The recipe we use for everyday 100% whole wheat bread is pretty basic; and comes from The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, by Laurel Robertson. Part 1 of bread baking covered getting good wheat flour (see 100% Whole Wheat Bread Baking (Part 1)); this post continues with the basic recipe and the other ingredients needed for great bread. Future posts (Parts 3 and on), will give the details on mixing, kneading, rising, shaping, and baking.
Basic 100% Whole Wheat Bread
2 teaspoons dry active yeast (1/4 oz.)
½ cup warm water (≈ 110°F)
6 cups whole wheat bread flour
2 ½ teaspoons salt
2 ¼ cups lukewarm water
2 Tablespoons honey or other sweetener
2 Tablespoons oil or butter (optional)
Because the ingredients for bread are so basic; in addition to using good wheat for the flour, it’s important that the other ingredients are of the best quality too. In general, these include the following:
Yeast has three major functions in bread baking; it makes the dough rise, gain strength, and develop flavor. When flour, water, and yeast are mixed; yeast consumes the sugar in the flour and gives off a liquid that releases carbon dioxide and alcohol into the air bubbles in the dough. If the dough has a strong and elastic gluten structure, it will contain the released carbon dioxide bubbles, and the dough will rise. When flour and water are mixed, any further working of the dough causes more gluten to form. So, each time carbon dioxide is released by the yeast, it causes more flour and water to connect, and form yet more strengthening gluten. In addition, the by-products of the carbon dioxide and alcohol reaction produce flavor in the bread.
Obviously, it’s very important that the yeast be fresh so that it can drive the reactions described above. The most common form of yeast for home bread baking is active dry yeast, and that’s what we use. Refrigerated active dry yeast kept in an airtight container will maintain its potency for several months, so be sure to buy it from a refrigerated case. Once we get it home, we store it in the freezer and have used it up to a year later (the manufacturers probably don’t recommend this – but it works for us).
Water for bread baking should be neither very hard nor soft, and good drinking water generally works well. Very hard water inhibits the yeast reaction, but adding a tablespoon of cider vinegar or lemon juice may help. Very soft or distilled water makes dough that doesn’t rise well, and it isn’t recommended for baking bread. Chlorinated water is generally ok for making breads that are leavened with dry active yeast.
Like yeast, salt has three functions in making bread; adding flavor, strengthening the gluten, and regulating yeast growth. Bread without salt generally seems flavorless, rises too quickly, and has a crumbly texture (it is possible to make good tasting salt-free bread – it just takes a bit more work); but, the type of salt used doesn’t seem affect the quality of the bread much. We’ve used iodized table salt, kosher salt, and sea salt; and not been able to tell a difference – so we’ve settled on using kosher salt because it’s additive free and less expensive than sea salt.
Sweeteners are not necessary for good bread, there are enough sugars in whole wheat flour for the yeast; however, sweetener can improve the breads texture (making it tenderer) and flavor. Honey, molasses, granulated sugar, or brown sugar can all be used, but we like honey. We’ve got honeybees, so we’re likely biased. Honey can vary tremendously from jar to jar though; so commercial bakers generally use light, pasteurized honey to minimize any negative impact those variations might cause. We use raw, filtered honey and haven’t had any issues – but most books recommend pasteurized honey instead.
Fat, like sweeteners, isn’t necessary for good bread, but a little bit of oil or butter improves the breads texture (again makes it tenderer), flavor, and shelf life. We use either real butter or good olive oil, and make sure that it’s fresh too.
That’s all there is to the ingredients for good whole wheat bread – I’m always slightly amazed at what can be made from such simple ingredients.