Bread, the staff of life…well, unless it has a name like Wonder before it.
I made my first loaf of yeast bread fifteen years ago. It was my first child’s birth that changed pretty much everything. Thankfully it always does doesn’t it! Along with her, the desire to be more intentional and eat healthier was also born.
So I read. More.
One author’s research led her to begin by giving her family clean filtered water and making whole wheat bread. If, she said, you can do only two things for your family to make them healthier food wise, this would be where to start.
Bread and Water. I could do that. One thing at a time. Okay, two things.
A water filter pitcher was what I could afford, a simple start. Years later our move to the country included a well with terrible water. We now have willed to our children a serious water filtration system on our well–we liked the price of the pitcher much better.
The bread came next. I borrowed a mill to grind wheat at first, and the experimenting began. This end result current recipe is a one-time-rise bread dough (form the loaf and let it rise) instead of a double rise (where you let the dough rise, punch it down, form the loaves and rise again) a difference of an hour of time. It is our staple bread, our toast-in-the-morning and sandwich bread, 100% whole wheat, and in good weather I can go from grinding wheat to baked bread in 2 hours. This post is geared to someone ready to try whole wheat bread for the first time, hence the extra details. I really hope this is helpful.
Kinds of Wheat
First a little about wheat berries in case you didn’t know you have choices:
The Hard red winter wheat, or turkey red, makes the hardiest loaf because of it’s higher content of bran, with a high level of gluten.
Hard spring wheat hasn’t as much bran and makes a lighter loaf both in texture and color.
Soft spring wheat is used primarily for pastry. It does cost more and isn’t as easily accessible as the hard wheats. To purists it is considered the most inferior type as it has less bran and gluten, but I really love the beautiful light fluffy loaves it makes.
A few others: Durum wheat makes great pasta, it is a large kernel and the highest protein content. Spelt is a variety of hard wheat and I just learned that Triticale is a manmade grain, a cross of wheat and rye…so just a fyi there.
For years I mixed winter and spring wheats for a really nice result, now I primarily buy the hard spring wheat as we prefer the lighter loaf.
Why grind wheat?
Seriously, why grind your own when you can buy it in the grocery store? Well, the germ part in wheat kernels has oils that when ground in the flour cause it to go rancid in a short period of time or attract insects, is removed from both white and whole wheat flours sold commercially. Since I want that wheat germ and as much nutrition as possible, I grind wheat as I need it, or up to one weeks supply at a time and refrigerate the freshly ground flour for later that week. But if grinding wheat throws you over the edge, please use the whole wheat in the store…you can always add wheat germ if you want!
Let me give you a visual on this wheat thing:
The outer part is the bran, the main source of fibre and makes up about 14% of the kernel, depending on which type of wheat we’re talking about. Besides the all important fibre, current research says it has anti-cancer compounds that can help reduce estrogen and slow the growth of breast cancer. The wheat germ is the embryo, it has healthy oils that promote brain development, lower cholesterol and protect the body from free radical damage, it makes up just 3% of the wheat. That leaves the center, the endosperm which is the starch.
So to get white flour (I think you’ve figured that out), we take off the bran husks and feed that to the animals, remove the germ, and sell that in health food stores to add to our food to make us healthy, and just keep the pretty white starch. It certainly makes yummy cinnamon rolls though. Yes I still bake things with white flour…maybe too much, that’s why I feel like I’m 400 pounds. But back to when I do make healthy bread…
Where to buy and how to grind
At first I went to the health food store where wheat was sold in bulk (so I could get just enough for 2 loaves) as well as in large 20-50 pound bags. For those buying in bulk they offered to grind it there for something like a dime more per pound. Not all health food stores offer this service unfortunately. I now purchase wheat in large bags from a health food store in a bigger town since locally it’s only offered in bulk (per pound), they will order larger bags but it’s very over priced. I’m trying Azure Standard now. I store it in 20 pound food buckets as it is less than HALF the cost of purchasing in bulk, and I can get the type of wheat I prefer. It seems to me the last time I calculated the cost, it came to under $1 a loaf if I used all the optional ingredients in the recipe, much less if not.
Electric or hand crank mills can be purchased to grind the wheat at home. Currently I use the dry container for the Vita Mix which grinds all my grains vs. the wet container which is used for making smoothies, soups, ice cream etc. (Insert a huge plug for my husband who set aside funds to purchase it seven years ago, and it is used DAILY.) I just think it’s so cool that they have that dry blade option. This is way off the subject, but if you are out you can then just mill popcorn for cornmeal and sugar for powdered sugar…
So, back to the bread shall we? Or did I lose you! This recipe makes two loaves:
2 1/2 cups water warmed to 100-110 degrees, filtered preferred (any hotter and it will kill the yeast)
1 tablespoon yeast (some health food stores sell it in bulk so you can get a small amount for cheap, now I buy the Costco size)
6-7 cups freshly ground whole wheat flour, divided
1 tablespoon sea salt (you don’t want to forget this, trust me, and do your body a favor and stick with sea salt!)
1/3 cup (raw would be nice) honey
1/3 cup olive oil
—-all the above are required, all the below are suggested, and sometimes I actually have all of them on hand—
1/3 to 1/2 cup powdered milk–helps soften loaf, added calcium,
1/3 cup gluten–increases strength of bread so it does not crumble when sliced
1 1/2 tablespoon dough enhancer–makes a lighter fluffier loaf (try the health food store or online for this)
1/3 cup lethicin powder–great for brain, liver, cell, cardiovascular, hair, skin plus more… also helps soften dough
Seeds. I use: 1/3 cup sunflower seeds–vitamin E; anti-inflammatory and cardiovascular benefits
1/4 cup flax seed–added bran –what flax turns into when heated
1) mix the water, yeast and 2 cups of the flour and let sponge (the activated yeast will bubble up, increasing in size as a sponge) for about 15 minutes
2) add the remaining ingredients, (up to about 4 cups of flour at first) gradually adding more flour as needed. Too much will give you a very heavy loaf. If kneading with a machine the key is the dough no longer sticks to the bottom. By hand, you will feel it not sticking to you. You could use a bread machine to knead for you, but I would bake them in your oven for a better quality result. Knead for 8-10 minutes either way.
3) divide dough into two pieces and on a floured surface punch down each with your knuckles, fold over, repeat a few times -this is to get air bubbles out- then form the loaves, turning dough under and pinching together, lay the pinched side down in buttered or parchment lined bread pans. Cover with a clean tea towel to rise in a warm place until doubled in size.
Side note: When I had double ovens I would preheat one at 350 for 2 minutes, turn it off and let the bread loaves rise in the warmed oven with the oven light on, it would rise in about 30 minutes that way. Then I would bake in the second oven, because if I took the risen dough out and set it on the cooler counter while preheating the first oven, it would go flat on me. So now with just one oven, in my home, my bread rises on the counter, or in the winter by the wood stove, so it doesn’t ‘fall’ before baking.
4) bake at 350 for about 35 minutes, turning after 20 minutes. Remove immediately from pans to cool on a wire rack.
Life doesn’t get much better than a slice of whole wheat bread that you made, hot from the oven with a little butter melting through it. Because of that little pleasure, we make it twice a week. Now that we are so spoiled with truly fresh bread, after the first 24, maybe 48 hours, we revert to toasting it, even for sandwiches. Then after camping with Daddy once, one of our children came home and announced he had a sandwich on “raw” (un-toasted) bread, “And it was good Mom”. So perhaps it’s just me that’s spoiled after all.