This whole wheat recipe is very simple and only takes about three hours from start to popping in the oven. I made one or two mistakes along the way, but I’ll advise you on how to improve the final product. The dough is very, very soft and tender, which will make those who prefer white bread more likely to like this recipe.
1. Skip this step if you are using store bought flour. We start with whole wheat berries, which I buy through our buying club. You can find out more about how to find a buying club in your area here.
I grind them in my whisper mill, which whispers about like an airplane taxiing down the runway.
Organic wheat berries and yeast are two ingredients I find much cheaper through the co-op. If you are going to bake much bread at all, you need to find a good source for bulk packages. Those dinky little packets of single measurements of yeast are going to kill your budget. Seriously, you are paying a ridiculous amount of money when you buy the little packets.
So, grind your flour.
2. Measure your flour and set it aside. You want about 10-12 cups. I like 100% whole wheat, but if you didn’t grind your flour, but buy it ground from a store, you can use all white, or mix it half and half. You should not usually use 100% store bought whole wheat flour, it gives your product a bitter taste (storebought flour has been sitting on the shelf, which makes whole wheat flour get a bitter taste as the oils go rancid).
3. Get out a very large bowl. Then add:
# 4 1/2 cups warm water (just barely hot to the touch)
# 3 packages active dry yeast- OR 3 scant tablespoons of yeast from a jar or 1 pound foil package (we store ours in the freezer)
# about 1/3 cup of honey
# 5 cups whole wheat flour
4. Stir this gently, and then leave it alone (perhaps cover your bowl with a towel) to ‘sponge’ for about thirty minutes. The dough should look light and slightly bubbly-a little like the top of a pancake just before you flip it, or a little like a sponge (those small air bubbles), which is why this step is called ‘sponging’.
5. Now stir in:
# 5 1/2 tablespoons butter, melted
# about 1/4 cup of honey
# 3 teaspoons of salt
# 4 -5 cups whole wheat flour
I added 2 eggs to mine because I thought it would be richer. I don’t think it was necessary after all, but aren’t those bright yolks pretty? We buy our eggs from friends who raise them. The Equuschick barters for hers, she trades vegetable scraps and so forth for eggs each week.
6. Mix well with a wooden spoon. Dough will be very soft and sticky. Now comes the tricky part. You want to add just a little less flour than you think you’re going to need. The key to good whole wheat bread is usually NOT to flour the board or your hands. I oil them, because whole wheat dough with too much flour makes a really hard, chewy, bread that tastes more like flour than bread. It’s not good.
But this is a very sticky dough, so you need both flour and oil. Add a couple more cups of flour to the dough and to your countertop, dump the dough out and knead in the flour- your hands will be incredibly sticky and you’ll have as much dough on them as you do on the counter. Add a bit more flour, knead some more, and when the dough is still pretty sticky, but starting to pull away from the counter (it still won’t be smooth), oil your hands well, and also the inside of the bowl, and gently knead the dough (push down with your palms at one end, fold the opposite end towards you, push down that end with your palms, fold the opposite end toward you, and repeat, basically roll one end of the dought over towards you, knead, roll again, like a conveyor belt) into a smoother, but still soft and slightly sticky ball of dough. Put the dough in your greased bowl, turning once to coat the surface of the dough with oil (this keeps it from drying out). Cover with a clean dishtowel or napkin. Let rise in a warmish place until doubled (about 30 minutes).
7. Now shape the bread. If you want loaves, you punch the dough down again, divide it into thirds, shape the loaf and put in greased 9 x 5 inch loaf pan. When I make loaves I use my fingers to press down the dough along the pan edges on all four sides- this helps give it that nice ‘loaf’ shape that is higher in the middle. If you want rolls, skip ahead to step 8. If you’ve shaped your bread into loaves, go to step 9.
9. Cover the loaves with a dish towel and leave it to rise until dough has topped the pan by about an inch. Depending on your yeast and humidity conditions, this will take between 1 – 2 hours.
8. I didn’t want loaves, I wanted rolls, so I shaped them accordingly:
I shape my rolls by picking up a biggish handful, quickly shaping it into a very rough log- more of an oblong, really. Then I squeeze the dough through a circle made by my thumb and forefinger, pinching off each roll and placing the roll pinched side down on a greased pan, then squeezing off another roll, and then another. If your hands are bigger you can probably get four or five rolls from an oblong, I get three.
This dough is already going to make really soft bread, and you make rolls even softer by putting them on the pan so their sides are just touching. My batch was softer still because I used white winter wheatberries instead of red. I prefer the heartier taste of red, but most people prefer the more delicate flavor of the white berries.
10. For loaves: Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 to 30 minutes. Lightly brush the tops of loaves with 1 tablespoon of melted butter when done to prevent crust from getting hard. Cool completely.
Because I was using the white wheat, I think my rolls would have done better if I had used jelly roll pans, with sides. As it was, they are good, but the outside rolls fell off the pan and they spread out a bit more than I would like.
Let rise about an hour and then bake at 350 degrees for about fifteen minutes.
11. Pull away a roll, cut in half, OR slice a chunk of loaf (using a serrated knife and a gentle sawing motion), slather with butter, eat, chewing slowly and savoring the soft, tender goodness of freshly baked whole wheat bread.