For splendid sandwiches and terrific toast
Is anything better than homemade bread fresh from the oven? The aroma (and flavor!) can be irresistible. And making it is easier than you might think. Hands-on time is only a few minutes—and the flavor payoff is major.
Plus, homemade bread contains no preservatives or additives. So if one of your New Year’s resolutions is to eat healthier, baking your own bread is a great way to start.
But be warned: Once you taste homemade, you’ll never be happy with store-bought loaves again.
Recipe: Homemade Whole-Wheat Bread
You can bake this bread either as a boule or as standard loaves. We prefer the shape of the boule, so that’s what we do; but in the Notes we provide instructions for using loaf pans.
This bread contains both whole-wheat flour and all-purpose white flour. Mrs. Kitchen Riffs is the baker in our household, and she’s experimented with various ratios of whole-wheat/white flour to find one that has good flavor, plus a texture that works well for sandwiches or toast (see Notes for more discussion). She adapted this recipe from several bread recipes she found on the King Arthur Flour web site.
This bread has a fairly tight crumb structure (unlike the looser crumb of our No-Knead Bread). In order to achieve that finer crumb, some kneading is required. That’s a snap if you have a heavy-duty stand mixer with a dough hook. But no worries if you don’t have a stand mixer—it takes only a little longer to knead the dough by hand, and it’s a pleasant and relaxing activity.
Active prep time for this recipe is about 15 minutes. Then the bread needs to rise (twice), about 4 hours total (but see Notes). Baking time adds another 30 to 35 minutes.
This recipe yields 1 large boule, or two 8-inch loaves.
- ~1½ cups warm water (~100 degrees F; see Notes)
- 2½ teaspoons instant yeast (see Notes)
- 2½ tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1½ teaspoons Kosher salt (see Notes)
- 1 cup whole-wheat flour
- 3¾ cups all-purpose flour (we prefer unbleached)
- ~1 tablespoon butter, divided (for buttering the containers used for rising and baking)
- In the bowl of a stand mixer (or in a medium-sized mixing bowl, if making by hand), stir together the warm water and instant yeast. Allow the yeast to dissolve while you assemble the remaining ingredients, stirring the mixture with a spatula a few times to help it along.
- Stir in the olive oil and salt. Then attach the dough hook (if using a stand mixer) and add the flours. Stir the mixture with a spatula if necessary to combine the ingredients. Knead at low speed for about 5 minutes, stopping to scrape the bottom and sides of the bowl if necessary (or knead by hand if not using a mixer; you may have to knead a couple minutes longer if you do it by hand). If the dough is too dry (or all the flour is not being absorbed), dribble in more warm water. If the dough is too wet to form into a manageable mass, add more flour, a teaspoon at a time. Knead the dough until it becomes smooth and springy (if you’re using a stand mixer, the dough will tend to form a mass on the dough hook—that’s when you know it’s adequately kneaded).
- Transfer the dough to a buttered container (we use a 2-quart Pyrex container with measurement markings on the side so we can see how much the dough is rising). Cover the container with plastic wrap and let the dough rise in a warmish location until it doubles in volume (about 1 to 2 hours; see Notes).
- Remove the dough from the container. Pull the dough into a longish strand to deflate it, then form the dough into an oblong boule. Place the dough in a buttered baking pan (we use a small Dutch oven that holds about 3 quarts). Cover the baking pan with plastic wrap and let the dough rise for another 1 to 2 hours, until it's almost doubled in size. See Notes for alternative baking pans.
- Preheat the oven to 450°F. Remove the plastic wrap from the baking pan(s). Bake the bread for 30 to 35 minutes, until the interior temperature reaches 190 to 200 degrees F and the top is golden brown. (Tent the bread with aluminum foil after 20 minutes if it seems to be browning too quickly.)
- Remove the bread from the oven, and cool it on a wire rack.
- Make sure the water you use for this recipe isn’t too hot—yeast cells start dying at about 130 degrees F.
- If you’re not familiar with instant yeast, you may assume it’s somehow inferior to active dry yeast (the other variety you’re most likely to find on your grocer’s shelves). In fact, however, instant yeast tends to be preferable, at least in our experience. Both forms of yeast are produced in quantity by industrial processes, so neither one is “natural.” But instant yeast is air dried (unlike active dry yeast, which is dried in ovens), so more yeast cells survive the production process.
- Active dry yeast needs to be rehydrated before use, while instant yeast does not—it can simply be mixed with other ingredients. So if you’re using instant yeast, you can skip Step 1 of this recipe and just combine the water and yeast with the other ingredients in Step 2. We specify Step 1 because we store our instant yeast in the freezer. When frozen, yeast cells go into suspended animation, so we like to let them wake up and stretch a bit in warm water while we’re getting the other ingredients together. In truth, though, our instant yeast works fine right out of the deep freeze.
