Homemade Bread for Beginners

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Baking your own bread is easier than you think. No fancy equipment needed – I promise. I make this without the use of a standmixer or breadmaker because, simply: I don’t have either one.
Being born and raised in Germany, you could consider me as somewhat of a bread-snob. I mean, have you ever been to a real bakery in Germany? They take that sh!t serious! For my last birthday my mom gave me a book on homemade breads and I was so excited! Until I started reading the recipes and I was immediately intimidated. 3 different flours, sourdough starters, tons of ingredients and they all called for fresh yeast, which I can’t even find here in the US. I made 1 loaf brick of rye bread from that book and nothing since. But I’ll revisit it again. I promise!! Until then, I will stick to my easy, homemade sandwich bread. That one I can handle :)

The reason I wanted to bake my own bread is because the majority of the store bought loaves are chock full of harmful chemical additives. We used to buy “Nature’s Own” Whole Wheat bread and once we really studied the ingredients, it was like “oh, hell no!”. Needless to say I was happy to take up my friend Heather’s offer to come over and join her when she makes her family’s bread.

That day actually produced a loaf that didn’t want to rise so I sadly brought home a flat, dry brick, but I didn’t want to give up that easily. I tried it again. And again, and again. I switched flours and flour ratios. I added things and reduced others and my ever-so-sweet husband ate all those failed experiments. Many crumbly sandwiches were just part of the learning curve. The following recipe is what stuck in our house because it’s easy, quick, and delicious:

For 1 loaf you will need:

1.5 cups organic all-purpose flour (unbleached)bread ingredients
2 3/4 cups organic stone ground whole wheat flour
1/3 cup ground flax seed
1 tsp kosher salt
1 packet active dry yeast
¼ cup honey
1.5 cups very warm water (100-110 degrees F)
4 tbsp olive oil and a little more for the bowl

9” loaf pan

Butter for greasing the pan

Food thermometer

plastic wrap

Kitchen towel

Active Time: about 15 minutes

Total time: about 2 hours

Directions:

Add the flours, flax seed, and salt in a large bowl and mix to combine evenly, set aside.
Measure your water and make sure it’s between 100 to 110 degrees – too cold and the yeast will not work as well; too hot and you will kill the yeast.

Add the yeast and honey to the water and stir to dissolve
Proof the yeast by letting it sit for 1 minute. If the yeast is good, it will form small bubbles on the water’s surface. If it doesn’t, the yeast is dead and you’ll have to start over.

yeast mixture
before proofing
expired yeast?
after proofing

Add the olive oil to the flour mixture.
Give the water/yeast/honey mixture one good stir and add to the other ingredients in the bowl.
With a large spoon or spatula, roughly mix the flour and water mixture, and let it sit for a 2-3 minutes so the flour can absorb  all the water.

Put on your favorite music and then dump the dough on your kitchen surface and start kneading. The music will keep you going – trust me :)

You may need to add some more flour if the dough is too wet or more water if it’s too crumbly. The dough should be soft, elastic and sticking to your hands just slightly.

bread dough consistency

The kneading process is very important and you should knead for about 9-10 minutes to produce the gluten, which is a binding agent for the bread. Kneading also creates small air bubbles in the dough which are necessary to allow for the formation of small pockets of carbon dioxide as the dough is rising.

Knead the dough with the balls of your how to knead bread doughpalms, switching from left to right, pushing down and away on the dough ball. Don’t dig your fingers in the dough – that will create big holes in the dough when it’s rising and baking later.

After the kneading time, roll the dough into a ball and place it back in a bowl with about 1/2 tablespoon of oil and rub over the surface. This will keep the dough from drying out and cracking when it’s rising.
Cover with the plastic wrap, throw a kitchen towel over it and set in a warm place. I put mine on a window sill that faces the sun, but you can find a better spot if you live in a colder climate. Just don’t put it in the oven with a “warm” setting. Any temperature over 110 degrees will kill the yeast and then you’re screwed.

Let the dough rise until it’s double the size.
This should take about 35 – 45 minutes, depending on temperature. It’s important not to let the dough rise more than double its size on the first rise, or the bread will become dense and crumbly. That was one of my earlier mistakes and once I found out about this bit of baking wisdom – pow! – beautiful fluffy bread!

before the 1st rise
after the 1st rise

Have your greased loaf pan ready for the 2nd rise. Punch down the risen dough, roll it into a loaf shape and put into the loaf form. Make sure you don’t have any air pockets in the loaf – they’ll create big holes during baking. Cover again with the plastic wrap and kitchen towel and let the dough rise again until doubled in size. About 30 minutes. Set a timer if you’re like me and prone to get distracted and forget about it.
Make sure to start preheating your oven to 350 degrees F during this time.

Bread1
before…
bread2
…and after the 2nd rise

Bake the bread for 30 minutes at 350 F. If you want a darker, harder crust: start your oven at 425 degrees and bake for 10 minutes, then take the heat down to 325 for the last 20 minutes.
It’s done when it sounds hollow when you tap it. Let the bread cool completely before slicing it. You have to be patient on that or you’ll destroy the loaf. Just enjoy the fresh baked smell until then.

bread3
I wish you could smell this!

Why I’m using what I’m using for this bread:

organic stone ground whole wheat flour – grown without synthetic pesticides that harm the environment and our bodies. Whole wheat flour gets to keep the bran and the germ of the grain, the most nutritious parts. The bran gives your body fiber which keeps you full longer and helps your digestion. (A note about gluten: I am not gluten intolerant, but many people are so there will definitely be posts on gluten-free baking in the future)

organic all purpose flour – I tried using much less white flour and even experimented with some buckwheat and rye flours for this bread. I went back to using more white flour because of the greater gluten content which makes the bread less crumbly. If you want to use whole wheat flour only, I suggest adding vital wheat gluten in to the mix. About 1 teaspoon per cup of flour. Whole wheat flour does have gluten, just a lesser percentage as white flour.

Ground flax seed – this adds to the flavor and texture of the bread. Flax is a great source of protein (gluten is a protein too, so flax aids in dough elasticity). It has a mild nutty flavor and also provides you with healthy omega-3 fatty acids. They also add insoluble fiber which helps your digestion get a move on.

Olive Oil – a healthy vegetable oil, but the main reason it’s in this dough, is to make it moist and elastic.

Yeast & honey – are needed to make the dough rise. The yeast “eats” the sugars from the honey to help it work its magic.

Salt  – to bring out more flavor, but it also tightens the gluten structure. You shouldn’t add too much though or the salt will slow down the yeast’s activity and the dough won’t rise well.

I will keep experimenting with this recipe. Not that it isn’t great, but I still need to conquer some of those amazing looking loaves from the bread book. This is not over! :)

Once your loaf is cooled completely, cut yourself a nice big slice and slap some (grassfed) butter on it and enjoy!

 

greens for breakfast
homemade bread, grass-fed butter, organic eggs omelet with spinach and nutritional yeast

 

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