I have been baking bread for decades. There is no way to make bread that I haven’t tried.
I’ve worn out a bread machine completely. Bread machines are fine. Mine was a Zojirushi (an earlier version of the one pictured above), which is a fairly high-end machine. The drawback to them, and the reasons I never replaced it, involve two things. First, they aren’t any good for anything else and they’re big. But more importantly, you put the ingredients in the bread machine and then you shut the lid and you can’t feel the dough.
Flour absorbs a different amount of moisture depending on several things. One is how much moisture is in the wheat in the first place. And second is how humid the air is.
I like to have a way to tell if the dough is right. For years, that meant actually hand-kneading it.
I’ve tried no-knead breads. They’re fine, too, I guess. I never did any of them more than once.
We like bread to be something that we can slice and use to make a sandwich, not a crusty round-shaped loaf. If I want that, I know how to get it, but for daily use, we want a regular loaf of bread with a much softer crust and even crumb.
I’ve made bread about a million times totally by hand. This, in fact, was my go-to method for many years. Kneading by hand. I own a very large stainless-steel bowl that I used for that purpose almost exclusively. I mixed the dough in it and kneaded it right there.
In all that bread-making, with all those bazillion loaves, I still had problems with the way homemade bread behaves, how it feels when you slice it, and most importantly, how it tends to tear and crumble when you spread it with peanut butter. There is a different texture to store-bought bread, and it’s a texture that both Dave and I prefer.
That doesn’t mean that we didn’t eat the bread I made. We did. We just got used to having peanut butter sandwiches with torn places in the bread. But always I had the idea that it could be better. The store bakery does something I wasn’t doing.
So, I tried all sorts of things. There are lots of blogs and websites that purport to help you, like this.
More about this later on.
One day, about three years ago, I decided that I wanted a mixer. Maybe. Mostly, I thought I wanted a nice pretty Kitchen Aid. I looked at them. I read about them. I wanted one.
But while I was reading about them, I kept seeing them being compared to other stand mixers.
And one of those was a Bosch.
I remembered years ago that a friend of mine had one of these, and I knew it was a quality, good machine. But it’s not pretty like that beautiful yellow Kitchen Aid. I wanted the Kitchen Aid. The Bosch just looks like a white lump.
There were drawbacks to both machines, from my viewpoint.
The Kitchen Aid will knead bread, but I read too many accounts of people who blew the motor doing so. There were lots of caveats about whole wheat flour. You’ll see in a minute why I had a big problem with this.
The Bosch doesn’t care one bit about whole wheat, but that Bosch doesn’t do one loaf of bread very well. It’s made to knead a lot of flour. Small quantities don’t work so well. Besides, it’s overkill. I don’t want to bake four loaves of bread at once. I want one.
Then I found this.
It’s pathetic looking. It looks like a child’s toy. It looks like a piece of plastic junk. Seriously. Even out of the box, in real life, it looks and feels like a joke. And compared with the other two mixers, it’s cheap.
It’s not a joke.
It is hands-down the best mixer I have ever owned and it has kneaded whole wheat bread about twice a week for about three years. If it died tomorrow, I would go into mourning, have a memorial service and order another one immediately.
You can’t do four loaves of bread in it. You can do two. I have never done two. I have done a large loaf once or twice (about 1 1/2 times what I usually do) but that’s as much whole wheat flour as I’ve tested. You’ll notice that the motor has half the watts of the bigger Bosch. I don’t push it.
This, by the way, is the top-selling stand mixer in Europe.
So here’s how I make bread, combining everything I’ve learned the hard way.
I measure very few ingredients, but one I’m accurate about is water. The more water, the more flour will be required and the bigger the loaf will be. We prefer to have loaves that are slightly smaller and more compact.
I use 1 1/4 cups of water. But I divide that. I heat 1/2 cup of that water to near-boiling and put it in the mixer bowl. To that, I add about a tablespoon of fat.
What is pictured there is ghee, but it really doesn’t matter. Butter is fine. Lard is fine. I don’t know about oil as I’ve never bothered with it.
I put the ghee in the hot water so it will melt. While it’s melting, I grind the wheat.
The wheat I’m using is hard white spring wheat. The type of wheat is important. It makes a lot of difference in how the bread turns out. Here’s a web page evaluating the various types of wheat used for bread.
Not surprisingly, the author favored the red wheat. We like the white. The only real difference in the two is color and taste, as the red wheat has more whole wheat taste to it. White wheat tastes more like white bread, sort of. Nutritionally, they are virtually identical.
One note: I have made whole wheat bread with flour from the store. It’s possible. It’s also not as good as freshly-ground wheat. I don’t grind wheat ahead of time. I grind it as I use it. It’s one time when fresh is definitely best. If you choose to try all this using flour from the store, go light with it at first. Not much of it, unless your family likes dense bricks.
Note: God, the floor. Dave is ripping up the floor in that room and preparing to extend the hardwood you see in the hall into there. I may be dead before he’s finished.
This is my grain mill.
When I bought mine, I ordered it directly from the manufacturer. I called there to see if they had any seconds or “blems.” To my astonishment, the owner answered the phone and we had a lovely conversation. And yes, he had a blem and I bought it for a lot less than the Amazon price. I’ve never figured out what the blemish was.
It’s quite simply the best grain mail made, period. It will outlive me and probably all of you and all your children and maybe your grandchildren.
It’s manual, but can be motorized although you’d have to be a little crazy to do that, I think. I am elderly and I can turn the handle just fine.
For bread, I turn the handle 200 times. I have never measured it. I suppose it’s about 2 1/2 cups, maybe three, of flour. It takes about 5 minutes or so to do that.
Meanwhile, the ghee has melted.
