Whole-Wheat Bread * how to proof yeast * how to knead bread dough
Whole Wheat Bread
- 2 packages (or cakes) yeast
- ½ c. warm water
- 1/3 c. honey
- 3 c. whole-wheat flour
- 1 Tbsp salt
- 1/4 c. shortening
- 1 2/3 c. warm water
- 3 1/2 to 4 c. bread flour or all-purpose flour
Dissolve the yeast in the 1/2 c. warm water and add honey. Mix, then set aside to proof (about 5 minutes).
In a very large bowl, mix whole-wheat flour and salt. Add shortening and 1 2/3 c. warm water and mix well with a fork. Add yeast mixture and mix well again. Add three cups of bread flour (or all-purpose flour) and mix first with the fork, then with your hands.
Flour working surface well and knead for a full ten minutes, adding more flour as needed (up to another cup). Grease a very large bowl and turn the dough until greased on all sides. Cover with a towel and let rise in a warm spot until about doubled in size. Punch down dough, then divide and shape by hand into two loaves. Place in greased loaf pans, cover with a towel, and allow to rise another hour or so. When dough has doubled in size again, place in 350 degree oven for 40 minutes.
Turn out on racks and rub tops with butter. Allow to cool for at least ten minutes before cutting. Makes two loaves.
The dough before and after kneading:
Before and after the first rise:
The dough before and after the second rise:
The baked bread before and after buttering the tops:
Welcome to the Real Life Cooking Podcast. I’m Kate Shaw and this week we’re going to learn how to make whole-wheat bread.
I’ve been planning this episode for a long time, because everyone should know how to make bread from scratch. It’s not hard, but it does take a lot of time because the dough has to rise twice. This will also be the final episode of Real Life Cooking. The old episodes will remain for you to listen to, though.
This recipe is my mother’s, and as you may remember, she wasn’t actually a great cook. But she could make bread and it was always amazing. I’d like to say this is a family recipe passed down for generations, but she actually got it off the back of a flour bag when I was a kid.
You’ll need two kinds of flour for this recipe, whole wheat flour, preferably stone-ground because it’s coarser and more robust, and either bread flour or all-purpose flour. You’re also going to need a lot of both, so make sure you have plenty. If you bought whole wheat flour during lockdown, thinking you were going to make bread, it’s probably pretty stale by now so I recommend you buy fresh. Just, you know, an observation, no real reason. Also, check the date on your yeast. You need ordinary yeast for this recipe, not quick-rise. You’ll also need a really big mixing bowl and two large loaf pans.
First, clean your working surface and give it a good scrub. Then get out your very biggest mixing bowl, the one you sometimes wonder why you own because it takes up so much space. Give it a wipe to make sure it’s clean if you haven’t used it for a while. You only need one giant mixing bowl even though if you read the recipe, it sounds like you need two. We’ll go over that in a minute.
Get out a small bowl too. A cereal bowl will do. Measure half a cup of warm water into the bowl. The water shouldn’t be anywhere near boiling but it also needs to be more than just lukewarm. Then add the yeast to the water and stir it in until it dissolves, more or less. It’s easiest to do this with a whisk if you have one, but a fork or even a spoon will do. Don’t worry if you can’t get it to dissolve all the way. Add the honey to the mixture and stir it in until it’s dissolved, then set the bowl aside.
This process of adding warm water and honey or sugar to yeast and letting it sit for five or ten minutes is called proofing. Sometimes a recipe will just direct you to proof your yeast, without any further instructions or amounts, or it might say to proof one package of yeast in X amount of water. Even if a recipe doesn’t say so, you have to add some form of sugar to the water and yeast mixture to proof it. What you’re doing is waking up the dormant dried yeast with warm water, then feeding it with the sugar. Don’t use a sugar substitute. After a minute or so a sort of scum will form on the water, or it might look bubbly or foamy. That’s what you want to see.
While the yeast is proofing, measure three cups of whole-wheat flour into the giant mixing bowl and add the salt. Give it a good stir with a fork to mix the salt in, then add the shortening and mush it in with the fork. You don’t have to cut it in or do much more than break it up into smaller clumps. Then add warm water to the flour mixture, about the same temperature you used for the yeast. It should be warm enough to start melting the shortening.
