September 10, 2011

Homemade Wheat Sandwich Bread

Baking my own bread was something that used to intimidate me. But before the “intimidation period,” there were quite a few years of my life when it honestly didn’t occur to me to bake my own bread on a regular basis. Naturally (or so it seemed), it was something I got from the store.

Then I entered the period when I noticed I couldn’t always pronounce all the ingredients in the breads on store shelves, and I thought homemade bread was something that I probably ought to be baking … but I figured there was a good chance I’d screw it up. I was slightly scarred by an experience I’d had 10 years earlier in which I’d attempted to use a bread machine to make a bread that, according to the picture, would turn out soft, fluffy and about the size of a football. After following the instructions exactly, I’d ended up with something the size of a baseball—and about the same consistency as one. 

Tangentially, as a woman, I have to admit that there may have even been a voice in the back of my mind telling me that to stay home baking bread would have been some sort of defeat. Didn’t women stay home baking bread, rearing little ones and sewing back before they became enterprising members of the public sphere? If I ever did have those thoughts, I’m happy to say I’ve shed them completely. I think the home once again becoming a site of production—of empowering self-reliance for both men and women—is not only hopeful, but essential. The authors of recent books, such as Radical Homemakers, agree.

These days, I enjoy quiet days at home, tending to rising dough when it needs me. The smell and feel of dough, and of bread fresh out of the oven, make me happy.

If you’ve ever hesitated to take the plunge and routinely make bread at home, I can assure that it’s not only possible, it’s lovely. (An added bonus is that making your own bread will save you money.)

Here’s a recipe for a simple loaf of homemade wheat sandwich bread.

Homemade sliced wheat sandwich bread sliced on cutting board.

Ingredients:

1¼ cups warm water
1 tbsp organic cane sugar
1½ tsp active dry yeast
2 cups organic whole wheat flour
2 cups organic white flour
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp local honey
2 tbsp organic butter (preferably from pastured cows), melted
1 tbsp olive oil (to coat bowl the dough will rise in)

Instructions:

Stir sugar into warm water, then add yeast. Let sit for 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, stir flours and salt in a large bowl. When yeast is ready (it should expand and get bubbly in the water), add the water mixture, honey and melted butter to the dry ingredients. Stir until you have a raggedy looking dough (it won’t form a ball yet).

Dump dough onto a clean, dry surface and begin working/kneading it with dry hands. In a minute or two, it will form a more solid ball. Knead for about 10 minutes.

Coat the inside of a clean bowl with olive oil, roll your ball of dough in the oil until it’s coated, then let the dough rise in the bowl for about 2 hours at room temperature. It will look like this:

Rising Wheat Bread Dough in white bowl.

After 2 hours (the dough should be at least doubled in size), punch the dough down, work it in your hands for a minute and form it to fit in a loaf pan. Let the dough rise again in a loaf pan for about an hour (until the dough rises well over the lip of the pan) at room temperature.

Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake bread for 25 minutes, then rotate the pan in your oven 180 degrees to ensure even heating, and bake for another 15 minutes.

Remove bread from the loaf pan right after taking it out of the oven, and let the loaf rest on a rack or wooden board for at least an hour before slicing into it.

And there you have it: a once intimidating roadblock turned into a delicious experience! And it’s an experience that honestly doesn’t take that much of your time. Sure, the dough needs time to do its thing, but you just get to take a break from whatever else you were doing to tend to it every now and then. 

I keep my homemade sandwich bread in a bag inside the fridge to keep it from drying out too much, and then I just slice it as I need it, lightly toasting it before eating. This bread has a nice, soft crumb and a hint of honey flavor. It’s great toasted and topped with cheese and tomatoes from the garden, as a side with soup, or with homemade jam for breakfast. Yummm.

If you try making your own bread, let me know how it turns out. Also, if you have a favorite bread recipe that you like to make, I’d love to hear what it is.

Growing wheat in a pretty wheat field.

A note on ingredients: I list organic ingredients here, but if you have other options on hand, use what you have. A dream of mine is to one day grow a small area of wheat every year, thresh it, and grind it into flour. Until I’m able to do that, I purchase organic flours from smaller companies, such as Bob’s Red Mill and King Arthur, that care about creating high-quality, healthful flours. You can also check at farmers markets, as some small-scale market growers offer flours and other whole grains.

Top photos by Shelley Stonebrook; wheat photo by Flickr/jayneandd

8 comments:

  1. Now that's one good looking loaf of bread. I look forward to a post (hopefully) on gluten-free bread in the future. Also, just out of curiosity, do you think you could calculate the rough cost of the loaf you made and let us know? I realize that will take quite a bit of math and probably some guessing, but I am really interested to know.

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  2. Dear Shelley,

    I second Doug's question above. For some reason, I have always had the impression that buying bread at the store would be cheaper, and, to be honest, that is one of the reasons why I've not jumped into baking (the other being the same fears you expressed above). Hearing from you that making my own would be cheaper has made me seriously reconsider my previous choice.

    Thanks for sharing this! I will very likely attempt my own baking now that Fall is upon us … and if you have any "fallish" bread recipes, I would love to hear about them :)

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  3. My wife and I have had some difficulty finding organic flour at a reasonable price. We've settled on all-purpose, whole white flour from Whole Foods. It makes good bread and pizza dough, too.

    We use a bread maker and only rarely have problems with the dough. We only wish we could get a larger amount of flour. That would save us trips to Whole Foods, which is kind of far away, and reduce the cost of the bread.

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  4. Ann and Doug, great question about the cost. I did some careful calculations, and based on the recipe for wheat sandwich bread in this post (using high-quality, organic ingredients), each loaf would cost $1.73 to make. I realize that may be about the cost of Wonder bread at the store, but I don't think I'd even categorize the two in the same class of food. There's no way fresh, organic bread from the store with a hint of local honey would cost less than $1.73. I think the money-savings aspect of baking bread is pretty exciting. Ann, it's so cool to hear you may make the leap into bread-making fun!

    Bill, thanks for stopping by and for the comment. A friend of mine was also recently on the hunt for a good deal on bulk organic flour. I think she ended up finding some through a bulk buying club called Azure. Might be something to look into. (I looked at your website, by the way, and it looks like a great resource. I'm about to head back there and read the post about it being a myth that you have to ferment seeds when seed saving.)

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  5. Shelley,

    Thanks for using your math skills! That price is amazing! I don't buy Wonder bread (although I did love it as a child). The breads I tend to buy at the store are always in the $3.00 range (the cheapest sale price I have ever found is $2.50), so making my own bread is definitely a health- and money-save.

    Thank you!

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  6. Your bread looks lovely - I so should have stayed Saturday just to eat it. The organic honey whole wheat bread I've purchased from a local bakery costs nearly $6 a loaf (!) and it doesn't come with the delicious smells and the freedom to eat it steaming hot right out of the oven.

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  7. Whoa. Comparing my price with $6 makes me oh so happy.

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