When I make homemade bread, I like to make quite a few loaves at once. I don’t have time to make bread more than once a week (and I don’t even make it that often) so I like to have a lot to show for the effort.
This recipe will make 4 loaves. But it’s too much dough for my stand mixer to handle so I make it by hand. I enjoy the process of starting with flour and yeast, then kneading the dough to form loaves. It feels rustic and wholesome and slow. Such a contrast to the rest of modern life.
Of course, nothing compares to pulling hot loaves from the oven and slathering butter over thick slices.
Homemade bread is easy to make, but it does take some time and a little bit of muscle too, if you’re doing it by hand. I’m going to take you through the whole process, so there are a lot more photos in this post than most of my posts.
Tomorrow, I’ll share how to make Whole Wheat Cinnamon Rolls with part of the dough.
Here are the ingredients you’ll need:
Technically, this isn’t whole wheat bread. I use a combination of whole wheat flour and white flour (preferably bread flour, but you can also use all purpose). Whole wheat flour by itself will bake up a very heavy loaf. You can add gluten to the mix to help the dough to rise, but I prefer to use white (bread) flour along with the wheat. I use about 6 cups of each.
You’ll also need yeast. I buy the jars of bread machine yeast. I use honey to add to the flavor and help the yeast rise. Butter helps the bread to keep a bit longer. You don’t have to use it, but it’s a nice addition. And of course, you’ll need salt and warm water, neither of which made it into the photo.
In a very large bowl, dissolve 4 Tbs. yeast in 5 cups warm water. The water should be about the temp of a baby’s bath water or about 85 degrees. Add a teaspoon of honey to the yeast and water. Stir with a wooden spoon.
When the yeast is dissolved, add the another 4 Tbs. honey, 4 tsp. salt, 8 Tbs. butter and 6 cups whole wheat flour.
Stir this vigorously for several minutes. You want it well mixed and you also want to give it a good workout. This makes combining the rest of the flour easier.
It should like like this after you stir it:
It should be very thick liquid that’s kind of stretchy. Sounds good, doesn’t it?
Now it’s time to add 6 cups of white flour.
Stir vigorously with a wooden spoon. This is going to be harder to mix, because you’ve added more flour. Work the flour in as much as you can with the spoon. When you can’t stir it very well and most of the flour is worked in, turn it out on a floured table or counter to knead it.
Step 4 – Kneading
Kneading is going to take a total of 10-15 minutes. Fold the dough over, smoosh it, give it a quarter turn and repeat. Continue to work flour in as needed. Keep your work surface floured too. As the dough becomes more elastic and smooth, you may only need flour on your hands and/or counter, just to keep it from sticking.
Here are some photos of the various stages of kneading:
1. This is right after I turned the dough out of the bowl. You can see that’s it’s a very rough ball.
2. After several minutes of kneading, it begins to form a better ball. It’s still rough at this stage and not very elastic.
3. The dough is getting smoother and more elastic, but it’s not quite there yet.
4. Finally, the dough forms a smooth ball. The dough is elastic and you only need enough flour to keep it from sticking to the counter.
Step 5 – Rising
Clean out the bowl you used to mix the dough. Spray it with cooking oil and place the ball of dough in the bowl. Flip the ball over so the oiled side is on top. Cover it with a clean cloth or towel. Set the bowl in a warm place – the top of the refrigerator, on the counter under a light, on top of the stove if the oven is on. If it’s a warm day, just sitting on the counter may be enough.
After about 1-2 hours, the dough will be doubled in size.
Punch the dough down. At this point you can choose to put it in pans or let it rise again. I usually put it in pans, but if I’m busy, I’ll let it rise a second time. It’s up to you.
Step 6 – Divide and bake
Use a sharp knife to cut the dough in half, then in half again. Grease 4 bread pans and shape the loaves. Place them in the pans. Cover and let rise about 30 minutes or until they’re doubled in size.
This much dough will make enough for 4 loaves of bread. I made 3 loaves and 2 pans of cinnamon rolls (how-to coming tomorrow).
Bake the loaves at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. They should sound hollow when done. You can also test the loaves with a cake tester. If it comes out clean, they’re done.
Cool the loaves completely for best slicing. But I recommend you only give them a few minutes out of the oven before slicing into a loaf. Slather with butter and enjoy!
You can freeze the loaves too. Just wrap tightly or put in a gallon size Ziploc freezer bag.
How to Make Whole Wheat Bread by Hand
- 4 Tbs. yeast
- 5 cups warm water
- 4 Tbs. + 1 tsp. honey
- 4 tsp. salt
- 8 Tbs. 1 stick butter, melted
- 6 cups whole wheat flour
- 6 cups bread flour
- In a very large bowl, dissolve the yeast in warm water with a teaspoon of honey. Stir with a wooden spoon.
- Add remaining honey, salt, butter and whole wheat flour.
- Stir vigorously with wooden spoon for several minutes.
- Add bread flour.
- Stir vigorously to combine the bread flour with other ingredients. When the dough forms a ball and you can't stir it any more, turn out onto a floured work surface.
- Knead the dough for 10-15 minutes.
- Clean the large bowl and oil it. Put the dough in the bowl and cover with a clean cloth. Let rise 1-2 hours or till doubled in size.
- Punch down the dough. Divide into 4 parts.
- Grease 4 loaf pans. Place dough in pans. Cover with cloth and let rise about 30 minutes till double in size.
- Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. Loaves should sound hollow when tapped or cake tester should come out clean.
- Remove from pans and cool.