Tuesday, July 10, 2012

A Beginner's Bread Baking Part I: Honey Whole Wheat Bread

I fear bread.

More specifically, I fear yeast.

I have been baking a wide variety of sweet and savory items at home for years (even decades, now) and I had not until recently been able to overcome my fear. I don't know what it is about it, but bread and other yeast based baked goods seemed too complicated, too finicky, too daunting.

I no longer have the luxury of this fear. I have been completely unable to find a bread that meets my requirements. I'm looking at the food labels, searching for basic ingredients ONLY to be listed (flour, yeast, water,salt, honey) and no dough stabilizers, preservatives, etc. The only bread in the entire big chain grocery store that met my requirement was one brand of sourdough. At smaller, specialty stores, I've also found some brioche hot dog & hamburger buns. However, I'd prefer to have the health advantages of whole wheat for the family in addition to meeting my ingredient restrictions. Plus we also enjoy bagels and english muffins- which I haven't been able to find AT ALL.

So, to the kitchen!!

It started with a batch of cinnamon rolls about 2 months ago. They were okay. But what made them not particularly spectacular wasn't the dough, it was my running out of cinnamon halfway through the recipe! I was actually pleased and surprised to have a dough rise when the recipe said it should and otherwise match all of the stages it was supposed to! This gave me the confidence to go further.

A few weeks ago I posted this about homemade pretzel bites. Also a yeast based recipe. These actually came out as expected. I would make them again, any time.

I decided I was ready to bake some bread. I wanted whole wheat (since that was what I couldn't find in the grocery store). So I found a recipe that actually used 100% whole wheat flour (this is not usual and I'll talk about that in a minute) and just jumped right in. The resulting loaf was...... um.... not good. It was more than a bit dense and the crust was much too hard and the bread itself was quite crumbly.

After doing some research (which I probably should have done before I started....) I learned that whole wheat flour does NOT act the same as all purpose or bread flour. Because it retains the bran (fiber) part of the wheat kernel, any 100% whole wheat recipe is going to need some extra time for the fiber to absorb liquids and become fully incorporated into your dough. The best 100% whole wheat bread doughs typically process overnight. This explains why almost every "whole wheat" recipe I found was at most 50% whole wheat.

I'll admit after this disaster, the fear had returned a little bit. But as I continued looking for appropriate baked goods at my local stores, and continued to fail to find any, I had no choice but to go back into the ring.

I decided to ease my way into whole wheat baking with a little bit of basic bread baking practice first. I found a well reviewed, part whole wheat bread recipe. This would give me the ingredient list I'm looking for, some bread making practice and some of the whole wheat nutrition I wanted (which is better than none....)

Here is the basic recipe I used for Honey Whole Wheat Bread from


I followed the recipe's instructions almost exactly. I made one substitution, all purpose flour for the bread flour because that was what I had on hand. It is supposed to make 3 loaves but they will be slightly shorter-- if you want tall sandwich loaves, it is better to divide it in 2. I did divide the dough into 3 parts as directed but I only made 2 loaves-- one ended up with less dough (more like a true 1/3 portion) and was a bit short, one ended up with more dough (more like 1/2 portion) and was perfectly sandwich sized. I used the remaining portion (less than 1/3) to hand shape some buns.  

The end result is wonderful! The bread does have a very very strong honey flavor (which the 5 year old LOVES) but I would probably try a little less next time. And, I'm finding the bread to be slightly crummy-- no doubt due to the flour substitution. I've learned that bread flour has a higher gluten content, making it have a stronger protein structure. If I can remember to buy some, I may try the next batch with the bread flour. The one difficulty I did have was the large amount of dough. It kept creeping up my kitchen aid dough hook and onto the motor. I might try dividing the dough in half and kneading each part separately!

We ate some of the buns right away that dinner with some grilled hamburgers-- delish!! We popped one sliced loaf into the fridge and popped one unsliced loaf into the freezer. We just got into the 2nd loaf a few days ago and it is just as good as the fresh one was.

If you too have been fearing bread, this is a great first timer recipe. Even when the results aren't perfect, they are darn tasty!!

There is a wonderful resource at which has all sorts of bread making answers and tutorials whether your making your first loaf of white bread or grinding your own grains for a free form artisan type loaf.

Comment below and let me know how this recipe worked for you. Are you a first timer, too? Or a seasoned bread baker??

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