Update: I created a whole series about whole wheat yeast bread baking a few years after writing this post. It has in-depth information about ingredients, as well as help on making bread without a bread machine, and recipes for whole wheat dinner rolls, no-knead pizza crust and more. Check it out, if you wish.
The original post:
I have decided to post the results of a year’s worth of whole wheat bread trial and error.
I went through two distinct phases:
PHASE 1: Make it by hand. I got pretty decent results after endlessly tweaking the recipe and technique. However, I found that the results weren’t reproduced consistently each and every time. Also, it was time-consuming and I’d always end up with 3 loaves at a time, and then no bread for a while because I’d put off the mess and hassle of making more loaves. The technique had to change with the temperature and humidity of the day, and so rising times were variable and so was the texture of the final product. Very few loaves were inedible, but I wanted a recipe I could use for the rest of my life without fussing and fretting every time!
I found that as I experimented, my recipe became more complex than I thought it needed to be. It had eggs in it and some applesauce to substitute for part of the oil. The flavor was fine, but not as good as Great Harvest bread and the wise people at Great Harvest don’t mess with eggs and extra ingredients. 🙂
PHASE 2: Realize that my mom recently discovered a magical combination of recipe and bread machine and take advantage of it. I purchased the exact same bread machine, followed her recipe and instructions to a “T” and voila! Perfect bread, every time. It takes me 5 minutes to measure out the ingredients, and the bread machine turns out a piping hot, beautiful loaf of bread in 1 hour and 55 minutes. I feel like I stumbled on a gold mine here so I thought I’d share!
4 c. whole wheat flour
2 TBS wheat gluten
1/2 tsp dough conditioner
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 TBS canola oil or applesauce
2 TBS honey
1 3/4 c. water
1 TBS yeast (scant)
Put all these, in order and without the yeast, into the bread pan of your bread machine. Put the bread pan into the machine and select “Quick Bake” “XL” “Light” and press start. Then measure the yeast into the handy yeast dispenser at the top.
Click on for the nitty gritty on everything.
The Ingredient Explanation
*I used to buy whole wheat flour from the store, in 5 lb bags because they don’t carry it at Costco and I didn’t have a wheat grinder I liked. I now own a wheat grinder I love and I’ve found it to be very satisfying and cheap to grind my own wheat. This bread doesn’t care one way or the other. I do spoon my flour into the measuring cup and level it off (as opposed to using the measuring cup to scoop the flour) because it helps me be consistent in the way I measure.
*Wheat gluten is important.
Interesting fact: The gluten or protein content is the difference between “bread flour,” “all-purpose flour,” and cake flour. As it turns out, you’ll get a better rise and a better texture when you boost the gluten content in your whole wheat flour. I buy mine in bulk and it keeps at room-temperature for years so it’s easy to store. If you leave it out, you’ll need to cut back on the water in the recipe.
* Dough conditioner is optional, but nice. My mom doesn’t use this, and her bread is still delicious. It’s a bit heavier, with not quite as high of a rise and not as soft of a center. My dough conditioner is homemade from some kinda crazy ingredients (¾ C lecithin, 3 T ascorbic acid, 2 T ginger, and 3 T cornstarch). The brains behind this belong to my sister-in-law, but basically I mix up a batch of that and keep it in a tupperware. It’s fantastic. If you’re interested in making some for yourself, you might find “Fruit Fresh” in the canning aisle an easier thing to find than “ascorbic acid”. Just a tip!
* Start with at least luke-warm water if you do the “quick setting” on your bread machine.
Why That Bread Machine?
It makes fantastic whole wheat bread in less than two hours. Need I say more? It’s not the most expensive out there, it’s very reliable and has some specific advantages:
-The yeast dispenser. It waits until your dough is at a good temperature before dumping the yeast in, and it also helps with having a “delayed” start to your bread.
-You never have to scrape the bottom or sides of the pan. I never even lift the lid until it tells me it’s done. The little paddle does the whole thing flawlessly.
-The paddle doesn’t dump out with the bread. It gets kinda “baked on” so it is stuck in the pan until after you dump the bread out of the pan. A quick soak in water will loosen it up nicely, leaving the pan a 5 second job to clean.
