Sunday, February 20, 2011

Improvisational Bread Making

For much the past year, I have been baking a loaf or two of bread a week. I know this sounds ambitious and difficult, but it's not. Infact, it is fairly easy, very healthy, affordable and fun.  I usually get it started on a Sunday afternoon, and it is done some time after dinner. My initial inspiration for this endeavor was my husband's sensitivity to wheat. I found myself at Trader Joe's stocking up on bags of the least expensive spelt bread around, but realized that I could make it more affordably myself, and that I'd be able to use a wider variety of grains so that it would be healthier for my family as well. I also find that when we make our own bread and we have to slice it our selves, rather than just grab a few slices out of a bag, it lasts longer and we eat less of it, so it is a win all around.  

Bread is the one food I have never cooked professionally, so I don't have a lot of skill or background knowledge in this area, but I have been making challah for years at home, so am comfortable with yeast and dough, and have found this weekly bread making to be fun. I'm sure I could benefit from some time in a professional bread bakery; my loaves are not the prettiest, and there is much room for improvement but, this fresh baked whole grain bread serves us just fine.

I start out with a set amount of warm water and yeast, but then I add various flours, leftover oatmeal, some beer or other interesting ingredients I might have in the house. This is not an exact science, and I urge you to only use this "recipe" if you are comfortable being uncertain of the outcome. I do want to share this however mostly to say that making bread does not need to be intimidating or difficult, just give it a try a few times and see what happens, you might be delightfully surprised, I know I am (almost) every week.

Basic Whole Grain Bread recipe - an improvisational technique
2 cups warm water
2 tablespoons dry active yeast
1 tablespoon honey or other sweetener (optional)
6 to 7 cups flour, more if needed*
1 1/2 tablespoons salt
 oil for greasing the pan
Optional: add seeds, such as flax, sunflower or pumpkin
*You can use a wide variety of flours in bread making. This can be made with all whole spelt or whole wheat flour, or you can use 3 cups whole spelt/wheat and then divide the rest of the flour between white spelt or white flour, a little millet, quinoa, or rye flours. The non-spelt or wheat flours make for a heavier bread, so you only want to use about a cup or so total for this recipe. When using spelt or other grain flours which contain less gluten, the bread will have more of a crumb texture than a lacy texture. If you add oatmeal or oil to your bread you will likely need more flour to help absorb the additional moisture.
  1. Put warm water in a large bowl or stand mixer bowl. Add honey (optional) and yeast. Stir and wait for yeast to proof (bubble) to know that it is working.
  2. Add 3 cups of flour, salt and any other ingredients you are using. Mix until dough starts to come together. If using an electric stand mixer, attach your dough hook at this point and star mixing on low. Add more flour and knead dough with the dough hook or by hand for about 10 minutes, until until you get a dough that pulls away from the sides of the bowl or stops sticking to the counter, but is still tacky or slightly sticky. If your dough gets too stiff you can add a table spoon or two of water. 
  3. place dough in a greased bowl, cover with a towel and set in a warm place to rise until doubled in size, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Remove dough from bowl, knead by hand about 5 times and shape into 1 large or two small loaves and place in a greased loaf pan*.  Cover with a towel and set in a warm place until the dough has risen a bit, or close to double in size. Brush the top with water, or egg and place in a preheated 350 degree oven and bake until golden and the bread sounds hollow when tapped, 45 to 60 minutes depending on the size. Let bread cool in the pan for 5 minutes and then turn it out to cool on a rack, or balanced across the pan (see below). 
*Recently I have been making one medium sized loaf and 6 rolls which are just rounds of dough baked on a cookie sheet. The rolls are fun just for some variety and they work great for egg sandwiches or kid sized treats.
 Let me know how your improvisational bread making goes, I hope you get some tasty results!


  1. I love making my own bread at home - not sure why more people don't do it. Sure..., it takes time for the dough to rise a couple of times, but your hands-on time is very short and you really only need 4 ingredients.

    I just read "Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day" and am going to give that technique a shot. The basic premise is you make a big batch of dough that can be kept in the refrigerator, and you break-off and bake a loaf as needed.

    There's nothing like a grilled cheese sandwich or French toast made with a few thick slices of homemade bread. Mmmmmmm. :)

  2. cool chris. I'll have to check out that book, sounds great. When I worked for the Big Green Truck Pizza, we could work with the dough like that, and i know that doug would flip if he saw 2 whole tablespoons of yeast in a recipe like this, since most bread uses much less, but I have found low gluten flours like spelt, millet etc to need a lot of help, and to not react well to prolonged periods in the fridge, although I have tried. It can really improve the flavor of a dough to let it age in the fridge. if you are using bread flour, then that is the way to go. thanks for reading and commenting!

  3. I love your info about more affordable healthy eating. We've been eating spelt and kamut rather than wheat lately, and I usually buy loaves from Whole Foods. They are around $5-6 each, but, inspired by your blog, I went looking at the price of spelt or kamut flour with the idea that I'd take a crack at making my own bread. Sadly, I don't see how I could save anything. The cheapest spelt flour I found was $7 for half a kilo, which isn't even enough for one loaf, right? How do you do it?

  4. I buy a 25 pound bag of spelt flour. It is about $30 dollars for the bag from my local health food store. not sure in pounds how much flour I use, but I think about 1.5 pound would be more than enough for this recipe and I get one large loaf and 6 buns or two medium loaves. -T