Growing up, I was one of those fortunate children whose home was wrapped in the comforting aroma of freshly baked bread. In kindergarten, I remember pitying my lunch-mates who could wad their limp Wonderbread PB&J into tight little balls. Mine was a sturdy sandwich. A sandwich of starchy substance. Fast-forward to my preteens, and this homemade bread dependency proved a handicap.
I tell the story, cheeks flaming with shame, considering my age at the time of the incident…
On one particular day in my youth, there was apparently no time for the baking of the bread in our domestic quarters. So my mother pulled into the parking lot of a grocery store and said to me, go in and pick out a loaf of store bread. She had confidence in me that proved ill-found. She thought a preteen would be able to handle such a minor task, but she forgot her offspring’s gluten up-bringing. I remember standing in front of my plastic bag encased options, squinting under the glow of harsh florescent lighting. So many choices. Too many choices. I felt impending failure. “Just pick out a loaf” was so easy to say. Picking out the “right” loaf was so much harder. I needed specifics.What brand? What ratio of wheat to white!? Size of loaf!?! Nuts!?!?! Oatmeal!?!?!? Sourdough!?!?! Honey!?!?!?! 7 Grain!?!?!?!? 9 Grain!?!?!?!?! Multi-grain!?!?!?!?!?! As a child who aimed to please, this was too much. So, as was my custom back then when faced with difficultly, I cried. I like to think I just misted. But my mom likes to remember tears. So with damp cheeks, I ran loaf-less out of the store, dramatically threw myself into the car, and exclaimed with great defeat, “I couldn’t do it! I couldn’t buy a loaf of bread!” Mother was dumbfounded. With her head still shaking in disbelief, she entered the store like any normal person and moments later exited with a loaf of bread in her hand. I hope she learned her lesson.
I haven’t though, and am planning on handicapping my children in the same way. We love homemade bread. Although, I will admit, the story I just related must have proved helpful in store bread purchasing, as I did not make bread when Mr. H and I were first married. Two reasons: the first two places we lived housed tiny ovens, with erratic temperatures – and, also, we did not consume much bread. Now with children though, we go through a bit more. Plus, I just love the smell and texture. So here is the basic recipe I am using at the moment. I may do some more tweaking in the future, but this does us just fine for now.
Basic Bread Recipe – yields 2 loaves
- 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup rolled oats
- 2 Tbsp. wheat germ (I don’t measure the wheat germ or the milled flax seed, just pour some in, but this is about what I use)
- 1 Tbsp. milled flax seed
- 2 Tbsp. instant non-fat dry milk
- 1 1/2 tsp. salt
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 2 Tbsp. butter
- 1 egg
- 2-3 Tbsp. honey (again, I don’t measure, just pour some in, so this is approx.)
- 2 tsp. active dry yeast (heaping)
* An important note: I use a bread machine to mix my bread. I do not bake in it, as I do not care for the thick, hard crust it creates. I had been using my KitchenAid stand mixer for the mixing and kneading, but I would often end up with dry, crumbly bread because I would add too much flour during the kneading stage. My mother suggested using a bread machine for the mixing part. I am eternally grateful to her. I was really skeptical at first though, as I didn’t like the thought of yet another small appliance, and I couldn’t imagine that it would make a difference, but it really does – a big one. It magically makes the bread texture softer, and I usually do not need to add any extra flour. I just pour the ingredients in the bread machine, and it does all the work. You obviously don’t have to have a bread machine for this recipe, just adjust accordingly.
To start, microwave the water and butter in a microwavable bowl for about 20 seconds, or until warm, but not hot.Then pour into bread machine bowl and add the oatmeal.
Combine flours, wheat germ, milled flax seed, dry milk, and salt in a separate bowl.
Lightly beat the egg. Pour the water/butter/oatmeal mixture into the bread machine bowl. Add the egg and honey.
Pour the flour mixture into the bread machine bowl. Then sprinkle the yeast on the top.
This is the bread machine I use. Again, I only use it to mix the dough, so I select the course option accordingly.
If it looks like this, then you are good. If it is really sticking to the sides, then add just enough flour so it doesn’t. I rarely have to add any flour.
When the bread machine is done (mixed, kneaded & the dough has risen once), plop the dough onto your flour-dusted counter top. (If you are not using a bread machine, you will need to let the dough rise in a warm place till it has doubled in size before you shape it into loaves.) Equally divide the dough into two. Knead just a little flour into the dough, just enough so that it is not overly sticky and easy to handle. My mom is capable of the cool knead, roll, perfect loaf forming thing, but me, not so much. So I just work the divided dough a bit, then put each into a greased 9×5 loaf pan. I kind of punch the dough down with a curled fist so the dough covers the bottoms of the pans and is touching the sides (not impressive looking, but it works!). Turn your oven to 350F and place the filled loaf pans on top of the oven and cover with a towel or plastic wrap. Wait. I’ve never timed it, but when it has risen enough that it is just slightly domed above the pan level, then it’s ready to go in the oven. Bake at 350 degrees F. for about 20-25 minutes, depending on how browned you like it. When done, immediately remove from pans onto a cooling rack. Butter tops lightly.
Let them cool a bit. Impatience is rewarded with craggily cut loaves, so practice restraint! But not too much!