The pastor speaking at church this past Sunday intertwined his skill of baking bread into his sermon. He literally baked a loaf of bread during the service. At first I thought it was all just a set, like the bread and the oven were all props of some kind. But near the end of the sermon this delicious aroma crowded out any hopes of being able to pay attention to what the pastor was actually saying. All I wanted was that bread! Then he pulled it out of the oven and broke the bread (it was communion Sunday, after all) and my mouth was practically watering as I watched the heat rising out of the freshly baked loaf.

I was only slightly upset that the congregation was not given a sample on our way out the door!

And I was inspired. If this guy can make his own bread, then surely the same can be said for me! So to the Interwebs I went!

Needless to say, there are about a gajillion highly informative ways to make bread, with all kinds of tips and tricks, methods and warnings to heed. I decided to go with a recipe from the website Delectable Planet which included a video, being the more visual learner that I am.

Since I had plenty of whole wheat flour on-hand, then whole wheat bread it would be! I already knew it was easier and (probably) cheaper to just go to Costco and pay the $6 for my 2 loaves of Oroweat Whole Wheat Bread. The point for me to make the bread was partly to share in the experience with my youngest – just a “me and him” kind of thing. I also wanted to see if I could actually be successful at it. Last, I wanted to know if the taste would actually be worth the effort and expense of continuing to make it myself. I don’t own a bread machine, so I knew this would be an all-morning adventure and of course, the upside to making your own anything is that you’re well aware of the ingredients. Here’s all I needed for 2 loaves of whole wheat bread:

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I thought I would use the King Arthur flour but I ended up having enough of the Bob’s Red Mill whole wheat flour, so that’s what I’m judging the bread on – not the King Arthur brand.

My biggest concern was that first step – the temperature of the water and making sure the yeast activates. I bought a (cheap) quick-read thermometer, measured out the 4 cups of water needed and the temperature was around 110, not the 115 it should have been. I threw the yeast in, stirred, and waited….no bubbles. Hmmm….smelled “yeasty” enough. But, not wanting to completely hijack my efforts at a good loaf of bread, I dumped it all out and went with the Trader Joe’s yeast packet I had recently picked up. The Fleischmann’s yeast had an expiration date of April 2012, so I figured it would be best to pitch it and go with a newer packet.

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This time I added the 4 cups of water a little too warm (120) and then let it cool to 115. Then I added the yeast, stirred, waited….still no bubbles. Oh well – time to add 5 cups of flour and hope for the best!!

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I had cranked the heat up to 68 in the house, which is WARM for me in my current state of battling hot flashes, but I knew the bread would need to rise in a warm environment. Thankfully it was a bright and sunny morning here, so I simply set the dough to rise in direct sunlight while the heater blasted away. After 30 minutes, it was time to add the remaining 3 cups of flour! (Throwing on your hooded bath towel is, of course, optional.)

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Now, I consider myself to be a pretty strong gal when it comes to my arm muscles. Let me warn you upfront, if you have a stand mixer, I highly recommend using your dough hook attachment on this step. I successfully added the flour by hand but add in the hot flash factor and I was not a very happy camper near the end of it!

Now comes another reason why I wanted to make my own bread: the kneading process. Getting your hands into the dough, flour everywhere, strengthening your gut and arm muscles (if you’re paying attention to the process, that is), and not really being able to do anything but knead dough can have a calming, centered effect.

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We put the towel over it and gave it another hour to rise. One hour….one hour…what could we do for one hour…Tadoodles of course!

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Just a side note on this little product. I believe our particular Tadoodle art station it’s now at least 2 years old and yes, those markers still work just fine. I bring it out of the closet maybe 3 or 4 times a year and I’m always surprised when the ink comes flowing out! I recommend Tadoddles for toddlers on up, just know that they will get marker all over themselves and the things around them, but it has always cleaned up just fine with a couple of Costco baby wipes.

Once the dough has had time to rise, you get to “punch” it down.

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This helps to remove gas bubbles that have built up. I had no idea it would literally feel like were punching something – the guy in the video makes it look like you’re pushing your hand into a soft pillow. Not so with my dough. It wasn’t a rock or anything, but it was more like punching into a waterbed cushion – not a lot of give and it did take more of that upper body strength we should all be working on!

I didn’t bother with weighing my 2 halves of dough, just eyeballed it and cut right down the middle. then I shaped them, plopped them into their oil-greased pans and I slathered on a tablespoon of melted butter between the two loaves. I figured that if the insides came out wacky that we could at least nibble on the buttery crust!

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They baked for 45 minutes in a 350 degree oven. It was recommended to let them sit in the pans for 5 to 15 minutes. I chose 10 minutes. Next time it’ll be the full 15 minutes.

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At first they wouldn’t budge. I slid a knife around the edges, banged the pan on all sides against the cutting board and still – they would not come out of the pan! L could tell I was getting frustrated but I just let things set for another 5 minutes, did the knife bit again and they both popped out of the pans without anything left behind.

Voila – homemade whole wheat bread!

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While the bread was cooling, I decided to see what kind of actual difference there was between my standard whole wheat bread loaf and these. There are approximately 20 slices of bread in the Oroweat loaf (not including the end pieces).

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I was able to get 14 pieces out of the smaller loaf, so I’m going to assume that the larger loaf will give me 15, possibly 16 slices.

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It was taste tested by my 2 growing lads and myself at lunch today. We all had peanut butter and jam on our slices of bread. Tasty? Yep! Soft? Definitely! Crust too hard? Nope – just right! Dense? Yes and probably “too” dense to have an actual sandwich. I’m guessing if the sandwich had lettuce along with meat of some kind it wouldn’t be too bad, but I couldn’t see myself making a PB&J with 2 slices of this bread. Maybe 1 slice in half would be alright.

My final analysis is that I will be making this bread again, though not every week. If I had the freezer space I could see spending a weekend baking up various breads and having them available in rotation with store-bought bread. I would definitely choose the homemade variety for health value as well as taste for things like buttered toast, egg on toast, things of that nature.

What’s your experience with making your own bread? Do you prefer the bread machine or doing it by hand?

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