Eden Hill Journal

Comments, dreams, stories, and rantings from a middle-aged native of Maine living on a shoestring and a prayer in the woods of Maine. My portion of the family farm is to be known as Eden Hill Farm just because I want to call it that and because that's the closest thing to the truth that I could come up with. If you enjoy what I write, email me or make a comment. If you enjoy Eden Hill, come visit.

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Location: Maine, United States

Wednesday, February 07, 2018

My Bread - Update

Lately I have been making my whole wheat bread on a regular basis. I wrote about this bread back in 2015. It seems like maybe I wrote about it long ago too but maybe not. Baking this bread has always been tricky for me even though I first taught myself how to do it way back in the early 1970's. It seems to be a hit or miss process and when I miss, it's usually by a lot. Sometimes it's so bad it has to go in the trash! Lately, though, I have been doing better at it so I'm going to give an update here in hopes that one or more of my readers might attempt it and actually succeed.

So to start, here's the list of ingredients I use whenever the bread turns out darned close to perfect:
  • 8 cups of organic whole wheat bread flour
  • 3 cups of warm water
  • two thirds to three quarters cup of honey
  • two tablespoons of dry Red Star baking yeast
  • one quarter cup of vegetable oil, preferably sunflower oil
  • one tablespoon of sea salt (or real salt or pink crystal salt)
For tools, here's what I use:
  • a hand-held cheap two-blade electric beater
  • a large ceramic mixing bowl
  • a towel large enough to cover the top of the mixing bowl
  • a wooden mixing spoon
  • a 4-quart glass measuring bowl
  • a set of measuring cups, including 1/4 cup for the oil, 2/3 or 3/4 cup for the honey, and 1 cup for the flour
  • a one tablespoon measuring spoon for the dry yeast and the salt
  • a rubber scraper for saving and using as much of the precious dough as possible!
  • an oven, first for keeping the rising dough warm enough to rise well and then for baking
  • a mixing board large enough to knead bread on. Mine is roughly three feet wide by a foot and a half deep and has a ridge around three sides to keep from spilling the flour while kneading
  • enough free table space for the bread board
  • three medium-sized bread pans (or two large ones)
I begin by warming the mixing bowl in the oven with the oven set to its lowest baking temperature. If you are working in a warm kitchen this may not be necessary but for me it's a must unless it's an exceptionally warm summer day. It's important to keep the dough from cooling off so this is why I use the oven for warming. The warmer the dough remains, the quicker it rises. The quicker it rises, the sweeter the bread is when it's finished baking.

I bring the water to a boil since I use raw spring water, then measure out three cups of water and stir in the honey. I then pour this mixture into the large warmed mixing bowl.

The next step is to add yeast but before I do that I make sure whatever liquid I add yeast to has cooled to warm. If the honey-sweetened water is too hot it'll kill the yeast so make sure it's warm to the touch but not hot before adding the yeast.

Today I mixed the Red Star yeast into a small amount of the sweetened water stirring it until it was a thick liquid. The yeast began working within a few minutes.  I let this warm yeast mixture work until it started getting frothy. My experience has been that giving the yeast a good start seems to shorten rising times. So keep this yeast mixture warm but not hot for several minutes to let it get frothy.

Meanwhile, with the honey-sweetened water which was still quite hot in the large mixing bowl and using the electric mixer, I blended in the first four cups of whole wheat bread flour. A crucial phase of making 100% whole wheat bread is ensuring that the first half of the flour gets thoroughly stirred. I used to do all the mixing by hand with a wooden spoon but the electric mixer seems to do a much better job as long as the dough doesn't get too thick and overwork the mixer. I certainly know I'm overworking the mixer when it starts giving off that hot electric motor smell so I stopped at four cups of flour today.

Once I am certain the dough has cooled to below what I would call "hot", it's time to mix in the frothy yeast, then the oil, and then the salt. I do this still using the electric mixer making sure everything is thoroughly mixed. Sometimes I attempt to use the electric mixer to add the fifth cup of flour but that is optional.

Wheat flour has gluten. Bread flour has more gluten than pastry flour. It's the gluten that gives bread flour the elastic consistency needed for it to hold air bubbles and rise. Thoroughly mixing these first four cups of flour gives the dough this needed elasticity. Don't skimp on this phase of the process.

With the first four cups thoroughly mixed in, the dough will take another four cups of flour, give or take, before it's ready to rise. I can usually mix in the fifth, the sixth, and sometimes even the seventh cup using a wooden spoon adding the flour one cup at a time and thoroughly mixing in each cup before adding the next.

