January 22, 2012

How to make bread: Honey Whole Wheat

Yesterday we got our first 'real' 'snow' here in Philadelphia, which meant an evening holed up in our little casa, a fire in the stove, and fresh bread in the oven!

This is one of my favorite recipes, that I've been tweaking here and there for the past few years.  At first I was skeptical, as there is no resting time for the yeast in warm water, which is how my mom always started bread, but I promise, it works!

Oatmeal Toasty Awesome Yummy Bread

4 cups HOT water (I heat it in a kettle)
2 1/2 cups old fashioned oats (not quick oats)
1/2 cup wheat bran, I sometimes add some ground flax as well
1/2 cup honey (the original post calls for brown sugar, but I am obsessed with honey)
1/2 stick of butter

1 tablespoon dry active yeast
6-7 cups whole wheat flour, bread flour is best

Old dough (I'll explain in a bit)

Combine oats, wheat bran, honey and butter in a large bowl.  Add the hot water and stir until combined and let it sit until it's about 80 degrees, about 30 minutes.

In a separate bowl, combine the yeast and 2 cups of flower and mix it into the oat mixture.  Continue stirring in flower, one cup at a time, until a soft dough forms.  You might use 4 cups, you might use more or less, just use your best judgement.

Transfer to a floured surface and knead for at least 8 minutes (use them muscles!).  You'll have a beautiful warm ball of dough:

Cover the dough with the bowl and let it sit for 20 minutes.  This is when the yeast grows and eats and becomes happy.

Knead in salt and the old dough at this point for about 5 minutes. Old dough is simply that, dough from past batches.  I've been using old dough that I started in 2008! By saving a small bit of dough from the previous batch of bread and adding it in before the first ferment, you've added prefermented yeast, which gives your bread better flavor and helps it rise.  It also improves your crust and the older it is, the better. It's a method used a lot in sourdoughs, and some strains of yeast can be traced back for generations!  So now, each of my loaves of honey whole wheat bread have a bit of yeast from 2008!

After you've kneaded in the old dough and salt, you are back to a nice ball of dough.  My mom taught me to slam the ball down on the board a few times to help force out any air bubbles.  It's a nice way to get out any agression. Sprinkle flour into a bowl (wooden bread bowl is something on my list of must haves, it's like the cast iron skillet for baking- the more seasoned, the better it is) and place the dough in it.  Dust with flour and cover with a damp tea towel.  I placed mine near the stove because the kitchen was just too cold.  You want to be sure it is an a warm (but not HOT or else it will start cooking) place so the yeast can continue to grow.  

This is the FERMENT stage. This is when the yeast really goes to town eating up the sugars.  Let it sit for 1 to 1/12 hours.  The dough will be ready when you can stick your finger in about two knuckles deep and it doesn't spring back. 

After the fermentation stage, cut off a chunk for old dough if you so desire, and split the rest in two.  Form the dough into loaves and place in greased loaf pans. 

Now is the PROOF (second rise).  Cover the pans with a damp tea towel and let rest for another hour ish.  Apply the same finger rule, but keep in mind the dough will not rise nearly as much this time.
Bake at 375 degrees for 35 minutes, or until the tops are golden brown and if you knock on the top or bottom with a wooden spoon it sounds hollow.  

Remove from the pans and let cool on a wire rack.  THIS IS THE HARDEST PART.  You must let it sit for about 40 minutes or else it might be a big doughy in the middle.  Last night, we could not resist, and cut into it early.  It's ok, it still tastes amazing :)

This is a great bread for thick slices of toast, topped with butter!

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