If you know me, you know that I am, always have been, and always will be a bread fanatic. It’s one of my favorite foods and, for me, nothing beats the smell, texture, and taste of freshly baked homemade bread.
I began baking bread when I was 8 years old to sell at our church as a fundraiser so I could go to camp. Little did I realize that I’d just begun a life-long love affair with the art of baking. I love trying new recipes and discovering tricks and shortcuts but I can also be a little stubborn when I have a favorite.
I decided to start baking my family’s bread when I was pregnant with #2. Not only was it something I enjoyed but I felt that it was a small way that I could contribute to our family’s health. We had just moved to San Diego and began attending a wonderful little church who immediately made us feel at home. An older woman heard that I was baking all of our bread and insisted that I had to have her bread recipe. Although I tried to accept it gracefully, the know-it-all in me was immediately disgruntled because I already had a great bread recipe. I felt very confident in my baking skills and didn’t need an old recipe from some 1960’s cookbook. With a sigh, I decided to just give it a try so I could honestly answer that “Yes I tried it” when questioned about it at church.
It was WONDERFUL. It was soft, easy, and full of flavor. And I was really humbled. Learning is a life-long process and I should have realized that an 80-something year-old woman might just know a thing or two about a good recipe! Although I have made several adaptations, I wish I knew the cookbook this recipe came from so that I could site it. This is my very favorite bread recipe that I go back to time and time again. There are several reasons it’s an all-star.
- It makes 3 loaves in one batch. This is the perfect amount to see us through 2 weeks. I only have to bake our bread twice a month.
- It only has one true “rise”. You do let the dough “rest” for 15 minutes after you mix it up but it sure beats letting it rise for a whole hour the first time. It’s amazing how much difference this makes!
- It has never failed me. The only time it has messed up is when I thought I had the recipe memorized and I kept shorting the recipe by a whole cup of water. Silly me!
Are you ready to give this one a try? I promise – it does NOT disappoint!
EMILY’S FAVORITE BREAD RECIPE
1-3/4 cups warm water, 105˚-115˚
3 packages of yeast (or if you buy the jar: 2 Tbs + 3/4 tsp)
1 cup of milk
1/2 cup orange juice
1/2 cup (one stick) butter (yes this seems like a lot of fat but remember it’s spread out over 3 loaves!)
1/2 cup honey
1/4 cup brown sugar (I really like sucanat in baked goods)
2 Tbs salt
3/4 cups potato flakes (or you can use leftover mashed potatoes)
8-10 cups of whole wheat flour (if you’re milling grains, I recommend using 5-7 cups hard white wheat berries)
**If you’re not ready to use 100% whole wheat flour you can just start with 3 cups of whole wheat and use all-purpose flour for the rest**
- Add water and yeast to your mixing bowl to “proof”. Sometimes I like to sprinkle a pinch of sugar to give it a good start.
- Pour the milk into a 2-cup measuring cup and scald for 2 minutes in the microwave. (Yes, sometimes I’m lazy like that but if the microwave horrifies you, you can definitely scald the milk in a small saucepan)
- Add the honey and brown sugar to the milk and mix until well combined.
- Cut the butter into slices and add to the warm milk mixture. Stir and let the butter melt in the milk. It’s no biggie if it’s not all the way melted – it all mixes in just fine. **Update 10/29/12** Make sure that the milk mixture is not hot when you add it to the yeast. Hot temperatures kill yeast! The butter helps to cool down the mixture when you stir it in so make sure you use chilled butter slices and don’t melt the butter with the milk in the microwave.
- Pour the milk mixture into your mixing bowl with the proofed yeast.
- Add orange juice, potato flakes, and 1 cup of whole wheat flour.
- Add in your 2 Tbs of salt (adding it after some flour helps to keep it from killing the yeast)
- Once everything is mixed well, add 3 cups of whole wheat flour.
- This is also about the time you can add a little “helper” or two, if you’d like. A dash of ground ginger is loved by yeast and helps to make your bread lighter and fluffier. About 3 Tbs. of vital wheat gluten can help to strengthen the elastic structure of your bread and makes a softer loaf. Vital wheat gluten is also very important if you’re adding low-gluten grain flour such as oat.
- If you are using a stand mixer, change from the paddle attachment to the dough hook attachment. Continue adding flour in 1/2 cup increments until the texture of your dough is smooth and elastic and cleans the side of the bowl.
- If you are mixing by hand, add flour 1 cup at a time until it is too stiff to stir. Turn out dough onto a well-floured surface and knead for about 8-10 minutes, adding flour as needed, until dough is smooth and elastic.
- Cover dough and let rest for 15 minutes.
- Grease 3 loaf pans.
- Separate dough into 3 parts and, one at a time, gently flatten into a rectangle on a lightly-floured surface. (I used to roll them flat with a rolling pin but have found that shaping with my hands has been easier and better for the bread.)
- Roll your loaf up from the bottom of the rectangle making sure there are no air pockets.
- Pinch the seam closed.
- Gently pull the ends of the bread in towards the seam and pinch them closed as well.
- Set the loaf seam-side down into a loaf pan and grease the top with shortening. Repeat to make the other 2 loaves.
- Let loaves rise in a warm place, covered, for 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 hours or until they’re about doubled. Depending on where we’ve lived this time has varied vastly. Just peek in on them after about an hour and if they’ve risen well, feel free to start warming up the oven.
- Preheat the oven to 350˚.
- Bake for 25-30 minutes. When the bread is done, the tops will be nicely browned and will sound hollow when tapped.
- Here’s the most important part: Butter the top of your loaves when you pull them out of the oven. It helps keep the crust soft and just looks so pretty!
- Cool bread for a few minutes in the pans and then turn out onto a cooling rack to cool the rest of the way.
- We usually slice one loaf and freeze the other 2 until they’re ready to use. I just put them in plastic bread bags and get as much air out as possible, then wrap them in foil, and pop them in the freezer. Fresh bread whenever you need it!
I don’t have any handy tips for slicing bread except having a long-bladed serrated bread knife. Otherwise, practice makes perfect! Besides, it’ll taste so good that no one is going to complain when their slice is extra thick.