For me, there is just nothing better than homemade bread, warm from the oven, with lots of butter. Period.
Yet even though I could happily exist on it exclusively for the rest of my life, it took me years to get around to making bread myself. The process always seemed so… complicated. And who the hell has all day to hang around the kitchen waiting for it to rise or whatever?
But it turns out, it’s not actually that tough to make a decent loaf of whole wheat bread. And while there is some downtime involved while your dough rises, it’s enough time to get on with other things, even leave the house if necessary.
This recipe for homemade bread is unfussy and forgiving.
The whole process takes around 5 hours from start to finish, but only about 30 minutes of that is actual hands on-work. And if you time it right you’ll be eating warm, delicious homemade bread with dinner. If not, it makes the greatest toast ever.
Either way, everyone who eats a piece will thank you.
This is a great recipe for involving kids. Kneading is therapeutic and even though I’ve explained it to them dozens of times my kids still think the the rising process is pure magic. But you don’t even have to make it with your kids, I find process to be relaxing so I often like to do it all myself. Plus if you go the solo route you get all the glory when it’s time to eat. If you go for the butter too, do let your kids do the shaking, or just whip it up in a stand mixer or food processor.
Tips for getting tasty bread (even on your first try):
- Use good flour. I like organic King Arthur Bread Flour, but no matter which brand you choose make sure it’s unbleached. It’s healthier and has better flavor.
- Always preheat your oven.
- If you’re baking in loaf pans position so the tops of the loaves are in the middle of the oven. If you’re baking a round loaf on a baking sheet, position the sheet on the center rack.
- To tell if it’s done, tap it with your finger. If it sounds hollow, it’s ready.
Last, remove bread from pans right away to cool it, and cool any kind of loaf on a wire rack to make sure air can circulate beneath it, this will keep your bottom crust from gettins soggy.
Basic Whole Wheat Bread
- 2 cups warm water
- 1 Tbsp active dry yeast.
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 Tbsp kosher salt
- 1/4 cup olive oil or butter, melted
- 6-7 cups (total) whole wheat flour and unbleached bread flour. (Feel free to use up to half whole wheat flour, but do add some unbleached white flour into the mix. Using all whole wheat can make the bread very heavy and dense.)
Pour the warm water into a large bowl and sprinkle the yeast over the top, then add a few drops of honey.
Let the mixture sit for a few minutes, then add 1 1/2 cups of whole wheat flour and mix well with a wooden spoon. Look for bubbles on the surface, this tells you that your yeast is nice and active.
Add the oil or butter, salt, and the rest of the honey and mix well until everything is incorporated.
Now start adding the rest of the flour, one cup at a time, at first mixing with the wooden spoon, then switching to your hands when the dough comes together in a clump. When it forms a ball, turn it out of the bowl onto a floured surface and get ready to knead. This is the best part!
Basically you want to gather the dough up and fold it toward you, then push it down and away with the heels of your hands. After every few kneads give the dough a quarter turn.
Keep going until it comes together completely, and starts to feel smooth and springy. My grandmother used to say you’ll know you’ve kneaded enough when your arms ache a little. I always find the ache sets in after about 5- 7 minutes of dough work.
Wash and dry your bowl, then pour a tsp or so of olive oil into it and tip the bowl to swirl it around. Put your well-kneaded dough in the bowl and turn it a few times to make sure the entire surface is oiled.
Cover the bowl with a clean, dry kitchen towel and leave in a warm place to rise until it’s doubled in size – this usually takes about 2 hours.
When you have a good rise, remove the towel and punch the dough down to deflate it. Turn it out of the bowl and give it a quick knead or two on a lightly floured surface. Then get it into baking form. Put it into an oiled 9 inch bread pan, or shape it into a rectange or circular loaf and place it on an oiled cookie sheet.
Cover again with the towel and leave to rise once more, for 45 minutes to an hour. Preheat your oven to 375 during this rise.
You’re ready to bake!
You can leave the loaf as is, or brush the top with milk (for a crispy crust), butter (for a soft, dark crust), or a beaten egg (for a dark shiny crust).
Bake for about 30 minutes or until the loaf is nice and golden brown and sounds hollow when you tap it with your finger. Remove from the pan and cool on a wire rack.
If the kids are helping: fill a pint jar halfway with heavy cream. Have them shake the jar until a solid ball forms and separates from the liquid buttermilk.
This will take about 10 minutes and yes, it’s a workout. If you’re making it on your own, put the cream in a food processor or stand mixer and whip, first on low for a minute, then on high speed until the butter comes together, just like in the jar.
When you get there, put your butter in a strainer (save the buttermilk if you think you’ll use it, it will keep in the fridge for a week or two) and rinse it with cold water until the water runs clear. Gently shake off any remaining water, then transfer to a dish or small bowl. Sprinkle with 1/2 tsp of salt if you like and keep in the fridge or at room temperature.