I have often been asked about the baking that I do for our family. Only on a very rare occassion, like when I am sick and cannot bake, will we bring in store bought bread or other baked goods. We love the flavor of homemade and find it more satisfying.
Today is a baking day for me. As I mentioned in a previous post, I bake each Monday & Thursday. Today, I am baking 4 loaves of bread for my family and 1 loaf for a bread order to be delivered tomorrow. We use about 1 loaf per day. It is not unusual during the winter months to even use more! We have toast with breakfast, sandwiches at lunch, then buttered bread is available at dinner time. My Beloved also takes a couple of extra sandwiches to work to have at his morning & afternoon breaks. Working a very physical job, he gets pretty hungry! I now understand why the Amish women I knew as a youth would bake several loaves each day for their families. The bread recipe that we use is one that I got years ago. The original recipe is not like the one I have now. I played with the ingredients and their amounts until I found a recipe that we love. For a whole wheat bread, it is very light and moist in flavor & texture. I will include the recipe at the bottom of this post.
I am a strong advocate of using freshly ground grains. Once a wheat berry is milled, whether it is cracked or ground into a flour, it begins to lose it's nutrient values. This is in part why the whole wheat flour at the store is enriched - they have to add the nutrients back into the flour. I grind the flour as I need it. I rarely have whole wheat flour in a container being stored on a shelf. If I do, it is because of grinding a little too much. That flour is used fairly quickly in a homemade pancake mix or other recipe. I store white flour for the bread & cookie orders that I get from time to time. I get my wheat in 25 pound pails from a health food store for slightly higher than the farmer's co-op price. I use Hard Red Winter wheat for my breads and most recipes. For things like pie crusts, pastries and pasta, I use a Soft Spring wheat which is lighter in texture. Hard red winter wheat can be used for all baking though.
Here are a few tips that I have learned from my experiences with baking bread.
* Fresh baked bread needs to "rest" under a towel until fully cooled for it to slice easily without tearing. It will slice very easily the day after baking.
* I keep my bread under a towel for a day before wrapping or bagging it up. This will help it to store longer. The excess moisture from baking needs time to escape from the center of the bread to prevent it from spoiling quickly.
* For a soft crust, I always put a light coating of Olive Oil in the bowl the dough rises in. I place the dough into the bowl, then flip the dough over to coat the other side. I use Olive Oil on my hands when working with the dough to shape the loaves also. This has helped tremendously in achieving a soft crust.
* Humid days seem to cause the bread to need a little extra flour. Very dry climates seem to require less flour.
* When kneading in the flour, be careful to not knead in enough to make a stiff dough. The flour used should only make the dough not sticky. A common mistake when making bread is the flour being kneaded in. Too much will make a heavy, tough loaf. Even with using 100% whole wheat flour, you can get a soft light loaf by being careful in the amount of flour kneaded into the dough.
* Remove bread from your pans immediately after baking. The bread should slip easily from the pan when inverted. Cover with a towel. Never let bread or muffins cool in the pans. Cooling in the pans can cause condensation in the bottom of the pans, making the bread wet. Once the wet area dries, it will be very hard and not good to eat.
* I treat my good bread pans like I do my cast iron. I have found that the pans "season" just as cast iron pans do. I have 4 bread pans that are used for my bread baking only. These never need more than a simple rinsing with hot water & wiped out. I dry them, then place them into the oven while the oven is shut off but still warm. This dries them thoroughly & reduces the chance of rust. For things like meatloaf or quick breads that tend to leave a mess in the pans, I have a couple of old bread pans that I reserve for that purpose.
* If you plan to freeze your loaves of bread, let them remain under a towel overnight before wrapping and freezing. This will eliminate the chance of ice crystals forming on the bread.
* You can make the bread dough ahead of time & store in your freezer. Let the dough rise the first time, punch down the dough and knead lightly. Divide the dough and shape into loaves. Place the loaves to be frozen on a cookie sheet & cover lightly. Place in your freezer until frozen. Remove the frozen loaves, wrap and return to the freezer. To use them, thaw the loaf out in the refrigerator. Place in a bread pan and let rise. Bake as stated in the recipe. NOTE: this works best if you have a deep freezer as it is much colder than the freezer section of your refrigerator.
2 Tbsp. dry active yeast
1/2 cup warm water
1 Tbsp. sugar, optional
12 cups whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp. Vital Wheat Gluten, optional
4 Tbsp. ground flax seed, optional
2 Tbsp. salt
5 cups hot water, from tap
2/3 cup Olive Oil
1/3 cup honey
1/3 cup molasses
Mix together in a small bowl the yeast, 1/2 cup water, and sugar. Set aside until mixture has turned to foam, about 15 minutes.
While yeast is activating, in a large bowl mix together the dry ingredients. Make a "well" in the center. Pour in the hot water, olive oil, honey, molasses, and yeast mixture. Blend the ingredients thoroughly. Dough will be abit sticky.
Turn out onto a lightly floured surface. Start kneading the dough, adding more flour alittle at a lime, until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Place dough into a lightly oiled bowl, turning the dough once to oil the top, cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm, draft-free area until the dough has doubled in volume. Punch the dough down and divide into 4 equal parts. Shape each part into a loaf and place the loaf into an oiled bread pan. Cover and set the bread to rise a 2nd time.
Once risen, bake the bread at 350* for about 30-40 minutes. Bread is finished baking when the crust is golden in color and the bread slips easily out of the pan.
Makes 4 large loaves.