Today’s Recipes: Whole Wheat Bread and Molasses Wheat Bread
Go ahead and call me crazy. One of the first things I decided to make when I was teaching myself to cook was homemade bread. I figured it would probably not turn out the first few times I made it, since everything takes practice to perfect. But I was lucky and it turned out great on the very first try! I immediately fell in love with the smell and feel of yeast dough.
Making bread is very sensual. Nothing else feels quite like fresh dough. It starts out so sticky that you can barely get it off your fingers, but as you knead it, it becomes smooth and silky. There is a tremendous sense of accomplishment as you watch it change from flour and water into a smooth dough, then you watch it rise, and finally bake into the most delicious bread you’ve ever tasted. I wish everyone could feel the satisfaction of making your own bread. It is a lost art for most people, but I hope you will give it a try.
Yeast is alive – it is tiny living organisms that need sugars to grow. Proofing the yeast means you add liquid and sugar to the yeast and the mixture bubbles up showing they are alive and working. You can kill yeast with water that is too hot. If the yeast doesn’t get enough warmth and sugar it won’t activate. If it doesn’t bubble up, throw it out and start over again. Make sure your liquid isn’t too hot. If your recipe calls for a slow rise (or fermentation), it is because retarding the growth of the yeast yields better flavor, texture, and a moister end product with larger holes.
The texture of bread is controlled by four conditions: the type of flour, amount of fat used, the amount of liquid, and the method of mixing. Depending on the choices you make, you can have a soft, smooth bread or one with large holes and a lot of chewiness.
You hear a lot about gluten in the news today. It is the protein component in wheat flours that creates the structure, strength, and chewy characteristic of bread. As the proteins are worked (kneaded) they merge into long, flexible strands which trap gas being released by the yeast, causing the dough to expand and rise. Some flours, like cake flour have a low protein content which gives you a tender cake or biscuits. Bread flour is at the opposite end of the spectrum and contains a high percentage of protein or gluten.
The fat that you add (butter, oil, or shortening) prohibits the protein fibers from sticking together. The more fat in the dough, the more tender and less chewy the bread will be. Cakes have a lot of butter in them and are very tender. If gluten doesn’t come in contact with liquid, it cannot expand and fully develop. If the dough doesn’t have enough liquid it will be tough. To get a tender piecrust, use as little water as possible to hold it together and don’t overwork the dough.
The more you handle, mix, and knead the dough, the more the gluten develops. You want to knead bread dough a long time to fully develop the gluten, but when you make biscuits you handle the dough as little as possible to keep them tender. When you make pie dough, recipes often tell you to let it rest in the refrigerator. This allows the gluten to relax which makes the dough more tender and easier to work with.
Armed with this information, you can make the type of baked good you want. A nice, chewy bread or a tender biscuit!
Jane’s Tips and Hints:
Don’t let your fears keep you from trying to make bread. Expect that it won’t be perfect the first few times, but the unbelievable smell of bread baking and the flavor you get from a yeast dough will be enough to keep you coming back for more! These days with the advent of bread machines, you can very easily whip up a quick loaf and enjoy it for dinner in a few hours. Give it a try and you will thank me!
Kitchen Skill: How to Knead Dough
Place dough on a floured surface. Using a rocking motion, press the heels of your hands into the dough, moving them away from your body. Pull the top of the dough toward you, folding it over. Turn the dough a quarter turn and repeat. Keep kneading until dough is smooth and elastic and less sticky. Use as much flour as you need to, to keep it from sticking to the board and your hands. Depending on how long you keep it in your mixer, it can take up to 10 minutes of kneading to sufficiently develop the gluten.
- 3 cups lukewarm water (no hotter than 110°F to 114°F - use an instant read thermometer to monitor temperature)
- 1 tbsp active dry yeast
- 1 tbsp salt
- 1/2 cup firmly packed dark brown sugar
- 1 cup dark molasses
- 1 cup vegetable or canola oil
- 4 cups whole-wheat flour
- 8 cups all-purpose flour, divided, plus 1 cup if needed
- Melted butter, optional
- Put the lukewarm water in a large bowl and add yeast, salt, and brown sugar, whisking to dissolve. Cover and let proof 1 hour until mixture is thickened and cracking on top.
- Stir in molasses and oil until combined, and then stir in whole-wheat flour and 7 cups of the all-purpose flour. Stir until mixture forms a dough. Knead dough by hand on a floured surface, kneading in enough of the remaining flour to form a smooth and elastic dough (about 10 minutes). It will no longer feel sticky or need additional flour.
- If you have a heavy-duty mixer, use the dough hook and knead the dough until it cleans the sides of the bowl and climbs the dough hook. The timing will vary depending on the strength of your mixer, the type of flour you are using, and the moisture in the air. Remove the dough from the mixer and place on a lightly floured work surface. Finish kneading by hand until smooth and satiny.
- Transfer to an oiled bowl, turning to coat thoroughly with the oil. Cover loosely with a clean kitchen towel or piece of plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until tripled in volume (about 3 to 4 hours). Gently press the dough down in the center then fold the sides in toward the center. Turn the dough over and reshape into a smooth ball. Place back in the bowl. Cover and let rise again until tripled in volume (about 1 hour).
- Set rack in lower third of oven and Preheat to 300°F. Butter 1 or 2 baking sheets; set aside.
- Divide dough in half. Form each half into a loaf shape about 14-inches long. Place on a buttered baking sheet. Cover loosely and let rise again 30 to 40 minutes or until doubled in size.
- Brush tops with melted butter if desired. Bake 1 to 1-1/4 hours or until loaves are nicely browned and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom.
- Cool on a wire rack then store, wrapped tightly in plastic wrap, up to 4 days in the refrigerator or cover plastic wrap with aluminum foil and freeze for up to 2 months. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator for bread that tastes freshly baked.
- Yield: 2 large loaves.
- If you don’t have the time to wait for yeast bread to rise, you can try this wheat bread which is leavened with baking powder and soda. Similar to an Irish soda bread, it is great for sandwiches, with butter and jam, or just plain. You can freeze the second loaf to enjoy it later.
- 1/4 cup flax seeds
- 3/4 cup canola oil, plus more for pans
- 4 cups whole-wheat flour
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 2 tsp baking powder
- 2 tsp baking soda
- 1-1/2 tsp salt
- 3 cups buttermilk
- 3/4 cup blackstrap molasses
- 2/3 cup toasted wheat germ
- Grind flax seeds in a spice mill or a clean coffee grinder until fine. Set aside.
- Heat oven to 375°F; with rack in center. Lightly grease two 9-by-4 1/2-inch loaf pans with oil.
- In a large bowl, sift or whisk together whole-wheat flour, all-purpose flour, baking powder, baking soda, and salt. Add canola oil, buttermilk, and molasses, and stir until well blended. Stir in wheat germ and reserved flax seeds. Divide batter evenly between the two prepared pans. Even out tops with a spatula.
- Bake until a cake tester inserted in the middle comes out clean, about 45 minutes. Remove from oven, and transfer to a cooling rack. The bread may be frozen, double-wrapped in plastic wrap, up to 3 weeks, or refrigerated up to 1 week.
- Yield: 2 loaves