I used to be afraid of making bread.
Afraid of all those whole wheat bricks gathering in the freezer – testifying to my baking ineptitude.
Once I stopped being so nervous about working with yeast, though, it got a whole lot easier.
To start, I’d recommend staying away from specialty books on bread making until you feel a bit more confident. I just felt overwhelmed by them (see ‘nervous’ above), and built my confidence with some good solid recipes from a flour company cookbook.
It’s helpful to understand something about gluten before you begin.
Gluten is the protein in flour, and becomes ‘active’ when it gets wet.
In breadmaking, the goal is to work the gluten until it is very elastic. Kneading creates that elasticity.
When the gluten is nice and flexible, it can expand to accomodate the carbon dioxide produced by the yeast once it has been dissolved.
The goal of kneading is to develop the gluten enough so that it doesn’t break as it rises to accomodate the gas produced by the yeast.
The other key thing to understand is that yeast is a living organism. Simple and unicellular, but living. And like all living things, it has certain requirements that enable it to thrive.
Temperature is a key factor in keeping your yeast happy.
Lukewarm is great. Too hot, and you’ll kill the yeast. Cold will slow things down, but it doesn’t have the same damaging effect.
One last thing to be aware of is the difference between American and Canadian flours.
As a Canadian, I was always mystified by references to ‘bread flour’ in American cookbooks. Bread flour requires a certain percentage of gluten to ensure that the dough will be able to support the rise created by the yeast.
When I started baking bread there was no such thing as ‘bread flour’ in any Canadian grocery store I went to.
I admit that sometimes I even blamed my Canadian flour for my leaden lumps of whole wheat.
In fact, Canadian all-purpose flour (I now know) – the everyday, ordinary flour available everywhere here – is equivalent in terms of gluten content to what Americans call ‘bread flour’. So in Canada, you don’t need special bread flour to make bread at home.
A few more tips:
- It takes longer to develop the stretch of the gluten in whole wheat flour. The more whole wheat flour you use in your bread, the longer you will have to knead the dough.
- Don’t omit the salt in your bread. Not only is salt important for the taste of the bread (bread without salt is very bland), but it also plays in a role in regulating the action of the yeast.
- Make sure your yeast is fresh. Fresh yeast will bubble up when you dissolve it. If your yeast doesn’t bubble up, it won’t release enough gas to make your bread rise.
- Relax. Once your bread is mixed and kneaded, you just have to wait between risings. Read a book. Go for a walk. Or simply do nothing at all
This recipe makes 6 loaves (in 8 x 4 inch pans). You can use the larger pans for 4 loaves.
If this is your first time making bread, trying diving the recipe by 2 or even 4 to make a more manageable batch.
I would love to hear how your bread turns out!
- 4 cups boiling water
- 1 cup oatmeal*
- 1 cup ground flax*
- 1 cup wheatgerm*
- 1 cup bran*
- (*use whatever combination of grains you prefer to equal 4 cups)
- ½ cup vegetable oil
- ½ cup brown sugar
- 6 teaspoons salt
- 4 cups lukewarm water
- 4 teaspoons granulated sugar
- 4 tablespoons active dry yeast - not instant (each envelope of yeast is equivalent to 1 tablespoon if you are using the small packages)
- 8 cups whole wheat flour
- 8 cups all-purpose flour
- Additional flour if needed for mixing
- In large mixing bowl, pour boiling water over oatmeal, flax, wheatgerm, bran, oil, brown sugar and salt.
- Stir to combine and let sit until cooled to room temperature.
- Meanwhile, pour lukewarm water into a smaller bowl. Add sugar and stir to dissolve.
- Sprinkle the yeast over top and stir lightly.
- Let yeast stand for 10 minutes. It should be bubbly and foamy. Stir yeast into cooled oatmeal mixture.
- Stir together the whole wheat and all-purpose flour and add to yeast mixture all at once.
- Stir until all flour is moistened and dough is stiff. Turn it onto a floured surface for kneading. Knead for about 15 minutes, or until dough is elastic and smooth.
- You can mix the dough in a mixer if you have a dough hook. Divide the dough into three parts and knead each part separately for 7-8 minutes, the combine the tree parts after kneading.
- Grease the dough with butter or margarine, or rub with oil. Set in the large mixing bowl and cover with a clean towel. Let the dough rise for 1-1/2 hours or until it is doubled in size.
- Meanwhile, grease 4 (9"x5") or 6 (8"x4") bread pans.
- When the dough has doubled, release the air by pushing on it with your fingers.
- Turn the dough out of bowl, and divide into 4 or 6 pieces depending on what size pans you are using.
- Shape pieces into loaves and place in greased pans.
- Cover with towel and let rise again for about 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 360 degrees F.
- Place loaves in oven, and bake for 50-60 minutes, or until loaves are nicely browned and will turn out of pans easily.
- Cool on wire racks. Wrap in clean towels to create a softer crust.
- When bread is completely cool, freeze the unused loaves.