight as I explained each step and ingredient along the way. Together, these women and I tore up my kitchen, cranked out a dozen loaves of whole wheat bread, many batches of whole wheat rolls, hamburger buns, pita bread, and 4 homemade pizzas. Insanely fun.

I got myself into this because my Whole Wheat Bread in a Bread Machine is lovely. I won’t lie. It’s truly delightful. And, because I live a hermit’s life right now (working full-time from home and taking care of my girl and a med student husband)… I show love in one of the few ways I can: by giving away loaves of homemade bread.

Naturally, people who enjoyed the bread started asking for the recipe and tips on how to adapt it for their own bread machine. Well, soon friends who didn’t have bread machine wanted to know how to make it by hand or in a stand mixer, and they wanted to know where I buy my ingredients and if I made other things besides bread… etc.

I decided to make one of my monthly Healthy Minds and Bodies group meetings into a bread night. One night turned into four on the schedule and I started to panic. Because I had really only perfected the bread machine recipe, in preparation for these nights I dove into more hands-on bread baking. I love using the stand mixer, actually, but it’s hands-on in the sense that I’m constantly feeling the dough and making decisions as I go. I adapted the recipe and fine-tuned several others so I could share with confidence.

In the process, I discovered I truly do have a talent for this. My passion for healthy, do-it-yourself cooking drove me to lots of research, experimentation, and innovation. I’d like to share what I’ve learned so far with the 6 people who read my blog world.

Why Whole Wheat?

  1. Whole wheat flour is a real food and nutritious. White flour? Not so much.
  2. I buy wheat at a great price and it stores well. I grind it myself and get a lot of satisfaction from having food laid up in store in case of emergency (or rough economic times), and from creating something delicious truly from scratch.
  3. I don’t have much experience with yeast baking with other grains. I hope to branch out, but I haven’t yet gone beyond a simple variation of my regular recipe with the substitution of rolled oats for some of the whole wheat flour.

Why Do I Make My Own Bread?

  1. Because I can.
  2. Because, in the long run, it costs less.
  3. Because it tastes better and the smell makes me swoon. I grew up helping my mom make bread and it’s cathartic for me to work with dough and smell the yeasty goodness of the process. I want to pass on to my children the skills of self-reliance and the concept of being more in touch with food. They won’t need to go get plastic-wrapped bread that’s been trucked across the country. Yay!
  4. The ingredients in store-bought bread are incomprehensible, like Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate . I don’t need that. :)

Intimidated yet?

Keep reading and you might be. I grind my own wheat. I make my own dough conditioner. I buy #10 cans of vital wheat gluten for a taller rise. We hardly ever buy bread from the store anymore, and I make nearly all of our pita bread, beanburger buns (because let’s be honest, there’s no meat in our house), rolls, and pizza crust. I’m very analytical and am constantly tweaking technique and proportions to achieve a better result (can you tell I wanted to be an organic chemist?)

However, I have some encouraging words for you:

  1. You CAN do it.
  2. I didn’t make any homemade bread at all 3 years ago. And I don’t have oodles of time to sit around and make messes in the kitchen. I just kept trying and learning as I went. I made about a loaf a week for our family and it always came out (with two exceptions) edible, smelling great, and tasting good. A few times we ate it as toast. One time or two it went straight into breadcrumbs. But usually it made a good loaf of bread that continued to get better as I had more experience under my belt.

    Don’t try and you’ll still be eating store-bought bread 5 years from now. Try and who knows? You might find yourself enjoying making something healthy, cheap, and absolutely fantastically delicious for your family. And you can teach your children and your friends. Or just spoil your friends with homemade bread. They’ll thank you.

    It gets easier. And faster. And less messy. And cheaper. The more you do it, the more you can adjust things to fit your style. Prefer to do a loaf in the bread machine and skip the mess and time investment? Do it. Rather get your hands dirty but make 4 loaves at once to freeze and give away? Rock on.

    There will be a whole lot of info in subsequent posts. This isn’t required knowledge and you don’t have to be a bread expert to make a delicious loaf of bread. (This is a good thing because I definitely don’t consider myself an expert!* :) ) Instead, consider that the information you gather here and in other places constitutes tools in your toolbox. You can whip the info out if something goes awry or if you need to tinker, but you can certainly ignore my advice and still make excellent bread.

  3. You do NOT have to do it the way I do it.
  4. Don’t run out and buy all the extra ingredients, a wheat mill, etc. Just start with a bag of whole wheat flour from the store and $5 loaf pan. Skip the dough conditioner and gluten. See if you actually LIKE whole wheat bread. (If you don’t, you should really learn to like it because it’s miles better for you. Ahem.) Get some successes under your belt and if you do decide to make this a habit, then invest in the nice-to-haves.

