Making Great Whole Wheat Bread... No Fancy Equipment Required!

Last year I found a recipe online for 4 loaves of Whole Wheat bread made all at the same time. I tried it, changed it a bit and now it's my favorite of my bread recipes. It's soft, flavorful, and good for you... not to mention easy to make.

Here are the ingredients you'll need (in the order you'll need them):

1 cup brown sugar
1/3 cup oil (I use canola)
1 cup hot water
3 pkg yeast (just active dry yeast... I accidentally used rapid rise and it was fine though)
4 C. warm water
4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup Vital Wheat Gluten (opt)
12 C. flour (decide how much of that you want to be whole wheat but the total needs to come to about 12 cups, I used 8 cups of King Arthur white whole wheat and 4 cups of All-purpose. You can also use regular Whole Wheat flour)

Start by whisking together the hot water, oil, and brown sugar in a HUGE bowl until the brown sugar is dissolved. Make sure this is a big bowl. You'll be adding 12 cups of flour later so did I mention the bowl should be big?

By the time the sugar is dissolved, the liquid should have cooled to luke warm but dip your clean finger in it to be sure it's no longer hot before adding all 3 packets of yeast and stirring well. Let it set for a couple minutes to let the yeast start working. My water is usually so cool at this point so the yeast doesn't usually start to foam. Don't worry, as long as your yeast isn't super old, it'll be fine.

Add salt....

And 4 cups of WARM water. This water should be the temperature you'd give a child a bath in... not hot and not too cold.

Now you can start adding your wheat gluten (really helps it rise better, have better texture, and helps it keep longer), and your flour. I mix it in a few cups at a time and switch from a whisk to a wooden spoon when it gets too thick. When I get close to the 12 cups of flour, I watch carefully to see if I really need all 12 cups. Usually I do add all 12 cups but below is what your dough should look like when you've added enough flour....

See how there isn't unincorporated flour in the bottom of the bowl. The dough is sticky but not wet.

Next you need to pick your kneading area. I'd find a surface that is about hip height. A kitchen counter is usually too high to be comfortable when you knead. I use my dining room table. Sprinkle a little flour on the clean table.

Dump out the dough and start kneading... push the dough down and a bit forward...

then I fold it toward myself and push down again. It's about pushing and folding. I turn it from time to time also. Knead for at least 10 minutes. This is made easier if you have pent up aggression! It's important to knead the dough this long to really develop the gluten and get a really nice texture to your bread.

I only add flour to the table when the dough really starts to stick. You don't want to have a dry dough from adding too much flour.

Here's the dough after 10 minutes of kneading. Smooth and soft.

Grab 2 Big Ol' Bowls and spray them with Pam or rub them with oil. Cut your dough ball in half as evenly as possible. (a kitchen scale would help but really... who cares if some loaves are a tiny bit bigger or smaller?)

Put a dough ball in each bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp, clean kitchen towel so they don't dry out while they rise. Now to find a warm, cozy place....
My favorite place for rising is in the oven but you have to be careful not to get it too hot. I set my oven to preheat to it's lowest setting (170*) but I don't let it preheat all the way. I check on it after about 3-4 minutes by putting my hand in the oven.... if it's too hot to stick my hand in, it's way to hot for dough to rise (keep oven door open for a few minutes to let it cool down). If it's warm but not too hot to let your hand linger, it's perfect! Cut off the oven and put your bowls in the oven to let them rise.

Then after 1-2 hours, you have dough that has "doubled"... which means it's about twice the size as it was previously.
Spray 4 loaf pans with pam. Standard sized loaf pans... and as you can see, they don't have to match.

Now comes my favorite part... punching down the dough! Lift the plastic wrap and whack it with a clean fist until the dough shrinks down.
Knead the dough for about 2 minutes (this evens out the yeast in the dough so you don't end up with big air bubbles in your finished bread)
After kneading, you're going to divide each ball in half... now you have 4 pieces of dough that you then shape into logs.

Put each log into a pan and place it back into the oven (without it being on!! )
and let it rise for 45 minutes or so until it's doubled again.

Here's the dough after it's doubled. As you can see, I didn't divide the dough exactly evenly... no big whoop :)

Now turn the oven to 350 while the dough is in there (another great reason to use the oven to let your bread rise).
Each oven will preheat at a different rate so watch the bread carefully but it'll take about 30-35 minutes to be baked.

When the tops look medium brown, you can tip the bread out of the pan to check the color of the sides and bottom. If they look almost as dark as the top, it's done.
I find my stoneware pan takes 5 extra minutes to bake then the metal or glass ones.

As soon as they come out of the oven, I tip them out onto baking racks to cool. Let the cool completely before wrapping them up or if you can't wait to try some, cut and spread with butter at any point!
Can't use 4 loaves of bread at once? Not many people can. I slice each loaf (with my favorite bread knife from Pampered Chef) and wrap 1/2 loaves to put in the freezer. This way I have 8 little bundles of bread in my freezer just wanting for soup to be made. I like freezing them in 1/2 loaves instead of whole loaves since it doesn't have time to go stale. When I'm ready to use the bread, I put it into the fridge to thaw or put a piece right into the toaster.

Now, if you'll excuse me, all this talk about bread has made me hungry for a slice spread with butter and strawberry jam!!