My sourdough starter may suffer for this, but I’ve been testing out yeasted breads for you all lately. I’ve got a number of recipes up my sleeve and more to come, and only a few loaves that have turned out concave.
It is my fervent goal to find the perfect homemade whole wheat bread: packed with nourishing goodness, gentle on the digestive system (as gentle as bread can be), delicious, and soft enough that you don’t need a toaster to enjoy it. My standards are high, because my bread baking skills are low.
I generally rely on my breadmaker or stand mixer to knead the bread for me, both because I’m lazy and always short on time and because the results have been disastrous 4/5 of the times I’ve tried to hand knead bread. I’ve over kneaded, under kneaded, and more often than not simply can’t get control of the dough. It tends to get the better of me with stickiness, and I end up adding too much flour in my quest to conquer the dough and wrassle it into its rightful place. Hence: machines are the way to go for me.
The Criteria For The Perfect Loaf of Homemade Whole Wheat Bread
This perfect bread must be simple. I have to be able to make it without yelling at the recipe, the dough, or the pans.
The family must enjoy it. My husband needs to appreciate a good sandwich on this perfect bread (my kids will eat anything made of wheat joyfully, so they’re not a good measuring stick).
It must be healthy. Even though I’m still muddling through my thoughts on 100% whole wheat vs. including some refined flour, sifting the bran vs. freshly ground whole wheat, the benefits of soaked bread vs. sprouted vs. sourdough and not, I want this bread recipe to offer some options. It needs to be perfect even at 100% whole wheat, because then it will remain spectacular if white flour is added. It must have an easy soaking or sprouted method.
And since gluten is pretty well-established to be overused and underdigested, I’m docking points to those whole wheat breads that rely on added gluten for the perfect rise.
There are 30 points possible:
- Whole grains: 5 points for 100% whole grain bread, 0 points for 100% refined flour and 3 for half-and-half loaves
- Softness: Rated 1-5 on softness and viability as a sandwich bread, not just toast. 5 is the best.Points lost for crumbly bread, dense slices.
- Flavor: Rated 1-5, totally subjectively, on flavor. 5 is the best. Our goal is a simple bread that is not too sweet, a palate for everything from grilled cheese to PB&J to turkey and mayo.
- Workability (dough): How easily does the dough come together? Do you have to add a lot of extra flour? Does it consume your hands like a creature from the deep or can it be handled easily? 1 is a wet sticky mess, complicated recipe. 3 is doable, but not perfect. 5 is an easy to handle ball of dough that makes bread baking enjoyable.
- Good rise: How well does the bread rise, both on the first rise in the bowl and in the pan? 1 is reserved for doorstops (zero rise noticeable), 2 and 3 mean that you might be questioning your yeast or have to allow for a longer rise time than the recipe calls for, 4 is “average” and 5 is a beautiful “doubled” rise in the expected time.
- Easy recipes: the “laziness” factor. How much hands-on time does the recipe take? 4 points for “dump ingredients together, knead dough, allow to rise, put into pan.” Scale decreases by one point for each time the baker has to address the dough beyond those steps or has to spend more than 10 minutes in a sitting of attentive time. Recipes also lose one point if they dirty an extra pot (having to warm milk or melt butter, for example). Add one point for a recipe that can be made with the help of a machine.
Bonus or lost points for:
- No added “stuff” (gluten, lecithin): minus 1 for a bit of added gluten, minus 2 for more than 1 Tbs/loaf of added gluten
- Soaked or sprouted: plus 2 points if the bread is or can be soaked or sprouted easily
- Sourdough: since sourdough is, in my opinion, the very healthiest way to prepare grains, AND it seems like it has a deficit in the “soft and light” category, sourdough loaves get 3 bonus points to keep them in contention.
- Easy, frugal ingredients: 1 point deducted for any recipe that calls for ingredients a whole foods baker would not normally have in their kitchen, and also 1 point for any ingredients that pump up the price of the final loaf beyond $2-3.
Yes, that’s right. A bread recipe could potentially earn more than the 20 possible points. In a world where high school kids can get over a 4.0 grade point average, we might as well give a lousy loaf of bread the same opportunity.
- Sweet and Simple (includes soaked version)
- Essential Eating’s Sprouted Bread and Rolls
- Claudia’s Bread (includes soaked version)
- Our Favorite “Happy” Rolls (includes soaked version)
- Healthy Bread in 5 Minutes a Day: Sandwich Bread and 100% Whole Wheat Recipes (less yeast version for soaking)
- Tammy’s 100% Whole Wheat Bread (includes soaked version)
- Nourishing Traditions Soaked Buttermilk Yeasted Bread
- King Arthur Flour’s 100% Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
Here is a touchpoint post on how I bake bread: Katie’s Basic Bread Baking Techniques (or lack thereof) If you have questions about any of my processes or choices, you’ll find answers there!