Somewhere around the seventh cup, the dough will just get too stiff to keep mixing with a spoon. It's time to turn the dough out onto the mixing board. Before I do that, though, I put another cup of flour onto the mixing board and spread it out to make an area large enough to turn the dough out onto and flatten it out somewhat. So with the seventh cup of flour already added to the dough in the mixing bowl, this makes the eighth cup of flour.

Kneading takes a few minutes so while I'm doing the kneading I put the mixing bowl back into the oven (again set to its minimum baking temperature) to warm it back up. Using the oven to keep the rising dough warm is risky if you have the kind of memory I have. Here's the thing. As long as the dough isn't in the oven while the oven is turned on, it's OK to have the oven on. Just use the minimum oven temperature. But make sure to turn the oven back off before you put the dough into it for rising.

Got it? Don't forget! I'll remind you again.

So kneading is a process I'm not going to explain. It's best you watch someone do it. I'm sure YouTube has lots of bread dough kneading discussions so I refer you to YouTube. That said, there are a few pointers I can make when it comes to making this bread.

I used to think it took eight and a half cups of flour to make this recipe. Lately it seems like eight cups works just fine. It may be because I'm using fresher flour but I'm more inclined to think it's because I'm now using the electric mixer for the first four to five cups of flour rather than doing all the mixing with a wooden spoon. So I do advise using the electric mixer for the first four to five cups of flour and generously working the dough this way. I am inclined to say that this is the key to getting the dough to rise more rapidly. In my experience, the faster the dough rises, the sweeter the bread will be and this bread is delicious, one-of-a-kind, when it's nice and sweet.

So do the kneading and keep kneading in flour until the dough just reaches the point where it's no longer sticky on your hands. That's the key. The dough will be damp and thoroughly mixed, but it won't stick to your hands when you knead it. Too much flour and the dough seems to want to tear or it might just not want to blend in when you fold it and knead the folds together. Again, for me recently, it stops being sticky when I have eight cups of flour in the dough. If I work fast enough the dough is still a bit warm after I have finished the kneading.

After kneading, I coat the ball of dough lightly with oil and put it into the warm bowl to rise. Making sure the oven is warm but not hot and that it is turned off... OFF!... I put the bowl back into the oven, cover it with a towel, and let it rise.

For good flavor, the dough should rise three times. It should "double in bulk" each time it rises. It rises the first two times in this warm mixing bowl, then the third rising is in bread pans.

Each rising including the last one takes about 25 minutes if all is going well. Longer rising times seem to sour the finished product.

Between risings I knead the dough again briefly and form it back into a relatively seam-free mass. After the second rising, it's time to divide the dough into three parts, knead each one and form it into a shape that fits well in the bread pans. Grease the bread pans (I use wheat germ oil for this task but use whatever works for you), add the dough, and set the pans on a rack midway up in the warm oven. Cover with the towel.

Again, make sure the oven is off if you rise the loaves inside a warm oven.

For three loaves, after the dough has risen in the bread pans, remove the towel and then turn the oven on and set it to 350.

Bake the three loaves for about 45 to maybe 50 minutes.

When the baking is finished, remove the pans and turn the bread out onto a wooden surface and let the loaves cool. If you bag them in plastic bags, don't bag until the bread has finished cooling which could take an hour or more. This wouldn't be an issue with brown paper bags.

An alternative is to use larger bread pans and make two loaves instead of three. Two pans makes pound-and-a-half loaves. Three pans make one pound loaves. If you opt for two loaves, bake the bread an extra 10 minutes. But don't expect your loaves to fit in any standard sized bread bag. They can be quite huge!

Oh, one more thing...
I'm sure it's not healthy for me but I just can't help but eat several slices of bread fresh out of the oven with real butter generously melted on! Once the bread is cool and bagged, I usually toast it before eating it but fresh out of the oven, no need to bother toasting it!

There is nothing anywhere in the food chain that seems to be as healthy for me to eat as this bread. I generally eat two to three slices per day, except on baking day when I overeat something wicked!

A few more notes...

I use organic flour to avoid the whole Monsanto thing.

I'm fully aware of the Wheat Belly controversy but I just don't care. This bread always has and still does keep me as regular as the time clocks I used to punch way back when I worked down at BIW. Well maybe that's a bit of an exaggeration but not by much.

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