We seem to go through a fair amount of bread in our house and so a few months ago I made a commitment to skip the bread isle at the grocery store and develop a simple, healthy recipe that I could build into my weekly food prep routine. This bread is full of whole grain goodness, is simple to make, fairly forgiving, easy to modify (according to the ingredients you have on hand) and freezes well. It’s a rustic-looking loaf that is obviously homemade but it doesn’t contain any of the preservatives or stabilizers that commercial breads do.
1/2 cup lukewarm water
2 tbsp quick-rise or instant yeast
2 tsp honey
4 cups warm water (or milk, or buttermilk if you want a really moist loaf)
3 tablespoons oil (olive oil works well)
3 tablespoons honey
1 tbsp sea salt
10 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 cup ground flax seed
1/2 cup oat flour or multigrain mix (I use Red River Cereal that I keep in a bag in my freezer, specifically for this purpose)
4 or 5 loaf pans and some butter for greasing them.
1/2 cup – 2/3 cup flour (for kneading)
Start by activating the yeast. Pour 1/2 cup warm water in a bowl with 2 tsp honey and the yeast. Stir it around briefly just to make sure the water and honey are combined and the yeast is submerged in the liquid. Set this aside for a few minutes.
Get out your biggest, deepest bowl and to it add the 4 cups water, salt, oil and 3 tablespoons of honey.
Stir it around with a fork to break up the eggs into the mixture. Don’t worry if it looks a little weird. It will all come together soon.
Add 4 cups of the whole wheat flour and stir it together with the wet ingredients. Once it’s combined, add the ground flax seed and the multigrain mix. If you want, feel free to experiment with these amounts. This dough will be able to hold up to about 2 cups of these add-ins, but you’ll have to decrease the amount of flour you add accordingly (so, 9 cups flour, 1 cup flax and 1 cup multigrain mix, for example), and you may find your bread is a little more crumbly because it will contain less gluten to hold it all together.
Stir in the flax seed and the multigrain mix to combine. At this point you’ll have a wet batter resembling the texture of muffin batter.
Add the rest of the flour (6 cups) 2 cups at a time, stirring between each addition.
Toward the end the mixture will become very difficult to stir so after all the flour has been added and you’ve stirred it in as best you can, dump the mixture out onto a large, clean counter-top (dust the counter with flour first).
Flour your hands and begin the kneading process. When kneading bread dough, always start by putting your hand under the edge of the dough farthest away from you and pulling it up and toward you. Then, push it down and away from you, and into the rest of the dough. Keep repeating this motion while turning the dough 90 degrees clockwise every few kneads. It’s also important to scoop up the doughy and floury bits on the counter and knead them into the dough as well. The goal is to end up with a smooth and elasticy ball of dough.
to add a very little bit at a time to avoid adding too much.
When your dough looks like the photo above it may be tempting to stop kneading. However, you can probably see that the dough still looks rough in places, and at this point it would have torn easily rather than stretched if I had tugged at it.
Under-kneading is a very common problem when making bread by hand and it results in loaves that are rock hard on the outside, too dense on the inside, and don’t get enough height in the oven. It’s almost impossible to over-knead bread when you’re kneading by hand because it’s such hard work. So if you think you’ve kneaded long enough, keep kneading for at least another 5 minutes.
Before you let the dough rise it should be smooth and elastic (it should bounce back fairly easily as you’re kneading it). The photo below shows the dough ready to rise after about 15 minutes of kneading.
Return the dough to its bowl, cover it with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm, draft-free place until it doubles in size. My kitchen is warm and draft-free and I let it rise for about 2 hours.
Until it looked like this…
This recipe makes 4 large loaves or 5 medium loaves, so grease the number of loaf pans you’ll be using with butter or margarine before you do anything with this beautiful dough. A word to the wise: don’t grease your pans with canola oil or olive oil. You run the risk of the bread sticking (this has happened to me many times), at least in places, and do you really want to risk ruining a loaf or bread or two after you’ve just spent 15 minutes kneading dough and over two hours letting it rise?? Didn’t think so…
Flour your hands again and punch the dough down until it deflates completely. Divide the dough evenly into 4 or 5 pieces (depending on how many loaves you’re making) and shape each piece into a loaf. To do this, simply create a smooth surface on top by pulling the edges down and under until you’ve created an elongated ball of dough.
And after shaping…
Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the loaves under a clean tea towel (I have a few I reserve just for this purpose) and let them rise for 25 minutes.
Check them after 15 minutes, to make sure they haven’t over-risen. If they’re ok, wait at least another 10 minutes before checking again. They should be larger than they were 25 minutes earlier, but not so large that they’re overflowing the pans.
This second rise is very important. If the loaves under-proof they’ll be dense and chewy. If they over-proof, they’ll have large wholes (especially right under the crust) and they’ll fall apart easily.
Bake the loaves at 400 degrees for about 20-25 minutes. Because every oven is different, watch the loaves after 18 minutes to ensure they’re not becoming too brown on top.
Once yours look to be about the colour of mine in the photo below, they’re probably ready.
Let the loaves cool in their pans for about 5 minutes before turning them out onto a cooling rack to cool completely.
As always, the loaves will continue to bake on the inside even after you’ve removed them from the heat of the oven, so it’s important to resist the urge to cut into them until they have cooled almost completely.
Of course, they don’t look like they were made in a professional bakery but they are delicious and healthy, and you know exactly what’s in them.
When you finally do cut into a loaf, this is exactly the kind of even texture you should see:
These loaves freeze wonderfully, and if you make 5 loaves out of the recipe they should each fit into a medium-sized freezer bag. Making 5 loaves at once may seem excessive, but it really saves time since I only make bread every 2-3 weeks.
I hope you enjoy this recipe, and let me know how the bread-making process goes for you!!