Homemade bread is one of those things that everyone loves but nobody makes, unless it’s in a bread machine, and yet, it’s really not that difficult, unless you’re talking about those great European breads that require 4 days and a real wood burning oven. But a really good, down home loaf of whole wheat bread is lots easier than you probably think.
Why should you do it? There are two big reasons: 1) it’s cheaper than buying bread that’s worth eating, and 2) you know and can pronounce all of the ingredients. Most of what passes for “bread” on the grocery store shelves is loaded with artificial ingredients and preservatives. Whole wheat bread is WORLDS better for you than that made with refined white flour, and bread that’s labeled as “whole wheat bread” frequently has quite a lot of regular flour in it; look at the ingredients and see if the first or second isn’t “wheat flour” as opposed to “whole wheat flour.” This is lots better for you, and it’s not hard to do.
Nuke 1 cup of milk and 1 cup of water, mixed together, for about a minute, so that it’s warm but nowhere near scalding, then stir in 2 tbsp honey or sugar and 5 tsp active dry yeast (not rapid rise) until everything is dissolved. Let this mixture sit for about 5 minutes, until it’s starting to look foamy.
Pour this into the bowl of a mixer, if you’ll be using one, or just a large bowl if you plan on doing this by hand. Whisk in 2 large eggs and 6 tbsp unsalted butter which has been brought to a soft room temperature. Now add 6 cups of whole wheat flour and 2 tsp salt. If you’re using a mixer, attach the dough hook and turn it on low. If not, then lightly flour your counter top, mix everything together well, tip it out onto the counter and start kneading.
Either way, you may need to add some extra flour to keep it from sticking. I had to had nearly a whole cup extra. Keep adding and kneading, until you have a tacky, but not either too dry or too sticky, dough, which will take about 8 minutes.
Now transfer it to a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and leave it in a warm place for 1 1/2 to 2 hours, until it doubles in size and develops that great, bright scent of yeast.
Lightly butter 2 bread pans (5 x 9″ or so). Punch the dough down and divide it in half. Roll each half into a ball, and then flatten into a disk which has a diameter about equal to the length of your bread pan.
Fold a bit of the edge of the disk over and press it to seal. Now fold a little bit of the folded part over and press to seal again. Continue doing this until you have rolled the dough into a log. Place this into one of the bread pans, seam side down, and then press it down into the bread pan.
Repeat with the other half of dough and cover the pans with a kitchen towel. Place them in a warm spot for about 45 minutes, until the loaves have doubled in size. Preheat an oven to 375 F and lightly dust the tops of the loaves with a little more flour.
Bake for 40-45 minutes. A loaf that is done will sound hollow when you tap on the bottom of it. Remove them from the pans and let them cool on a wire rack. Technically speaking, you’re not supposed to cut into them until they’ve cooled, or they’ll dry out, but who can resist?
On Wheat Bread
Wheat bread doesn’t have the chewy texture that some white breads can have. This texture is the result of strands of a protein called gluten, which develop during the kneading process. Whole wheat contains the outer hull, or bran, of the wheat grain, and the ground up pieces of bran are like tiny knives that chop up the strands of gluten, keeping the bread from becoming chewy. This is why regular flour is often mixed with whole wheat flour to make loaves that are labeled “wheat bread.” It does contain some whole what, and it has more of that chewy texture that people love.
The bran, however, is what contains most of the nutrients and nearly all of the fiber. When you take away the bran, you take away almost everything that makes wheat worth eating, from a health standpoint, and all you’re left with is mostly empty carbs, which is why white flour is often enriched by the addition of vitamins and minerals, but usually not fiber. Still, enriched flour doesn’t provide all of the health benefits of whole wheat flour, not just because it’s missing fiber, (which plays a HUGE role in not only keeping you…ahem…regular, but healthy in general) but also because whole foods contain lots of micronutrients that we’re only just beginning to learn about.