Tuesday, January 4, 2011

(Almost the) Best Whole Wheat Bread

I grew up eating homemade bread. It was delicious, but it was also so not like everyone's at school. It was a love-hate relationship.

Both my mother and my grandmother made bread regularly.  I remember having all sorts of homemade breads, rolls and biscuits. I learned at a very young age how to cut a straight slice of bread to make a sandwich. I am one of those people who can say “it’s the best thing since sliced bread” and truly mean it as a compliment.  But there is a joy to hand slicing homemade bread: a thick slice is a small meal in of itself, especially with a layer of butter or a drizzle of honey.

I had someone say to me a few years ago “you make bread?  I never knew you had a bread machine.”  They were dead serious.  It just never occurred to them that bread could be hand made. (Surely they just never thought of it, since daily bread pre-dates the industrial revolution by thousands of years.) I’ve always known the simple acts of mixing and kneading and rising and punching and rising and baking.

I have several bread recipes. A favorite is from a recipe card printed "From the recipe file of Helen Griffin" (my mother) with the recipe for Best Whole Wheat Bread in my grandmother's handwriting. I've made it, it is a very familiar bread, certainly a recipe they both used, or at least very close to it. That's a cool thing about it - it is the best tasting whole wheat bread, but it’s also an easily modified recipe. I adjusted down for size and had to alter some ingredients due to what I had on hand. When I made it last I accidentally tripled the yeast I meant to use (whoops!) and my oven got pretty wonky on me as far as heating up, but it came out ok.  Below is with the proper amount of yeast.  To make oat flour, put 5 minute oat meal in a food processor, blender or mini-chop.  It’ll turn in to flour in about 45 seconds.

In a small bowl, whisk together:
2 1/4 tsp yeast
1/4 cup warm water
1/2 tsp sugar

Mix well and set aside. It’ll smell yeast-y, this is a good thing.  In a big bowl, mix:

2 3/4 cup whole wheat flour
1/4 cup flaxseed flour
1/2 cup oat flour
1/2 cup all purpose flour
3/4 tsp salt

Then in a small-medium bowl, mix:

1 cup water
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 egg
2 tbsp olive oil

Add to the flour, along with the yeast, and mix well. Towards the end, it'll be hard to think you can keep incorporating the flour, it'll just be a big doughy ball, but keep trying, it'll all mix in.

Turn out onto a floured board, flour your hands and knead for 2 minutes.

Put into a clean bowl, bigger then the dough ball. Place in a warm spot, cover with a clean cloth (I use a linen napkin) and let rise about 45 minutes to an hour; it will double in size.

Punch down, roll into a loaf shape and place in a bread pan. Punch a bit more. Let rise, covered, again.

Place in a cold oven and turn it on to 400°. After 15 minutes reduce to 350° and "cook until done" as the recipe card says. The old way to tell is to knock on the loaf, if it sounds hollow, it’s done.

Try not to eat the whole loaf at once.  This will be difficult.


  1. I modified it too, over time, and got rid of the brown sugar and used Malt extract-(maltose, not sucrose) or molasses. I remember using soy flour, not flax seeds (different times, different thoughts on what was best)

    I am sure this recipe would adapt well to a slow cold (8 to 10 hours in the refrigerator) second rising too.

  2. the smells, taste, and memory of home made bread is one of my fondest from childhood, every week my father would make bread, I still have the bowls he used to make it. they are some of my most prized posessions. It is a powerful sense memory, and my mouth is watering thinking about having a fresh hot piece straight from the oven with some butter on it!!!!!!