Bread machines are wonderful inventions, and if you have one, you may never need to learn to make bread by hand. If you don’t have one, you can certainly enjoy the special flavor of fresh homemade bread. This recipe can be made with spelt flour instead of wheat, if you prefer.
Making bread by hand takes time, but really not all that much. Sometimes I’ve done it after dinner, while half-way watching television, and we’d have hot bread for a bedtime snack. (We now have a bread machine, and we use it all the time. That link goes to my article about these devices.)
When Kelly and I first met, he taught me to make bread using the sponge method. I’ve since tried a lot of bread recipes, and making bread this way remains my favorite because you only have to get your hands into the dough once. Now, we grind our grains with our Vitamix right before making the bread. Talk about fresh! Making bread from a recipe can be a little confusing or messy the first couple of times, but you will soon get the hang of it. This recipe makes two loaves.
2 cups lukewarm water (too hot will kill yeast)
2 T dry yeast (can be reduced to 1½ if you prefer)
3 T sweetener (honey, molasses, brown sugar, whatever)
1½ t salt
2 cups whole wheat (or whole spelt) flour
Put the warm water in a large mixing bowl and dissolve the yeast, sweetener and salt. Add the flour and stir till well mixed.
Put in a warm place to rise; if you have a gas oven with a pilot light that keeps it warm but not too hot, that is a good place. This first rising will create what’s called a sponge. It needs to rise for about half an hour, but is forgiving of variations in this time.
Lightly grease your bread pans and set them aside. Stir down the sponge again and add, stirring as you add the flour:
¼ cup oil may be substituted
2 cups whole wheat or whole spelt flour
2 cups of any kind of flour (wheat, barley, rice, white, etc. I often just use more of whatever I’m using)
Lightly flour the counter where you are going to knead the bread. When most of the flour in the bowl has been stirred into the dough, dump everything onto the counter.
Then knead it for several minutes, by pushing the heels of your hands into the dough, then turning the dough a quarter-turn toward you and pushing your hands again, and so on. You want enough flour on the counter under your dough to keep the dough from sticking to the counter, so keep adding a very little flour as needed.
Divide the dough in half – I just cut it with a knife – and then knead each half till it’s smooth. Put it in a bread pan, and push it down with your knuckles till the height of the dough in the pan is pretty much the same everywhere.
If you want raisin bread, after dividing the dough, roll one out till it’s about the width of your bread pan and however long it turns out to be. You may need more flour on the counter under the dough for this process. If you don’t have a rolling pin, use a jar. Once the dough is rolled out, sprinkle on raisins and cinnamon. That’s all I usually use, but for a richer loaf, brown sugar, nuts, and/or a little butter or oil can be added. Then roll up the dough, keeping it pretty tight, and squoosh it into the bread pan, leveling it with your knuckles.
Let the bread rise in a warm place for 20 minutes to about half an hour. Cookbooks often say, till the dough has doubled in size but I don’t always wait that long. Because yeast doesn’t like a draft, if there is any air movement where you put your loaves to rise, just cover them with a clean dish towel. I usually put my on top of my stove, with a towel, and then turn on my oven to preheat to 350 degrees.
If the counter is a mess to clean up, just put a little water on the places where the dough stuck to the counter, and within a couple of minutes it will be much easier to scrub.
Bake the bread at 350 for about 45 minutes. Take out of the bread pans — and eat!
Some recipes say not to cut it till it cools, and it’s true that it’s more apt to fall apart when it’s hot, but what can be yummier than fresh bread? In any case, do take it out of the pans as it tends to sweat if left in them.