Quick Whole Wheat Bread
The smell of bread in the oven may be the most welcoming of all smells. Beautiful artisan breads with nutty flavors and crispy crusts are well worth the wait it takes to make them. As a special treat it is even worth the $5-12 it costs to purchase them from a local bakery (but you don’t have to).
Fresh, hot, whole wheat bread, flooding your house with a wholesome, home-coming smell, doesn’t have to be a two day process, or even a rare occasion. I have for you, here today, a recipe that gets fresh bread on your table in relatively little time. The more you know about the bread making process, the more you can play around with flavor, crust, and crumb. However, I wanted to share my every day recipe that I use when dinner time is sneaking up. With this whole wheat bread recipe I can still whip up a delicious loaf without worrying about perfect temperatures or timing.
Making Whole Wheat Bread
I don’t need to give you a science lesson on whole wheat bread. Let’s just cut to the chase and say that it takes longer to rise and proof than white bread because it has less gluten. Gluten makes the bread go poof (rise). This recipe is designed for bread that will be eaten the same day it is made because I use more yeast, more heat, and less rise time so that you can make it for dinner without really planning ahead. This also means less shelf life, but that’s never been a problem in my house. And if it were a problem I would use left overs for croutons, stuffing, or french toast.
My everyday wheat bread recipe is fast enough to make in time for dinner and light enough to enjoy with just a bit of butter. It is also dense enough to use for perfect croutons, stuffing, or french toast. Like I said, it’s an everyday, delicious, please sir can I have some more, whole wheat bread recipe.
Tips for Making Whole Wheat Bread
1. Practice makes you better. Every time I make bread, someone asks me to teach them how to make it. I am teaching you now. If you have never, ever, made bread before, just know that you may have to make it more than once before you absolutely love what you made. Even if it’s not perfect the first few times, it will be good. Be patient and make it again. Once you understand how the bread feels at each stage, you can whip it up any old time.
2. Use warm water, warm air, warm everything. Use water that is tepid (warmer than luke-warm but not hot). Let the dough rise in a warm place. In the summer I set it in the sun, in the winter I turn the oven on for a bit then shut it off and let the dough rise in there.
3. Less is more. I am talking about flour. Flour absorbs water. Use less than you think you will need and add more later if you need to. Aaaaand this brings us to tip number four.
4. The measurements are not exact. Don’t let this intimidate you. The measurements for the flour cannot be exact because temperature, humidity, and settling all affect how your flour will measure. It’s okay though. Making bread can be a cathartic experience as you gently move the dough through your hands, (or slam it down on the table while kneading . . . it all depends on what kind of day you’ve had) and as you make bread you will get a feel for the dough. You will learn when it needs more flour and when it just needs more time and it won’t take you long to learn which. It’s not as hard as I am making it sound. You really just have to get your hands dirty to learn how to do it.
Directions for Quick and Easy Whole Wheat Bread
Pour 2 cups warm water into a mixing bowl (warmer than you think, just not hot. Remember: a cool mixing bowl will drop the temperature of the water). Add 1/4 cup honey (if you like sweet whole wheat bread add a little bit more honey, it’s not going to hurt anything). Mix this up until the honey is dissolved. If you don’t have honey add 3-5 Tbs of sugar.
Now that your honey, or sugar (this is the food for the yeast), is dissolved in your warm water, sprinkle a tablespoon of yeast onto the water. Enjoy watching it bubble and fizz.
These are the bubbles I am talking about. If your yeast isn’t bubbling after ten minutes, it might be dead. If your water was burning hot then you might have killed it. Start over. If it just sinks to the bottom and never ever bubbles up, get some new yeast.
Now that you have some good smelling bubbling yeast, you can start adding your flour. Add 3 cups flour and mix it up. It should look very sticky and wet. Set the timer for ten minutes. Don’t forget to set the timer. You need to use a timer so that you don’t forget you are in the middle of making bread (or is that just me?). Let the wet dough sit for ten minutes so that the flour can absorb lots of water. This way you will not add too much flour during the kneading.
Here is the wet, sticky dough — proudly waiting to be made into wonderful, mouth-watering bread. After it has waited ten minutes, you can add the teaspoon of salt and more flour (about a 1/4 cup at a time) until you have something that is kneadable. In other words, it has to hold some kind of shape. However, the wetter and stickier the dough, the softer and fluffier the bread will be. Turn your still somewhat sticky dough onto the table that has been generously dusted with flour.
Now comes the fun part. Knead the dough. It’s not hard, it’s just like you imagine it. Dig in and shove that dough around like it just called your mama ugly. Add more flour as needed but don’t dry it out or your loaf will be dense and heavy (still edible, just not as yummy as it could have been). It should still be a little sticky. It should feel elastic, not like play dough, it will be stretchier and softer than play dough (as long as you didn’t add too much flour). Don’t worry about doing it perfectly, just play around with it for about five to seven minutes until you can form a soft ball.
Form it into a ball, dust the mixing bowl you were using with flour, and throw the dough ball in there. Throw some more flour on top, cover the bowl with a cloth, and set in a warm place to rise for 1-2 hours (depending on how long you have until dinner).
Once it has risen in the bowl, and about doubled in size, pinch it in half. Place on two separate stones or cookie sheets and make a shape you like.
You can make them round, long, or braided. Don’t way over handle the dough, but shape it and dust it with more flour. You can put some slits in the bread or not. Really, do whatever you want.
Let them rise on the pans for 20-45 minutes (again, the time depends on how long you have until you need them ready). The more time the loaves have to rise the lighter your bread will be.
While they are enjoying a second rise, pre-heat the oven to 425. Then cook those babies for about 30 minutes. I always let my nose be my guide. The loaves will smell heavenly as they finish up, have a nicely browned exterior, and sound hollow when you tap on them. Really, the way bread looks is the very best indicator for being fully cooked, even better than internal temp. If you would like a soft crust you can rub the outside with butter as soon as you take them out of the oven.
Everyone is going to ask you to teach them how to make your bread. Let them know they can learn right here. If this is the first time you are making bread be sure to shoot me an email and let me know how it turned out!