Very little can beat the smell of baking bread, and very little can beat that first bite from a warm loaf. Serve your bread with a hearty bowl of homemade soup for a perfect winter meal, or sit right down and eat it all by itself slathered in whatever-suits-your-fancy-at-the-moment! (I personally float between nut butters, dairy butter, and homemade preserves.)
And yes, I’m talking about whole wheat bread, which has gotten a bad rap of late because it contains gluten, to which so many people believe they are allergic.
But here’s my theory after many years of baking whole grain bread: I suspect that much of what people believe they are allergic to in bread products (whether whole wheat or otherwise) is not so the gluten but the additives, such as dough conditioners, flavor enhancers, and preservatives. Since I’ve been milling my own wheat into flour over the past 15 years, I’ve found that many friends who believed they were allergic to gluten can eat my bread with no consequences other than great enjoyment. I wouldn’t necessarily ask someone with celiac disease (a true reaction to gluten) to test my theory, but I do believe it to be true for many sensitive, health-oriented bread lovers and cooks, including myself.
I first got the idea of milling grain at home from chef Paul Bertolli’s classic cookbook, Chez Panisse Cooking. After reading about his experiences, I went out and bought a small electric grain mill and was so enchanted with the sweet, nutty fragrance and flavor of freshly milled wheat that I have been milling my own grain ever since. (The K-Tech Kitchen Mill is the one I use today, though there are a number of good electric and hand mills available online, most of which are about the size and price of a really good food processor.)
Whether you’re using a good brand of store bought whole wheat flour (I like Arrowhead Mills, King Arthur, or Bob's Red Mill), or want to jump in and grind your own, here’s my simple recipe for a perfect loaf of fresh, whole wheat bread. You may need to adjust the liquid content depending upon what kind of flour you are using.
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 teaspoons SAF instant yeast
1 teaspoon salt
1 1/4 cups water or buttermilk (approximately, you may need a bit more)
2-3 tablespoons oil
optional: honey, nuts, dried fruit, herbs
Place the flour, yeast, and salt in the workbowl of a food processor fitted with a dough blade and pulse a few times to mix.
With the machine running, add the liquid and oil (and optional tablespoon of honey) and let the processor run until the dough forms a clean ball in the processor. If the dough looks too dry or isn't forming into a ball, try adding another tablespoon of water at a time. (If at first your dough looks too wet and does not easily form a clean ball, turn off the machine for about 10 minutes and give the flour time to absorb some of the liquid. Then turn it back on again and let it run until the dough forms a clean ball in the processor. Cuisinart recommends letting the machine run for 45 seconds after the ball is formed in the processor.)
Remove the dough from the food processor, shape it into a ball or disc, and place it in a large, lightly oiled bowl. Cover with a clean, damp dishtowel. (If adding nuts, dried fruit, or herbs, knead then in by hand before you set the dough to rise.)
Find a warm spot to let the dough rise until it is double in size, which takes about an hour and a half. Note: The operative words here are "double in size." The amount of time it takes to do this can vary with the temperature of your ingredients and the place you choose to rise the dough. I often use my oven which has a 100° setting that’s perfect for rising bread dough.
Remove the dough from the bowl and gently press the air out of it and shape it into a loaf. Place it in a well-oiled loaf pan, and let it rise again (uncovered) until just over the top of the pan. (You can also “freeform,” or hand-shape the loaf, sprinkle it with cornmeal, and place it on a cookie sheet that's been covered with parchment paper.)
Bake in a preheated 375° oven for about 35-40 minutes or until the loaf is nice and golden brown. Let cool for about 15 minutes (or longer) before removing it from the pan.
Allow the bread to cool before removing from the pan. Then, share with your favorite people and watch the loaf disappear before your eyes!