- In addition to instant and active dry yeast, you may see fresh compressed or “cake” yeast for sale (though few markets in the US carry it these days because it’s highly perishable). If you use compressed yeast in this recipe, double the quantity to 2 tablespoons.
- We buy instant yeast in one-pound containers, then store it in the freezer in a sealed glass container. It keeps well for at least a year, if not longer. And it’s a lot cheaper than those little packets.
- We’re partial to the SAF brand of instant yeast, but other brands should work fine too.
- Like many recipes labeled “whole wheat,” this one includes a large percentage of all-purpose (white) flour. Feel free to increase the percentage of whole-wheat flour if you want a heartier loaf. If you go that route, however, make sure to increase the amount of water you add to the dough, because whole-wheat flour soaks up water more readily than the refined white variety. If you increase the whole-wheat flour percentage, but not the water, you may end up with a loaf that is dry—and heavy as a door stop.
- How much extra water should you use? We would suggest starting with an extra ½ cup of water for each additional ½ cup of whole-wheat flour. Aim for a dough that seems wet and sticky when you put it in the rising container (the water will get absorbed quickly).
- How much additional whole-wheat flour should you use? That’s up to you. If you’re not accustomed to “rustic” loaves, you may want to start by increasing the whole-wheat flour to 1½ cups (decreasing the white flour by roughly the same amount).
- You can go all the way to 100% whole-wheat flour if you want. But be forewarned: The bread will not be “fluffy,” and some people may find the taste bitter (others will just call it “nutty”).
- So why does the 100% whole-wheat bread you buy at the supermarket generally look (and taste) like slightly roughed-up white bread? Because commercial bakeries incorporate lots of additives into their loaves, including preservatives, stabilizers, softeners, and sweeteners. They also often start with refined grains, and then just add back some bran and wheat germ (yes, really).
- The rising times specified in this recipe are approximate. A warmer room means faster yeast activity, and thus a speedier rise.
- If your dough is rising too slowly, you can place it under an electric blanket (turned to a low setting) to speed things up.
- If the dough is rising too quickly, you can slow things down by stashing it in the refrigerator (even overnight).
- You may need to allow for a longer rising time if you use a higher percentage of whole-wheat flour than specified in the recipe.
- If you’d prefer more standard-looking bread loaves, just divide the dough in half in Step 4 and place the two halves in buttered 8x4-inch loaf pans. If you go this route, you’ll probably also need to reduce the baking time in Step 5; check the interior temperature of the loaves after about 25 minutes.
- You could also use 9x5-inch loaf pans, though the loaves might be a bit too small to fill the pans.
- Kosher salt is more coarse than regular table salt; so it’s less salty by volume. If you’re using regular table salt instead of Kosher, reduce the amount by about half.
- An instant-read thermometer is perfect for checking the internal temperature of almost anything you bake or cook. We consider ours a “must have.”
- The crust on this bread is not brittle and crunchy (so it’s not like French bread). But it’s also not remotely as soft as supermarket bread.
- This bread works fine in sandwiches or for toast. If you make it in the form of a boule, you can also cut wedges of bread and serve them at a dinner party.
- Slicing this bread is easiest with a serrated bread knife or an electric knife.
- Because there’s not much fat in this bread, it will begin to stale within about 24 hours. We usually cut the boule in half (or thirds) and freeze what we won’t be using immediately.
Bread and Circuses
“This is so good,” I said, slathering Homemade Butter on a piece of whole-wheat toast. “So glad we’re making all our own bread these days.”
“As I recall, we started a couple years back with No-Knead Homemade Bread,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs, scooping jam onto her slice.
“That recipe is terrific!” I said, munching. “Best thing since, well, sliced bread.”
“Then I developed our Soft and Buttery Dinner Rolls,” said Mrs K R.
“That’s become one of our, shall we say, bread-and-butter recipes when entertaining,” I added.
“Along the way, I started making Irish Soda Bread,” said Mrs K R. “Not to mention our quick and fun Beer Bread.”
“You’ve even made our own hamburger buns,” I said. “Though we haven’t shared that recipe yet.”
“We need to post it one of these days,” said Mrs K R.
“Indeed, especially since it’s delicious,” I said. “Just like all your other bread recipes.”
“Thanks,” said Mrs K R, smiling. “Flattery works with bakers, you know. Like yeast for the soul, it makes our spirits rise.”
And I know which side my bread is buttered on.
You may also enjoy reading about:
No Knead Bread
Soft and Buttery Dinner Rolls
Baking Powder Biscuits
Irish Soda Bread
Skillet Jalapeño Cornbread
Or check out the index for more