Mix it all up well. It should be really soupy at this point, like bread soup. By this time at least five minutes has probably passed, so the yeast is nicely proofed. Pour the yeast mixture into the bread soup and mix it in. Then you can start adding bread flour, or all-purpose flour if you forgot to buy bread flour. Don’t use whole wheat flour for the whole thing because you’ll end up with a loaf as dense and heavy as a black hole.
Add three cups of flour to the bread soup. After one cup it’ll look more like cake batter, after two cups it’ll be more like muffin batter, and once you mix that third cup in it’s starting to look like bread dough. You should switch from mixing with your fork to mixing with your clean hands about the time you’re adding the third cup of flour. I usually only use my left hand at this point, which leaves my right hand free to measure out more flour and move stuff around as needed without getting bits of dough everywhere.
Once you get the third cup of dough mixed in well, you’re ready to start the kneading. Move the mixing bowl to the side to free up your working surface. Measure out another half cup of flour and spread part of it thickly on the working surface, then pour the rest of the half-cup to the side so you can get your hands in it easily. Then measure out another half-cup of flour but set it aside for later. Plump the dough on top of the floured surface.
The hand you used to mix the dough is stuck all over with dough, so you’re going to take a quick minute to wash your hands again and get that dough off. It’s better to start kneading with clean hands, and you also need to run water into the big mixing bowl so it’s easier to wash later. Fill it with water, but don’t actually wash it yet, just wash your hands.
I know I’m getting really detailed here but this really is the best way to make the process go smoothly.
Dry your hands well, scrubbing as much remaining dough off the backs of your fingers as you can. Then take some of the flour you heaped on the working surface and rub it into your hands really well. Put a lot of the flour on top of the dough too. This isn’t like lightly flouring a surface for rolling out cookies. You’ll be adding the entire half-cup of flour to the dough while kneading, and probably at least part of the other half-cup you set aside. Be generous.
Kneading dough is easy to do, but it’s hard to describe. Basically you’re working the heck out of the dough, and Mom always said you were breaking up the gluten in the dough to make it more effective for a better rise. I don’t know if that’s the case, but I do know it’s not an easy process. Mom always swore that to knead dough correctly, you had to do it for ten minutes by the clock. You should break a sweat and you’ll probably feel it the next day or the day after. I do crunches almost every night but it’s been two days since I made this bread, and I just noticed that my stomach muscles are slightly sore. It’s a workout.
Here’s what you do. Start with a ball of dough and well floured hands. Make sure to rub flour into your skin up past your wrists on the underside of your arms, because most of the action of kneading comes from the heels of your hands. Push the heels of your hands forward and down into the dough hard, as though you were trying to push your wrists straight through to the surface below while also pushing forward in a shoving motion. Then scoop the far end of the dough up with your hands and fold it over toward you so that it makes a ball again. Then repeat for ten minutes.
You’ll need to flour your hands again repeatedly at first, and add more flour to the top of the dough too. It starts out very sticky. Again, be generous about adding the flour. You don’t have to knead fast, although it’s great if you have the energy to do so, but you should fall into a steady rhythm of shove, gather back, shove, gather back, flour, shove, gather back, etc. That’s kneading. As you work, you’ll start to feel a difference in the dough. It’ll start feeling springier and less sticky by the time you’ve added the first half-cup of flour, and you should need to flour your wrists less often.
You shouldn’t need to add all of the other half-cup of flour to the dough. You basically just need a little more to flour your wrists and maybe wipe a little across the working surface occasionally if the dough starts to stick.
When the ten minutes are up, you should be sweating, but the dough should be a nice firm ball that feels good and springy to the touch. It’s ready for the first rise, but you can leave it on the working surface for a couple of minutes while you get the bowl ready. Don’t leave it long or it’ll start to dry out.
Wash the big mixing bowl in warm water. You don’t need to use soap unless you just want to, but make sure you remove any bits of dough and flour left in the bowl. Use warm water so that the bowl will be nicely warm when you put the dough in it. Then dry it out well and pour just a smidge of cooking oil into it, and rub the oil all around the bowl with a paper towel.
