Honey Whole Wheat Bread
I learned to bake bread in my grandmother's sun-filled Midwestern kitchen, aloe vera growing in a pot on the windowsill (for treating burns). Grandma had these child-size loaf pans, and she would give me bits of dough and show me how to make them into a loaf. I'll never forget how delightful it was to watch her pull my tiny loaf of bread out of the oven. Of course it was always gone within minutes! This recipe also makes wonderful rolls. You can bake this recipe in traditional bread pans, or free-form the loaves and bake them on a pizza stone. Bread smells so wonderful while it's baking...it's a meal in itself before it even comes out of the oven! I use white whole wheat as the main flour in this recipe, since it isn't as dense as regular whole wheat flour, and tends to work best. If you're baking with some sprouted whole wheat flour, plan to add approximately 20 minutes to each rising time listed below, as it's a much denser flour. If you're new to the fine art of kneading, please click here to see my gallery on how to knead bread dough. For my article on the difference between active dry yeast and instant dry yeast, please click here.
Makes 3 medium-sized loaves
3 cups warm filtered water (about 100-110° F)
4 1/2 tsp. active dry yeast (equals two 1/4-ounce or 7-gram packets), plus sugar for proofing the yeast (see baking note, below)
2/3 cups honey (go for local if you can find it, check the farmers' market), divided in half
Olive oil, just a bit to coat the measuring cup before measuring honey
5 cups white whole wheat flour (I get consistently great results baking with organic flour from Bob's Red Mill)
4 Tbsp. unsalted butter, melted
2 tsp. salt
1/2 cup whole wheat flour, regular or sprouted (more or less, as needed)
1/4 cup golden flaxseed, ground
1/4 cup of your favorite whole grains (millet and Amaranth work very well), as desired
Heat the water in the microwave until it's warm (100-110° F). Pour water into a large mixing bowl and sprinkle the yeast on top. Sprinkle on about 1/2 tsp. of sugar and stir in with a fork. Let the mixture sit for 5-8 minutes, watching for foam to form on top. This process is known as "proofing the yeast;" the formation of foam tells you if the yeast is still working (or not). Nothing is more annoying than dough that refuses to rise due to bad yeast! If you let it proof too long, however, the yeast will go crazy and your bread will taste kind of funky. Baking note: if the yeast you're using says "instant dry yeast" on the package, then you can skip the proofing step and just mix it right into the flour in the next step, below.
Once the yeast is nice and foamy, mix in 1/3 cup honey and 5 cups of whole wheat flour, stirring after each cup. (If you're doing this by hand, it can be easier to work on a table, as opposed to the countertop--better height if you're short like me!) Turn on the light in your oven (to slightly warm it) and place your bowl of dough in there, covered with a cotton dish towel. Set a timer for 40 minutes and let the dough rise. While you're waiting, grind the flax seed (see gallery, below, for details on how to do this).
After 40 minutes, put the dough back on the mixing stand and attach the dough hook (if using, or just mix it all by hand). Stir in the melted butter, the rest of the honey (1/3 cup), salt, white whole wheat flour (a little at a time), ground flaxseed, and your whole grain of choice. As the dough gets thicker it will be harder to use the dough hook, so switch to a regular mixing spoon, as needed. You want it to still be somewhat sticky, but not so much so that it's impossible to knead. The flour amounts in this recipe are just a guideline, since some flours are a lot drier than others and will absorb the liquids faster. Adjust as needed.
Flour a clean surface and knead the dough (click here for a detailed how-to) for about 2 minutes. Sprinkle more flour on the counter if the dough starts to stick while you're working with it, and then gently knead that in. Don't overwork the dough, or the bread will turn out tough and chewy. It's fine if the dough is still a bit sticky once you're finished kneading it. Pour a little olive oil into the mixing bowl, rub it around the inside, and then put your ball of dough in. Turn once to coat the dough with oil, and then return it to the oven (covered with the towel) for another 40-minute rise.
After letting the dough rise a second time, turn it out onto a floured surface and "punch down" (basically, this means that you knead the dough gently for about a minute to work out the air bubbles, so the bread doesn't bake with big, hollow air pockets under the crust). Using a sharp knife, cut the dough into three roughly equal pieces. Shape each piece into a loaf (see picture gallery, below, for details).
Line your bread pans with parchment paper: you will need to trim the paper so it fits inside the bread pans, so use kitchen scissors for this. Parchment paper helps the loaves come out of the bread pans nicely, otherwise the sides in particular tend to stick, especially if you're using cast-iron bread pans from Lodge. Place the loaves in the pans and let rest, covered with a towel, while you pre-heat the oven to 350° F. Make sure you have your oven set up so the rack is set up roughly in the middle of the oven (too high, and the tops will scorch; while too low, and the bottom crust will burn). Once the oven is heated, bake the loaves for 25 minutes.
After the timer goes off, pull the loaves from the oven and check for doneness (the loaf in the center will often take the longest to bake, while those on either side are usually done first). If you're working with Lodge bread pans, please be really careful: I once burned my arm badly on the hot cast-iron...it's easy to forget that the pans stay very hot after you take them out of the oven! Next, flick the bottom of the loaf lightly with your fingernail. The sound produced should be a nice hollow thump, kind of like the sound made by beating on a little drum. Also, look at the sides of the loaf: if they still seem doughy and are still pale-colored (instead of golden brown), put the bread back in the oven. I usually let mine bake another 5-8 minutes at a time, checking and returning to the oven until they're nice and done. However, it's important not to overcook bread, as it gets tough when baked too long, so keep an eye on the loaves towards the end there. It's okay to have one loaf take longer than the rest, since they're probably not uniform in size anyway.
When done, remove loaves from the pans, and allow to cool on a wire rack for about 15 minutes before slicing (never slice bread straight out of the oven, if you can help it: it'll just crumble). My grandmother used to brush the tops of the loaves with a little melted butter right after they came out of the oven: it made the bread pretty, and it also I think helped the bread stay fresh and not dry out too quickly.
(Please click on each of the photos below to enlarge, and to read my comments)
(If you want to make rolls, this recipe works great for that as well. You can read my blog post about roll-making here.)