The Cost Break-down
People ask me all the time if I save money by making my own bread. When I made it by hand, I would say “yes and no,” because although it was pretty enjoyable to make it, it did use up a lot of my time. Time is money, ya know. 🙂
Now that it takes me 5 minutes to make and 1 minute to clean up? Absolutely. I was shocked when I did the research on how much each ingredient costs per loaf.
Bear in mind that Scott and I are a bit fussy about our bread. We will definitely buy the $2-$2.50 loaf of 100% whole wheat bread at the store, because it tends to be free of high fructose corn syrup and food coloring. In fact, we had taken to purchasing $4-5 loaves of bread at Great Harvest on a weekly basis because the flavor and freshness was unbeatable. Before calculating, I would have guessed it cost $1.50-$2.00 to make our own loaf.
Here are the facts:
-Whole wheat flour. I buy my wheat from my church’s dry-pack cannery for $0.19/lb. If you buy it in bulk from someplace like Wild Oats or Whole Foods, it’s more like $0.60/lb. Whole wheat flour is usually around $2.79 for a 5 lb bag at a regular grocery store, which comes to $0.56/lb.
Until I started grinding my own wheat on a regular basis, I’ve bought 7 lb pouches of wheat from the cannery. You pay 35 cents for the pouch and 10 cents for the oxygen-absorbing packet, assuming you don’t bring your own pouch to re-use. Incidentally, buying the wheat in the cannery cans is pricier ($0.33/lb). This comes to $0.26/lb. In the future, I’ll definitely buy the 25 lb bags because I will use them and they are great food storage!
From one 7 lb pouch of wheat, I make 6 loaves of bread. This means $0.30 of wheat per loaf. Un-pouched would be $0.22. Canned would be $0.38/loaf.
-Wheat gluten. I’m sure there are many places to buy this. I buy mine here for $10/3.5 lb can. So, it ends up costing $0.10/loaf.
-Dough conditioner. Each batch I mix up makes 84 loaves. I’d estimate about $.05/loaf, but honestly I didn’t calculate each ingredient out.
-Salt is a beautiful thing. It’s practically free and certainly less than a penny a loaf.
-Canola oil or applesauce. The oil I buy at Costco for $6.34/5 qt bottle. This comes to $0.05/loaf.
-Honey. I buy at Costco for $7.49/5 lb bottle. This comes to $0.07/loaf.
-Yeast. I buy this at Costco for $3.39/2 lb bag. This comes to $0.03/loaf.
GRAND TOTAL: $0.52 per loaf. Your mileage will vary depending on how cheaply you can get the above ingredients. The initial investment with the gluten and dough conditioner might feel like a lot, but keep in mind they’ll both keep for 84+ loaves.
Update: October 22, 2008
This post is still getting a lot of hits and interest, so I thought I’d share some things I’ve learned over the past 14 months since I originally posted.
– Instead of 2 1/2 TBS of oil, I regularly use just unsweetened applesauce, if I have it on hand. It’s cheaper and healthier and you can’t taste the difference.
– I’ve made a cinnamon and walnut version many times and it always turns out beautifully. I just take the exact same recipe and add a heaping tablespoon of cinnamon and a couple of handfuls of walnuts, chopped. It smells heavenly when baking.
– I have experimented with both hard white and hard red wheat. I’ve found white to have less of a “wheaty” taste and it’s easier to get a nice, light loaf. Red wheat tends to be less expensive and it is tasty. It’s just a bit heavier. If you’re trying to persuade your spouse or kids to like whole grain bread, I’d definitely start with white wheat!
– I’ve found that I play with the amount of water just a bit. If I use dry measuring cups and add 1 3/4 cup, the top of my loaf tends to sink. That means too much water! So I do a scant measurement and it domes beautifully. When I underdo it on water, it rises ok but the top is a bit lumpy instead of smooth and even. Please don’t be intimidated by “not knowing”. Every loaf will be edible, unless you forget the salt. You’ll just get a feel for it as you make many loaves and you’ll find what works best for you. Incidentally, I have an excuse for forgetting the salt one time: I had just had a baby. After tasting that loaf, though, I won’t ever forget it again! 🙂
– Ingredients are more expensive now, but so are all food prices. 😦
– I still make a loaf every other day or so, and it’s been a really rewarding thing for my family. Please feel free to post successes, failures, and questions in the comments section. It’s fun to hear from you!