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?
- Whole wheat flour is a real food and nutritious. White flour? Not so much.
- 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.
- 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?
- Because I can.
- Because, in the long run, it costs less.
- 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!
- The ingredients in store-bought bread are incomprehensible, like Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate . I don’t need that.
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:
- You CAN do it.
- You do NOT have to do it the way I do it.
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.
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: