Baking Whole Wheat Bread for Beginners

Yesterday, I finally broke my long-standing “no knead” habit. I have spent most of my adult life studiously avoiding all recipes with the word “knead” in the instructions. Yes, that means that I have missed out on a LOT of recipes, but it also meant that I didn’t subject my husband to another failed baking experiment. (I have produced a surprising number of inedible biscuits, cookies, and cakes in my few attempts to bake “outside the box.”)

Since this was my first attempt at making yeast bread, I knew that I needed to follow a good tutorial. I found one at TheFrugalGirl.com. She includes a good number of pictures, and her instructions are pretty easy to understand and follow. My main problem was that this was literally the FIRST time I have ever kneaded dough. I don’t know what a “kneadable” dough looks like. I don’t know how to tell if my dough has enough flour in it, or even how much flour to “dust” the work surface with.

Since I realize that people with kneading experience may not remember those first few times baking, I decided to post my thought on the process. This is not an expert tutorial by any stretch. However, if this helps someone take that first step into the world of “kneading-needed” recipes, it was worth my time in posting it.

Here’s the recipe:

Whole Wheat Bread

Ingredients

2 1/3 cups warm water
1/4 cup honey
4 tablespoons butter , melted
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast (2 envelopes in the little strip)
2 1/2 teaspoons table salt
3 cups whole wheat flour
2 3/4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus extra for work surface

First tip: Get a bowl for each of the flours and measure them out before you start. I didn’t do this, and I had to rush to get them measured out when it was time to add them in. (I know that sounds obvious, but I had the bags of  flour on the counter…how much time would it take to measure it out? More than I had when one son is clinging to my legs and the other wants a sandwich right as I’m mixing up the dough.)

1. Combine 1 cup whole wheat flour, 1 cup white flour, the yeast, and the salt in the bowl of a mixer.

2. Add warm water, honey, and melted butter.  Mix on low speed until ingredients are combined, then beat on medium speed for 3 minutes.

I read that the water should be around 110-120 degrees (use your meat thermometer…it matters) to activate the yeast without killing it. Also, if you pour your melted butter into the measuring cup that you’re going to use for the honey, the honey will pour out without sticking. (4 Tbsp of melted butter is right at 1/4 cup, so you could also just melt it in that cup if you wanted.)

3. Mix in the remaining whole wheat flour, and add enough of the white flour to make a kneadable dough(it should still be fairly soft, though).

Here’s where I had a problem. “Enough” flour to make a “kneadable” dough that is still “fairly soft” probably makes perfect sense to someone who has baked before. It meant nothing to me. Nothing. So, what I did was to watch my dough as it mixed.

It will start out REALLY gooey. Sprinkle the flour in a little bit at a time, and let it mix a few turns before adding more. You’ll see when it has pulled it into the dough, and that’s when you add more. You’ll probably need at least half of the remaining white flour after you’ve added all of the wheat flour.

As you add the white flour, watch for a change in the dough. Mine started to change from sticking to the sides of the bowl to kind of breaking or tearing from the sides of the bowl. I guess that’s what they mean when they say that the dough is getting drier or more stiff. Once it changed, I added a little bit more flour and let it mix another minute or so.

4. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, or until smooth and elastic(if you mixed the dough by hand, you may need to knead it a bit longer).

Take a spoon or your hand and cover your kneading surface pretty liberally with flour. You’ll need to have some extra flour close at hand to add to the surface as the dough picks up what you started with.

The dough is REALLY sticky at this time. Cover your hands with flour and start folding the sides of the dough up and onto itself. Put more flour on your hands every couple of folds to keep the dough from sticking too badly.

Since your hands will get pretty sticky, it’s a good idea to have your child standing by to scroll the page as you read your instructions (at least, that’s what I did…) Here’s my set-up…

Reading instructions from The Frugal Girl on my laptop as I kneaded

Reading instructions from The Frugal Girl on my laptop as I baked

Once it starts to get to a more manageable consistency (not just a gooey mess), you can start doing the kind of kneading that you see on TV…fold, push, turn. The Frugal Girl’s instructions are linked above for more on that process. You’re still going to need to combat the stickiness with flour. The bottom of my dough kept sticking for most of the kneading process, so I started trying to make sure I had flour going UNDER the dough as well as on my hands and the sides.

You’re trying for “smooth and elastic” so keep kneading until you think it’s ready, then poke it! If it springs right back, you’re there. If it pokes you back, you probably should start over. (hehe…6-year-old humor…gotta love it)

5. Put the dough back into the mixing bowl, cover with a wet tea towel, and let rise in a warm place for 45 minutes(an hour if your house is cold).

I couldn’t do this without washing it out, so I lightly greased the bowl with spray oil. I have issues, I know. It didn’t change the outcome, so either way is fine. I let mine rise closer to the hour because my house’s A/C works a little too well sometimes. Here are my “before” and “after” pictures of the rising.

Bread Dough before rising

Before rising

Bread dough after rising

After rising

6. Punch the dough down, divide it in half,  and roll each half out into a rectangular shape.  Starting from the short end, roll each loaf up, and place into a greased 9×5 inch bread pan.  The rolling may seem like a fussy step, but it produces a loaf with a better crumb and structure, and it also will make your loaves look better.

This is basically just pushing your fist into the dough to push out some of the air/gas that was produced during rising. The dough was pretty sticky though, so I didn’t “punch” much…just once or twice. I then dumped it back out onto my work surface which I had sprinkled with a little more flour. (Cleaned it up before remembering that I needed to use it again.)

Use a knife to cut the dough in half

Cut the dough in half

Half of the dough ready to be rolled

then push and stretch the half into a rectangle.

Rectangle of dough ready to roll up

Rectangle of dough ready to roll up

Roll the rectangle up and put it in the pre-greased pan.

7. Cover the loaf with a wet tea towel and let rise in a warm place for 30 minutes, or until doubled.

I let mine rise for right at 30 minutes.

Loaves before second rising

Loaves before second rising

Loaves after second rising
Loaves after second rising

8. Bake in a preheated 350 degree oven for 30 minutes, or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow when tapped.  Alternatively, you can insert an instant read thermometer into the long side of the loaf…when it reads 205 degrees, the bread is done.  Turn out onto a wire rack to cool before slicing.

I baked for a little over 30 minutes because I tried the “tapping” and didn’t think it sounded hollow enough. Of course, that was just a wild guess, but it worked.

Here are my finished loaves.

The finished loaves

The finished loaves

The bread was delicious! I waited patiently for my husband to get up the courage to try it (no joke), but when he did, he was shocked at how good it was.

Sadly, I can’t begrudge him that disbelief. He’s been my guinea pig too many times before…

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3 thoughts on “Baking Whole Wheat Bread for Beginners

  1. I love this! I always used to wonder what a “soft, kneadable” dough was! Those descriptions just don’t really do the trick, do they? I guess there’s just really no substitute for experience.

    Based on your descriptions above, I would guess that you could have added more flour in step 3. That would have made step 4 a lot easier. I am no expert, but sharing my own experience: yes, the exact amount of flour is somewhat changeable, depending on the humidity and the temperature in the room. But the variation is less than a cup of flour, for sure, probably up to about half a cup unless you are in a particularly humid location. So in recipe’s like Kristen (The Frugal Girl)’s above, I typically add all but the last cup or half cup of the suggested amount of flour to the mixing bowl. (Your method of mixing it in very very slowly is perfect. Just one caution: if your mixer is not up to the task as the dough gets stiffer, you can always mix it in as you did above, by hand. I can’t tell from your pictures what type of mixer you are using.) It makes the kneading part much easier.

    Also, as an FYI, if you are doing the kneading by hand, it is nearly impossible to overknead basic bread dough, so when in doubt, knead a bit longer. If you use a mechanical method to knead or are making something very specialized such as pastry, then you can start to be more careful about overkneading.

    Good luck with your bread baking! I have come to love it, though I tend to avoid it in the summer (I try to avoid turning on the oven in the heat).

    • Thanks for the feedback! I’m planning on baking another batch of bread this afternoon, so I’ll definately be using the advice. I’m in Alabama, so it’s an especially humid area. I use a KitchenAid mixer, so it’s up to the task. I may even try the bread hook this time to see how that works (maybe not…I did like kneading by hand).

  2. Pingback: The easiest homemade bread EVER | Slightly Scattered Supermom

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