Whole Wheat Bread Recipe
The smell of whole wheat bread, just out of the oven, is one of my favorite childhood memories. Our family never bought bread from the store. Mom always baked it. I was embarrassed to take the odd, thick slices to school as a sack lunch sandwich, but I was plenty happy to eat it straight out of the oven at home!
Warm and smothered with butter and honey, it is a glorious piece of heaven.
Mom baked it recently and was happy to share her recipe here. This makes 4 large loaves. (Cut the recipe in half if you prefer 2 large loaves, or possibly 3 medium loaves if you adjust the baking time.)
Start by mixing the dry ingredients in a bowl:
8 cups whole wheat flour (freshly ground is preferable)
1/2 cup sugar (or 4 tablespoons honey)
2 tablespoons salt
2 cups powdered milk
3 tablespoons instant dry yeast (the kind that is supposed to be mixed into dry ingredients – Mom buys hers at Sam’s Club)
Stir the dry ingredients. Then dig a little “well” for pouring in the water.
Melt 1/2 cup shortening (or use 1/2 cup oil).
Heat 7 cups water to between 105 and 110 degrees Fahrenheit.
Pour the water and the shortening into the dry ingredients at the same time, using the water to rinse the shortening out of the measuring cup.
Stir this really well. Mom wrote on my recipe, “A round and round motion is best, something that makes long strings rather than lifting and breaking strings of dough. When your right arm gets tired, use your left! Stir 3-5 minutes.”
The texture before and after stirring:
Let the dough rest for 20 to 30 minutes, until it rises well. (This allows the whole wheat time to absorb a lot of water, so less flour can be added during the kneading.)
Stir the bread dough down…
and add 1 cup of unbleached flour at a time, stirring well (again, without breaking it) after each addition. Maybe add 4 to 5 cups.
Pour the dough onto a floured board for kneading.
How to knead bread dough: Fold one side of the dough toward the center. Push down with the heel of the hand, gently pushing and stretching the dough away from you. Turn the dough. Fold another side toward the center, then push and stretch again. Repeat until the dough has an elastic feel.
As Mom describes it: “The idea is to stretch the strings without breaking them, to make the dough elastic… adding as little flour as necessary to keep the dough from sticking to the cupboard. The softer your dough is, the less dry it will be. Too much flour makes it too dry.”
Grease a bowl, put the dough into it, and then turn the dough so the greased side is up. Let the dough rise until double in size.
The dough after rising:
Punch down the dough and divide it into 4 loaves.
(Note: At this point, you can do several variations. Sometimes I add Italian spices. Mom used to roll out the dough, brush it with melted butter, and sprinkle it with a cinnamon and sugar mixture. Then she would roll it back up and either bake it in the loaf pans or use dental floss to slice it into whole wheat cinnamon rolls!)
Put in greased loaf pans, shake the pan a little to grease that side, then flip the dough so the greased side is on top.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Let the bread rise in the pans until double in size. (These may have risen slightly too much – Mom left to go visit Annie by this point.)
Bake for about 40 minutes, until the bottoms of the loaves, when turned out of the pans, are golden brown.
Remove the loaves from the pans and place them on a cooling rack. I like to butter the crusty tops of the bread at this point.
Look at the glorious steam rising from the fresh-baked slices!
I like the warm slices with butter and honey, but Annie’s rhubarb jam is really tasty, too.
Save old store-bought loaf bags to store the homemade loaves. Homemade bread doesn’t have preservatives to prevent molding, but the loaves can be frozen for a couple weeks if you won’t be eating them right away.
A homemade bread recipe is such a personal thing to a family. It’s an heirloom, a practice to be developed over time, not like a cookbook recipe, to be tried once before moving on to the next one. With two hours just of rising time, this recipe requires slowing down a bit and making a family morning of it.