    Everyone has a different idea of perfection. My husband likes a light, soft, sandwichy loaf so that’s what this info is geared towards. That being said, the info should equip you to tweak as needed to achieve the result you want.

    You might decide you don’t want to make homemade bread all the time for your family. But, if you take the time to learn how, you’ll be able to use that skill when needed and you’ll be glad you have it.

Are you ready?

*Full disclosure: I have lots more to learn so it’s a good thing I’m only 25 years old. I haven’t yet tried: Freezing dough. Whole Wheat Sourdough. Other grains in my bread. Whole wheat tortillas (ok I tried ‘em and I failed). Homemade hummus to go with my pita (I know, I know). Whole grain artisan breads. The list is long, but as I tackle it, I will blog about it.

**My sources of knowledge: A mom and three sisters-in-law who bake homemade whole wheat bread. I shamelessly stole and modified recipes (including my dough conditioner recipe) from them and picked their brains for help as I stumbled my way along. I read lots online and in several cookbooks, notably The Bread Bible. In every case, though, I adapted recipes to fit our tastes, particularly those from the Bread Bible because they weren’t whole grain at all. :)

Next up: Part II – Ingredients

This cute little bucket is one reason I make homemade bread:

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About beanland

Scott is a family practice doctor and Anne is a full-time mother and teacher to two beautiful girls and one boy.
This entry was posted in Healthy Eating, Whole Wheat Baking, Why we do it. Bookmark the permalink.

5 Responses to Whole Wheat Yeast Breads – Why Me and Why You

  1. Kimberlie says:

    Well, after a month of making whole wheat bread, we are hooked! I use King Arthur Stone Ground wheat. I didn’t use the bread conditioner until today’s batch – it really helps! Also, with todays batch I used 2 cups whole wheat flour and 2 cups Better for Bread flour. I didn’t start with the bread conditioner because I wanted to ease into the process. Lecithin was challenging to find, as I didn’t know what it was! I actually accidentally found it in our grocery stores organic section. We have many Amish/Mennonite stores around us in NW PA, so I am going to check them out for cheaper ingredients.
    MANY THANKS for your wonderful website – I love your writing style. I am looking forward to the promised article on why you eat the way you do. You inspire many with your wholesomeness and would be the kind of family anyone would like to have for neighbors. Keep up the good work!

  2. Rob says:

    Thanks for the insight. I started baking bread earlier this year and have really loved it. I love the smell in my house, and I love the bread. Like you, the neighbors I have shared with, beg me for more. I take some to the office. My business partner loves it and now won’t eat Great Harvest bread anymore.

    I have experimented a bit with different recipes and have finally found two versions that have become my mainstay. I buy my dough enhancer and wheat gluten here locally. I’m looking forward to checking out the bulk options that you mention. I may not be ready to make my own enhancer, but I aspire to that.

    I’ll keep checking back to see your progress. I am interested in learning to make a great pizza dough. I haven’t had success there yet. It always comes out too bread-like and not chewy.

  3. Sarah Davis says:

    Thank you for taking the time to share the bread making knowledge you’ve gained. I don’t have a mother or sisters to learn from and so am very blessed that you have shared! We are a military family with kids ages 8, 5, 4, and 9 months that moves often and are now preparing for my husband to leave for 6 months to the desert. Being able to store my own staples and be self-sufficient is an important part in my self-confidence while he is away. He is a PA so I know where you’re coming from with call! Congrats on the new baby, I hope you post pictures after the big arrival day! In addition to kitchen self-sufficiency, I am exploring other home-product self sufficiency. Over the last year I have started learning how to make all of our own cleaners, self-care products, and even make-up! One day I hope to start a blog to share the very neat discoveries I’ve made. The other day I made sunscreen for the first time, what a sense of freedom to know what is in what I’m putting on my babies and to make it for pennies!!!

    I’ve added you to my RSS feed and am excited about joining you in your food discoveries. I recently successfully experimented with home-made instant re fried beans and hummus…Yum!

    Thank you again,

    Sarah Davis
    Derby, KS

  4. Katie Rees says:

    Great blog! I recently started baking my own bread as well and I love knowing what is in my bread. Check out Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day; they have a lot of great ideas on easy artisan bread making (there is a Healthy in Five book as well).

  5. Sally says:

    I love your excitement! I’ve been baking bread for several years but never heard of dough conditioner. Gonna have to try that!

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