Breaking Bread

Several months ago, Steve made homemade soft pretzels. They are so delicious. Everyone who has tried one agrees with me. He made the dough, let it rise, shaped it into pretzels and baked them. That got me thinking. If he can make homemade pretzels, why can’t we make homemade bread? The next day, I made my first attempt.

I followed a recipe to make wheat bread. The recipe claims that it makes 2 loaves of bread, so I followed the instructions and divided the risen dough and made 2 loaves. It did make 2 loaves, but they were very short loaves, not at all usable for sandwich bread. Over the last couple of months, I have tried different recipes and different permutations of the same recipe. Recently, I didn’t have time to make any bread, so we just picked up a loaf from the grocery store. Steve asked why my bread doesn’t come out as soft as the store-bought kind.

He was right. My bread is chewier, so I did a little research and had an aha! moment. My recipe calls for all-purpose flour and wheat flour. I’ve been substituting bread flour for the all-purpose flour for a long time, assuming that by using bread flour, I will actually produce bread that is more “bread-like”. Google has taught me that bread flour has a higher gluten level than all-purpose flour and the end result is a chewier texture. That’s why bread flour isn’t used to make cakes and other baked goods. This weekend, I used all-purpose flour and the result was soft wheat bread. I did use a good quality all-purpose flour (King Arthur), which I would recommend for all baking.

Below is the recipe. Don’t be intimidated. It is actually very easy and the resulting product is fresh bread without preservatives. Homemade bread also has a much longer shelf-life than store-bought bread. Translation – it takes a good 3 weeks before the mold starts.

Wheat Bread

3 cups all-purpose flour
1 tbsp yeast
1/3 cup packed brown sugar
1/3 cup shortening or butter
1 ¼ tsp salt
1 ¾ cup warm (120 degree) water
2 cups wheat flour

1. Using a mixer, stir together 2 cups of the all-purpose flour and yeast.
2. Combine brown sugar, shortening, and salt in the warm water. Add to flour and yeast mixture and mix on high-speed for 30 seconds constantly scraping down sides of bowl. Mix on medium speed for 3 minutes.
3. Add 2 cups wheat flour and stir into mixture.
4. Add additional just under 1 cup of all-purpose flour. Your mixer may not be able to integrate this last cup of flour into the mixture. You can incorporate it into the dough during the kneading process.
5. Knead dough until smooth and elastic (approximately 8 minutes). I knead by hand. My mixer just can’t handle kneading dough. If yours can, you may need to shorten the kneading time.
6. Make into a dough ball and put into a greased bowl, cover, and let rise in a warm place (top of the fridge works for me) for an 1 ½ hours.
7. Punch dough down. Take ¾ of the dough. Roll out into a rectangle. Roll up like a log and pinch ends and seam closed. Put into a greased loaf pan and cover. Do the same for the smaller dough portion.
8. Let loaves rise for 45 minutes, then bake at 375 degrees uncovered for ~25 minutes (or until golden brown and hollow-sounding when you tap the top).
9. Remove from pans and cool on a wire rack, then store in an air tight container.
(To give credit where credit is due, this recipe originates from the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook.)

You may be asking, “What do I do with the smaller loaf?” I use it to make croutons. We eat salads most nights, and homemade croutons are a great addition. Cube the smaller loaf. Toss with oil and any seasoning combination that sounds appealing (I use garlic powder, onion powder, salt, and parmesan cheese). Spread cubes on a cookie sheet and bake at 400 degrees for about 10-15 minutes. You can also cube it and feed it to the ducks. 🙂


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