All this should have only taken a few minutes. Once the bowl is oiled, plump the dough ball into it and turn it over a few times until it’s oiled on all sides. It shouldn’t be dripping, just very slightly oily. This will keep it from drying out and cracking while it rises. Now put a clean kitchen towel over the bowl and set it aside.
I can’t tell you how long it will take for your dough to rise, because I don’t know how warm your kitchen is. It’s going to take at least an hour, though. I ended up taking my bowl of dough outside on the porch for a while because with the air conditioning, it was too chilly in the kitchen and I was impatient. If you do the same, make sure the dough isn’t in direct sunlight and put a second towel over it to help keep bugs out.
If your dough rises too fast, you can end up with air pockets in the bread, and if you set it too near a heat source, like a stove eye that’s on, it can start to cook the dough, which will kill the yeast.
At some point during the first rise, get your loaf pans out and grease them so they’re ready. This is also a good time to clean up the kitchen, especially the working surface since you’re going to need it again soon and you don’t want the dough to pick up any more flour or hardened bits of dough stuck to the countertop.
When the dough has about doubled in size, and you press a finger into the dough and it doesn’t spring back, it’s ready for the next step. Punch the dough lightly with your fists, which will cause it to deflate a little and make you feel really tough. Then take it out of the bowl and set it on the working surface again.
You don’t want to work the dough much at this point, but you also don’t need to be too careful with it. I like to sort of roll it into a long thick log, then double the log over and use my fingers to separate it into two roughly equal parts at the point where it bends.
Then take one of the halves and press it down into a roughly rectangular shape with your fingers. You don’t need to flour your hands or the working surface, by the way. If your dough is sticky to the touch, you didn’t add enough flour while kneading, but it’s too late now. Work with what you’ve got. Roll the dough up tightly and tuck the edges under so that you have a roughly loaf-shaped ball of dough. Set it seam side down in one of the loaf pans, then do the same for the other half of the dough.
Cover the pans with a towel and set them aside to rise again for another hour or so. This is why it takes so flipping long to make bread. I have a recipe from my great-grandmother for bread that has to rise three times, but it makes two loaves but only uses one packet of yeast.
When the dough has roughly doubled in size again, it’s ready to go in the oven. Keep in mind that it will probably still spring back when you press a finger in it, but ignore that. You don’t want loaves the size of pillows. Turn the oven on to 350 degrees Fahrenheit, and when it’s done preheating, pop both loaf pans in and set the timer for 40 minutes. Your house is going to smell so good.
After the 40 minutes are up, take the pans out of the oven and turn them out onto a rack if you have one. If not, you can set them across the top of small pots or something. Basically you want air to be able to circulate underneath the loaves if possible so they’ll cool evenly and won’t sweat against the counter. Rub the tops of the loaves with butter—but don’t use your hands to do this because the bread is really hot and you’ll burn yourself. Mom used to take a stick of butter from the fridge, unwrap one end like a popsicle, and run the end of it over the top of the bread. Buttering the top helps soften the top crust a little.
Then—and this is really hard—walk away for at least ten minutes. Don’t cut into the bread yet. I mean, you can eat it now and it’ll be good, but it’s actually still cooking from the heat inside it and it doesn’t develop the right texture for at least ten more minutes, fifteen or twenty if you can hold off that long.
Mom taught us to turn a loaf onto its side to cut instead of cutting from the top. This keeps you from squashing it down. I don’t know if that’s really the case, since if your bread knife is properly sharp it shouldn’t be a problem, but I always cut bread by turning it on its side.
This bread is firm with a strong crust, and it has a neutral or very slight honey flavor so it goes well with anything. You can toast it, make sandwiches out of it, or just eat it plain with butter or jam or honey or anything else you want to put on it. It keeps for several days if you wrap it up well in tinfoil so it doesn’t dry out. I usually give away the second loaf, since everyone loves homemade bread and I don’t need two big loaves.
So that’s it! Now you know how to make bread, and it turns out it’s really easy. The hard part is not eating half a loaf in one sitting.
Thanks for listening! You can find Real Life Cooking Podcast at reallifecooking.blubrry.net. That’s blueberry without any E’s. You can find the recipe that goes with this episode in the show notes. Now get out there and enjoy your food.