I was on my way to the Whole Wallet, errr, Foods the other day to stock up on ingredients for another baking day, when I ran into one of the meetup mamas. As soon as I said “baking day” she got a gleam in her eye and said, “Do you bake your own bread?” When I said yes, she practically jumped up and down, saying, “Will you teach me? Maybe we could do a meetup..?” So that’s the plan, for this next Monday. Six mamas will come over with kiddos in tow and hopefully things will be un-chaotic enough that they can actually learn a thing or two.
I love the idea, anyway. Mamas getting together and pooling knowledge and skills. My dream is that it will work beautifully and turn into a regular thing. I feel that I have a fair number of skills to share, and I would love the opportunity to learn some new ones.
Bread is a great place to start. I’m somewhat of an evangelist when it comes to homemade bread. Here’s the invite I sent out for the group:
“Learn to Make Your Own Wholesome Homemade Bread!
-It’s easy, less than 30 minutes of work for 2 loaves of bread. No fancy equipment.
-It’s cheap! Make delicious, FRESH whole wheat bread for about $1/loaf!
-It’s healthy. Not so much sugar and sodium as store bought, and no preservatives!
-Entice your husband, wife, or other significant back into the honeymoon phase with the smell of baking bread (or woo random strangers off the street!)
Finally, when the kiddos just want bread and butter for dinner, you won’t feel quite so guilty…”
If you want to join the fun, here’s my first bread recipe, which made me a convert so long ago. I still know it by heart, even though I haven’t used it in years. This is an ultra basic no-frills technique that bread purist will scoff at, but it’s easy! and delicious! Especially good to give a beginner the success they need to inspire further bread pursuits! After you’ve gotten more comfortable with the whole process you can start fiddling with it. I’ll make a “fiddling with it” post someday soon.
Calamity Jane’s No-Nonsense Everyday Whole Wheat Bread
This recipe makes 2 loaves.
- 3 cups whole wheat flour
- 3 cups white flour (preferably bread flour, but all-purpose will work fine)
- 3 T gluten flour (this is optional, I only recently started adding gluten flour. It makes your bread more cohesive and chewy)
- 2 Tablespoons yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 1/4 cup honey
- 1/2 stick butter, melted (you can use oil, works fine, and you don’t have to dirty an extra dish for melting…)
- 2 1/2 cups warm not hot! water
Measure all the dry ingredients into a big bowl, stir it up good, then measure the wet stuff right onto the top. With a stout wooden spoon, stir it up until it becomes too hard to stir, then dump the lot out onto a floured countertop. Let the kids go feral and the phone ring off the hook while you get yer hands in there and work all that messy looking stuff into a nice cohesive dough, adding more flour as necessary to make it workable and keep the sticking to a minimum. Add just a little at a time to avoid adding too much, you want the dough soft (this is actually one of the only tricky parts, too stiff a dough will make a thick hard loaf, but since different flours in different climates absorb different amounts of water, I can’t tell you exactly how much flour you’ll need. Probably at least another cup, maybe 2, possibly more. Just keep chanting ‘soft dough, soft dough’ and bare in mind that it will be annoyingly sticky, that’s normal, wheat dough is always sticky.)
Ideally you would knead the dough for ten minutes, but you’ll be tired after five, and really, five is fine. Even three will work. Return the dough to the bowl, cover with plastic, and let rise for about an hour. Checking whether dough is fully risen is the other tricky part, and another thing I can’t give you any exact directions for because it will take dramatically longer or shorter depending on how warm it is, how wet your dough was, etc. The idea is to poke your finger in to it, if it springs back it’s not ready. When it’s ready, the dough will just hold the indented shape of your finger. The first few times, check your dough frequently so you can see what it looks like when it’s not done, half done, 3/4 done, and done. If you wait too long after it’s done, it will fall. Fortunately, this first rising is not important to get perfect, it’s your practice round.
Anyway, whenever you’ve determined it’s done rising, dump it out onto your counter again, cut it into two pieces, and with each piece press into a rough rectangle and roll tightly into a log, the length of your bread pan. It would have been handy to grease up your bread pans before you got your hands doughy. Set the logs into those greased pans, cover with plastic and let rise again.
They won’t take as long to rise the second time, maybe 40 minutes. Keep checking them. After about 20 minutes you’ll want to start your oven at 350 so it’s good and hot by the time the bread’s risen.
Bake for about 50 minutes, till the top is nicely browned and the loaf sounds hollow when you thump on the bottom.
Cool on a wire rack for at least 15 minutes before you try cutting into it. Enjoy piping hot with organic butter!
*** Post Script: When we made this recipe for the meetup it was great, but I’m used to a much wheatier loaf, and found it kind of boring. Starting with half and half white to wheat is good to get your bearings, I really recommend it. Then, if you like denser, darker, wheatier bread start using 1 cup more of wheat flour (and 1 cup less white) each time till you arrive at your perfect loaf. I made 100% whole wheat for years. Lately I’ve been doing about 80% wheat.
Also, I ought to mention that trying to teach/learn anything with 5 toddlers squealing and writhing at our feet was fairly hopeless. I like to think they at least left with a new motivation….