Our family's journey to the heart of a handmade life

Simple Whole Wheat Bread

I have love/hate relationship with the process of baking bread.
Ever since I made my first loaf last year, I’ve been hooked. The lack of chemical preservatives, its intoxicating aroma that fills the house, the rustic appeal of a cracked, crusty ciabatta lounging on the kitchen counter. It’s a beautiful thing to see a few very basic ingredients join forces and create something beautiful. Bread baking is an ageless tradition that transends cultures, continents and discerning palettes. It is one activity that just feels good for the soul.
However. I must say it is certainly no task for Sandra Lee, and the elbow grease involved could make Mr. Schwarzenegger sweat. Of course, this depends entirely on the kind of bread you make. But the commitment required is pretty steep across the board. Once that yeast hits the water, you’re in the for long haul.

It is usually not an issue, especially on a lazy Sunday afternoon. But it’s the last thing I want to do on those nights when I come home late from work, after a stressful day and an long drive through rush hour traffic, when all I can think about is having to do it over again tomorrow. (Oh, how I miss being a housewife…) My mind is thoroughly set on enjoying a cool gin and tonic while watching Breakfast at Tiffany’s for the fifteenth time. Baking bread is simply not on the menu. (Haha..) That is, until I realize there is nothing for dinner, or tomorrow’s breakfast and lunch.
Nothing can so easily fill all three slots like a hearty whole wheat loaf, and that brings me to today’s centerpiece.
This simple whole wheat recipe is magnificent. It’s basically a one bowl deal, which means less mess to clean up afterward. There is enough hand kneading to get your frustrations out, but the electric mixer does most of the work for you. The result is a dense but airy, moist and chewy loaf that can easily hold up as a hamburger bun or serve as the vehicle for your morning peanut butter. And the whole thing comes together in just over three hours, leaving enough time for a martini and an episode of The Office.

Simple Whole Wheat Bread
Yield: 1 loaf

2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast, or 1 packet active dry yeast
1 1/3 cups and 2 tablespoons warm water, divided
1/4 cup canola oil
1/4 cup molasses or honey

3 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup nonfat dried milk
1 1/4 teaspoons salt

Add the yeast to 2 tablespoons water, stir gently and let sit a few minutes until foamy.

Add the flour, milk, and salt to the bowl of your electric stand mixer and whisk to combine.

With the dough hook attachment, run the mixer on low speed while slowly adding in the water, oil, molasses, and yeast mixture.

Once the dough starts to come together and pull away from the sides of the bowl, increase speed to medium and let the machine knead the dough for about 8 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead by hand for just a minute or two longer, until the dough is smooth and not too sticky.

Put the ball of dough into a large, lightly greased bowl (I use a little canola oil). Cover with plastic wrap or a damp tea towel and place in a warm, draft-free area. (Like the oven, just make sure it’s off first!) Let the dough rise until doubled in size, about 1 hour to 1 hour 15 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and gently shape into a loaf, being careful not to overwork it. You shouldn’t need to, ahem, knead it at all. Just push it around a little until it takes the right shape.

Place the dough into a lightly greased 8 1/2 x 4 1/2-inch loaf pan. Cover loosely with plastic wrap or damp tea towel and place back in the draft-free area. Allow the dough to rise again for about 1 hour, or until it rises about 1 inch above the edge of the pan.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees. Bake the bread for 30-35 minutes, tenting it loosely with aluminum foil after 15 minutes. If the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when lightly tapped, it’s done.

Remove the bread from the pan and cool completely on a wire rack before slicing.

Store in an airtight container at room temperature.

“Nothing is more simple than greatness; indeed, to be simple is to be great.” Ralph Waldo Emerson