Wednesday, January 2, 2013

By Bread Alone

Lunch my senior year of high school consisted of daily trips to the Wrathall's house. Sometimes we would put people in the trunk to fit more in the car.  I'm not advocating that, it's really really stupid in hindsight, but I'm just telling you that Amy-Jo's house was a very popular place to be.  Partly it was because it was a comfortable house for teenagers.  Partly, it was one of the more convenient houses of all in our "group", but to be perfectly honest, mostly it was Fay Wrathall's homemade bread.

She would bake five or six loaves regularly and we would devour at least two every day for lunch.  She provided lunch meats, veggies, cheeses, jams, peanut butter, and any other fixin you could hope for, in addition to the fresh baked bread.  This bread was seriously the thing that dreams were made of.  Soft, sweet, healthy...teenagers don't think of it in those terms, but you just felt so GOOD after eating it.  And for all of the thanks of a bunch of teenagers, who never contributed a dime to my knowledge...she deserves sainthood.

Sometime in the years after, I got the recipe from her but was too intimidated to try to make it.  I have tried other whole wheat bread recipes but usually end up with something more intended for masonry than consumption.  As I've gotten older, I've become more and more concerned with all the crap that is put into our food; I've become a bit of an obsessive label reader.  It started when I came home from a mission in Germany, where preservatives and chemicals are not regularly used in their food, and could literally taste those things in ours.  I've tried to make more and more of what my family eats from scratch, as a result.  I've also tried to become more self reliant in the past few years, and somewhere along the way acquired five 35 gallon garbage cans of wheat (thanks Petersons!), but had no idea what to do with them, so I just toted them from house to house.  Recently, I set out to learn.

We've started incorporating fresh ground wheat into our pizza dough, rolls, and other breadstuffs and I've learned some tips and tricks and so set out to conquer whole wheat bread.  It wasn't until a friend on Facebook reminded me that I had Faye's recipe that I decided to try it.

Oh man.  Time warp to '94.  Ok, so it isn't quite as good as hers was (I'm still learning), but it is the best whole wheat bread I have ever made. AND it takes about two hours from start to finish.  No lie.

So here we go:

2 3/4 cups warm water in the mixing bowl
1/3 cups oil (I use olive, but have used coconut and it was great)
1/3-1/2 cup honey
1 1/2 Tbs yeast
2 cups bread flour
1/4 cup gluten flour
Mix thoroughly and let sit about 10 minutes
Then add
1 Tbs salt
4-5 cups whole wheat flour

A word about the flour:  I grind my own wheat.  I used to sift it, but found it unnecessary.  The wheat flour and bread flour are best kept in the fridge if you aren't going to use them regularly.  They have a tendency to go rancid faster than normal flour.  I'm making bread regularly enough and only grind enough for two weeks, so I don't have to worry about that anymore.

The dough should be pretty sticky.  I knead it in my Kitchen Aid for five or so minutes after adding the third cup of wheat flour before I add any more.  Wheat flour takes longer to absorb the moisture and so can trick you.  You think you haven't added enough flour so you add more, but if you'd waited a minute it would have dried up.  Now you've added too much, and voila: brick!  Ok, so give it a minute.  If after five minutes it is still too sticky, add a few tablespoons more.  Minute or two, then a few more.  Be patient.  Err toward too sticky to handle.  But just barely.  It should just come off the edges of the mixing bowl.  The amount will change from day to day, as well, so don't think just because it was six cups one day it'll be the same the next.  It's affected by humidity, temperature, moisture in the wheat, etc.

Knead it for about 12-15 minutes.  Cover and set aside.  The recipe I have says to let it rise for 15 minutes.  We keep our house cold enough in the winter to kill houseplants though.  Milk won't curdle, and bread won't rise.  So I set my oven to 400 for one minute exactly, and then turn it off.  Then I let it rise in there.  Or I leave it on the counter for 30 minutes, if I have the time.  A slower rise makes for sweeter dough (thanks for the tip Maren!).

Punch it down and divide it in two or three or whatever floats your boat. I found that it has the best consistency if I use my biggest loaf pans, which are 9x5 glass.  Form loaves and put in greased loaf pans.  Put back into the oven and let rise about 30 minutes (or longer on the counter, if you have the time).  The loaves should be a couple of inches over the top of the pans.  Pull them out and preheat the oven to 350 degrees.  Put the loaves back in and bake for about half an hour (depending on the size of your pans and your oven). The internal temperature of the bread should register about 190 degrees.

I brush the top with butter, but it isn't necessary, unless you're like me and subscribe to the philosophy of Julia Child, which is that butter is always necessary.  Empty immediately onto cooling racks.  Let it mostly cool before you slice it!  Too early, and you ruin the crumb.

If I did my math right (remember, I'm an English and a history teacher) it costs about a dollar a loaf to make.  It tastes soooo good.  And it is good for you!  Enjoy. :D


  1. Holy smokes I am feelin' the love! Wishing I had been one of the kids smushed in the trunk with you guys... Missing you and JonJon and McKell and glad my heater is at least 68 degrees at all times, ha! You have completely inspired me. Okay, here we go... let 'er buck!

  2. Do it!! But be sure to add the yeast. :D Let me know how it turns out!

  3. I loved reading this story! I can just see a group of high schoolers "just happening" to pop in on bread-making day :) Is there any more delicious aroma than freshly baked bread? And so yummy! Thank you for sharing that memory as well as the recipe. I have bread baking in the oven right now!