If you had asked me 2 years ago if I bake, I would have told you that I love cooking, but really don’t enjoy baking – too annoying having to measure everything and be so precise. Then I discovered that muffins are the perfect family snack and really don’t require a ton of work, so if you had asked me the same question 6 months ago, I would have told you that I love making muffins and other baked goods that don’t require complicated things like a stand mixer, or yeast, or kneading. Then I read Animal, Vegetable, Miracle and got inspired to make pizza dough, something that requires kneading (in a machine) AND yeast! Well, I have now officially crossed the threshold into real baking with my crowning achievement – homemade bread, kneaded by hand 🙂
You might wonder why would I do such a thing when you can get perfectly good bread in the store or at a bakery? Well, I’ve become quite picky with the ingredients in my food, and decided I really wanted to find an organic loaf that was 100% whole grain and didn’t have preservatives. This has turned out to be harder than I anticipated (at least in my markets), which is what led me to try making my own. In keeping with my “simple” approach, I started out with Mark Bittman’s no knead whole wheat bread which is certainly easy enough, but found the texture a little too crumby and the flavor too intense and salty.
So I did a little more poking around and found a recipe on the King Arthur Flour website that got rave reviews, even by people who claimed to be new to bread making, just like me. Adding to my motivation was an upcoming visit from my friends in Vermont who exclusively make their own bread, so I thought it would be nice to have some homemade bread to share with them while they were in town! The ingredient list looked simple enough, the timing wasn’t too bad, and how hard could 6-8 minutes of kneading really be??
Well, as it turns out, I ran into a few hiccups along the way. First, I learned that kneading is hard work! It requires a good amount of muscle to keep going for several minutes, but I have to admit I kind of enjoyed that aspect. The second hiccup, though, was that I miscalculated how long it would take me to make and realized after I was done kneading that if I kept going I would be up past 11pm while home alone with the munchkin who wakes up at 5:30am. Call me a wimp, but that is just not enough sleep for me! I was torn between throwing away my hard work and being exhausted the next day, when I remembered references in the comments to the King Arthur Flour baking hotline. Yes, you read that right – you can call a KAF representative until 9pm (eastern time) to ask for help with any of their recipes! What an amazing service! And lucky for me, I learned that I could leave the dough in the fridge overnight instead of having to bake that evening. I’ve passed on this tidbit in the directions below, outlining both options for rising.
So, after a very longwinded story, those of you still reading might be wondering how it all turned out, and I am happy to report that this bread was absolutely delicious. It was dense but not heavy, moist, flavorful, and a little sweet. I would like to try this recipe using a stand mixer or a bread machine for the dough, but in the mean time I think it is worth a little elbow grease to provide my family with high quality, yummy bread for half the price of a loaf I’d buy in the store.
100% Whole Wheat Bread
adapted from King Arthur Flour
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast, or 1 packet active dry yeast dissolved in 2 tablespoons water
1 cup water
1/3 cup low fat or skim milk
1/4 cup vegetable oil (I used olive; I’m sure canola would work well too)
1/4 cup honey (or molasses or maple syrup)
3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour (bread or white whole wheat is ok, whole wheat pastry flour is not)
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
In a large bowl, combine all of the ingredients and stir until all of the flour has absorbed liquid and the dough starts to come together in the center of the bowl. Transfer the dough to a lightly greased surface (I used my counter top), oil your hands, and knead it for 6 to 8 minutes, or until it begins to become smooth and supple.
Notes on kneading: the dough will still be sticky when it’s done, and this is a good thing – dough that is not sticky will yield a dry loaf, so you’ll want to add a drop more water if this happens. You just want good elasticity in the dough, so that when you fold it over to knead it stretches to form a smooth-ish surface and doesn’t tear, as it will when you start. According to KAF, you can also knead this dough in an electric mixer or food processor, or in a bread machine programmed for “dough” or “manual.” I haven’t tried this yet, but will update if I do.
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl, loosely cover the bowl, and allow the dough to rise till puffy though not necessarily doubled in bulk, about 60 minutes, depending on the warmth of your kitchen.
Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled work surface again, and shape it into an 8-inch log. Place the log in a lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan (this is a standard 1 lb loaf pan) and cover loosely with lightly greased plastic wrap.
At this point you have two options: 1) allow the bread to rise at room temperature again for about 1 hour, or 2) refrigerate overnight (this is what I did). The dough is ready when it has crowned about 1 inch above the edge of the pan and a finger pressed into the dough leaves a mark that rebounds very slowly.
Remove the plastic wrap and bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for about 40 minutes, tenting it lightly with aluminum foil after 20 minutes. (If you refrigerated the dough, leave it at room temperature while you preheat the oven, and bake for an extra 2-3 minutes if it was still cool when you put it in the oven). Test it for doneness by removing it from the pan and thumping it on the bottom (it should sound hollow), or measuring its interior temperature with an instant-read thermometer (it should register 190°F at the center of the loaf). Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool on a wire rack before slicing. Store the bread in a plastic bag at room temperature.
Makes 1 loaf, 16 slices