Not exactly a soup-to-nuts how to type of thread, but here are some things I have learned about making homemade bread at home.
1. The Wonder Mill people must have known that sometimes, we forget.
I have to admit that this little bit of info has saved me from doing the wrong thing several times.
2. After much (much!) experimentation, I've figured out that I get the best results from a mixture of grains.
Barley makes for a lighter, fluffier loaf. Oats are high in vitamin E, a natural mold retardant. I start with a 7 grain blend, then add oats, durum/semolina wheat, hard white and pastry wheat. I used to mill them separately and then measure flours. It finally dawned on me to measure the grains, mix them together, mill the whole thing and just measure from one container.
3. If you are making whole grain breads, wheat gluten is your friend. It helps a loaf rise and stay risen for lighter, fluffier (we are talking whole grain here, not wonder bread, but still, fluffier!) loaves.
4. Letting my Kitchenaid do most of the work give me more consistent results. I put it on '2' and let it run for a full 10 minutes. It sounds like a lot of time, but it is consistently good this way, in my experience. It will start out looking a little to sticky, but will come together later in the kneading process.
5. When the dough finishes the first rise, I have a much nicer second rise if I knead the dough a bit before shaping it into loaves. This re-distributes the yeasts within the dough, so they have new food sources.
6. Honey, instead of sugar, makes for a prettier loaf. It browns more nicely, and keeps longer as well. We generally have some sort of not-so-pretty honey that I've scrounged by scraping the very last little bit of honey from the extractor, the drip pan of cap wax, etc. Since that honey is sometimes just a bit cloudy, I use it for bread.
7. I've had the most success when I form the loaves like this: After the first rise, I punch down the dough, knead it a bit, and let it rest a couple minutes. I use little or no flour, because a floury layer might separate and make a tunnel in my bread. I divide it into the number of loaves I'm making, and then shape each one into a rectangle. I roll it up as if I'm going to make cinnamon rolls, pinch the end down tight, and make that pinched part the bottom of my bread loaf. I turn the two ends under, just a bit, and put it into the pans to rise. The result is an even rise and a nice round top. Usually.
8. Weather affects my outcome. Forgetting that I have dough rising and going outside or running errands (oh yes I did!) affects my outcome. Putting the dough into pans and then watching a 2 hour movie affects my outcome (oh yes it does!). On the flip side, checking the dough often, preheating the oven when the dough is almost done rising, and folding the laundry at the kitchen table instead of in the basement all affect my outcome, but in a good way.
9. When bread doesn't turn out right, it can still be made into croutons, breadcrumbs or bread pudding. Bread with a tunnel in it is God's way of saying you should put 'toad in a hole' or french toast on the menu. If it's really, really bad, like The Sourdough Fiasco of 2007, the chickens will still eat it. Because if bread with a tunnel is God's way of telling you to make french toast, then chickens are God's garbage disposal. I swear, mine make goats look choosy!
10. I've tried really hard to be eco-friendly and cover my dough with a towel to rise. It always dries out and acts funky. It works much better when I use plastic wrap (I've tried covering it with a plate, but when the dough rises, the plate does too, and the dough dries out yet again). So the best I can do is just make sure that the plastic wrap covering the bowl of dough is also large enough to cover the bread pans that my loaves will rise in. At least that way, it gets used twice.
11. Any time I make bread with the intention of photographing it so you can see how pretty it is, I have some sort of mishap. If I just make bread without thinking about it, it will turn out beautifully. (I have the same problem with deviled eggs.)
12. Bread slices easier when it is cool - the crust softens some and things are more uniformly stable. Good luck with the wait, though. A serrated knife and a sawing motion, along with patience and practice will get you good results. Usually.
13. You can read recipes all day, read techniques all night, and you still have to just do it. There is no failure - only learning! You will have good loaves, great loaves, and loaves that send you running to the bread outlet to stock your freezer. You will learn what works for you and what doesn't, and I have to believe you'll be glad you became a breadmaker.
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This is my current recipe. If you have a mill and a ridiculous variety of grains and wheat berries on hand, you might want to try it too!
Ten Things Farm Fresh-Milled Multigrain Bread
1 ½ c. Walton Mixed Grain
1 ½ c. Semolina Wheat
1 c. Hard White Wheat
½ c. Pastry Wheat
½ c. Oat Groats
Mill all of the above on a setting about halfway between bread and pastry. If the grains were not pre-mixed before milling, be sure to stir the flour to combine the different flours.
3 1/2 c. Mill Blend Flour
¼ c. Wheat Gluten
1 c. Unbleached All Purpose Flour
2 c. Warm Water
¼ c. Honey
1 ½ T. Yeast
1 ½ t. Salt
¼ c. Olive Oil
Combine all of the above in the bowl of the mixer, with the flours on the bottom. Set the timer for 10 minutes, and put the mixer on speed 2. Add in additional of the Mill Blend Flour, about ½ cup at a time (smaller increments toward the end) until the dough comes away from the sides. Let the mixer knead the dough until the timer finishes.
Transfer the dough to a lightly greased bowl. Flip the dough, then cover with plastic wrap and let rise until double.
Punch down, and knead the dough to re-distribute the yeast, just a minute or two. Divide into two large loaves, or two medium loaves and 4-6 dinner rolls. Roll as for bread, shape rolls, and place in lightly greased pans and cover to rise. When the dough begins to crest the top of the bread pans, turn oven to 375 degrees.
Place pans of dough in oven once it is pre-heated and bake bread loaves for 25-30 minutes. Because rolls are smaller, watch them for doneness after about 15-20 minutes.
This dough is also good for hot dog and hamburger buns. You may prefer to use 2 c. Unbleached All Purpose Flour for a lighter dough, or you can use the dough as listed above. If you use more of the white flour, use less of the Mill Blend Flour.
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