At this point, I pour in the remaining water, cold, 3/4 cup, and start the mixer on low.
Salt. I don’t measure it except using the method shown. What is that? Maybe 1/2 tsp.
This is wheat gluten, as you can see. It looks like flour, actually. It comes in a giant bag.
I put three tablespoons in the bowl, one for each cup of flour (approximately, since I really don’t know how much flour I’m using). As you can see, I keep a small amount in the cupboard and store the big bag in the freezer. A bag like that lasts a long time.
Yeast needs something to eat, so I put in a spoonful of sugar. Any sweetener will work, even the very last bit of jam in the bottom of that jar in the fridge. It does not flavor the bread. It just feeds the yeast.
I pretty much measure the sugar. Too much would make sweet bread and I don’t want that.
Yeast. I buy the huge containers of it (restaurant size if I can find them) and store it in the freezer. It lasts for years and years. That small jar lives in the refrigerator. One loaf of bread requires one teaspoon and I do measure it.
So far, if you’ve ever done much baking, you’re probably yawning.
But this is the secret ingredient.
This is dough conditioner. This is how commercial bakeries do it.
It’s a great big can. Four pounds. Notice when I last bought it? I store it in the freezer along with the gluten. It’s the same amount as the gluten but I use only a fraction of the amount so it lasts for years. In my case, it might be a lifetime supply.
Yes, it’s “chemicals.” I do not care. What it does to the bread is practically miraculous.
Here are the ingredients:
NUTRITIONAL FACTS for HONEYVILLE DOUGH CONDITIONER
Serving size…3 tsp Serving per container…150
Per serving…40 cal Total Fat…5gr,Sat. Fat…1g, Trans Fat…0g, Cholesesterol…0 mg, Sodium…150 mg, Total Carb…5g, Dietary Fiber…0g, Sugar…0g, Protein…1g INGREDIENTS: Wheat enriched Flour, ascorbic acid, Calcium Sulfate, L-cysterne hydrochloride, dextrose. mono and didyscerides, salt, tricalcium phosphate, enzymes.
Oh, nooooooes. We’re all gonna die. I can’t even pronounce some of those. I’m laughing. You know I’m laughing.
This is great stuff.
If you look online, you’ll find all sorts of “natural food” sites warning you that this will kill you. If you want to believe them, then you will just have not-perfect bread. That’s okay with me. I’m gonna stick with perfect.
I put 1 teaspoon per cup of flour (in my case, that’s 3 teaspoons in the bowl). Yes, I measure it pretty carefully. I want that can to last as long as possible because it costs about $25.
And finally, the freshly ground flour.
At this point, I did a little video so you could see the mixer do its thing.
We left the bread rising as you see.
Rising takes a couple of hours, depending on how cool the house is. I made this bread on a chilly day. We had a fire in the wood stove, so it was fairly warm in the kitchen, making for a slightly short rise time than usual.
There’s the dough in the pan. I don’t do any very elaborate shaping of the dough. I just punch it down, wad it up, shape it like a submarine and plop it in the pan.
Another hour or two and it will go in the oven.
Ready for the oven. It will rise a little more in the oven, so I try not to let it get away from me before I get it in there, although it sometimes happens.
Our wood cook stove. That’s where I baked this loaf of bread. It was a chilly day, and we had a fire. The large white dial on the right shows the approximate temperature of the oven. It’s not the most accurate thing on earth but gives some idea of what it is. It’s reading right at 300 degrees. I like it hotter than that for bread, but you take what you can get with a wood stove.
In the regular oven, I bake bread at 350 degrees for 35 to 40 minutes.
In the wood stove, well, it’s a little more hit and miss.
I have never actually tested this thing. I just know that once it gets to a minimum of 300 degrees, I can bake bread. Other stuff is more forgiving.
I put some small wood on the fire so it won’t lose heat and then preheat the oven.
Preheating the oven just means pulling that knob out in the position you see. That opens a damper and makes the hot air flow down and around the oven before exiting through the chimney. Preheating takes only a few minutes to do.
So it goes in. It’s a nice sized oven, actually larger than the oven on the regular stove. The heat circulates around all four sides, and it cooks very evenly. This is an Amish-made stove and has heated our whole house for about a decade now, as well as baking and cooking who knows how many meals.
There’s the baked loaf. See how much it rose in the oven?
That’s after a bake time of about 40 minutes.
After baking, I sometimes (maybe mostly) pop the loaf without the pan back in the hot oven for about 5-10 minutes. That just firms up the crust along the sides and bottom a little bit. It’s not a requirement, and I don’t always do it.
The finished loaf, cooling. This is when I have to leave the kitchen. Otherwise, I will cut a heel slice (my favorite) and pile on some butter and let it melt.
Time required: several hours.
My time: less than 10 minutes to grind the wheat, another five to dump everything in the mixer and start it, a few minutes to monitor the mixer and add white flour as needed. And then a minute or two to shape the loaf after rising and another minute to put it in the oven. Mostly, it’s something that is just there, needing to be done.
I have done this so often and so regularly that I hardly think about it anymore. Most of the time, I make bread while I’m cleaning the kitchen, so by the time I have the dishes done, the mixer is done.
I do try to remember to set a timer so I don’t forget it and leave it to rise for four hours (!!!) but usually, I just see it as I walk through the kitchen and plop it out, or turn on the oven or whatever.
In terms of cost, it’s inexpensive after you have plunked down the plastic for all those appliances. The bread itself costs just pennies. The accumulated appliances run the cost up to about $10 per loaf.
That’s a joke. I really have no idea and don’t care.
Somebody will inherit all that stuff because it will outlive me, and I just hope they grind wheat, make bread, and live happily.