Today we embark on the gloriously rewarding adventure of baking breads at home!
Today we learn a bit more about what it means to gather the most basic of ingredients and patiently transform them into something classic… something that has been known for centuries as the most basic form of “good food” there is.
Baking bread is pure comfort and coziness from start to finish.
I intend to teach you many breads here on Pretty / Hungry. French baguettes, biscuits, pizza dough, maybe even pop-overs!
But today we’re going to start with the ever-delicious, ever-popular family recipe “Cracked Wheat Bread.” It’ll bring toast for breakfast back onto your list of daily “musts.”
First things first. This is cracked wheat!
I got mine at KROGER! (Which is where I get everything from tampons to dish soap. TMI?) You can also get it on Amazon. (Isn’t technology amazing?)
Cracked wheat is a very wholesome-tasting grain that is sold in various “grain sizes.” This is the #1, or super fine, grain. It’s the kind I recommend for this bread. And I found it in the international foods aisle in the Mediterranean section. Go getcha some!
And this is whole wheat flour…
It’s certainly fine to use all white flour if it’s all you have on hand… but the wheat does add a nice wholesome nuttiness to the bread. Plus, ya know… fiber (which is code for: helps you poop. A very good thing.)
Here’s what you’ll need:
-1/2 C. oats -2 T. dry milk -3 C. flour (bread flour or all-purpose or wheat)
-2 1/4 tsp. active dry yeast -1 1/4 tsp. salt
Don’t these ingredients just look good for ya?
Oh yeah, and there’s one more thing you need.
A bread machine!
Or a stand mixer with a dough-hook attachment.
Or a strong set of arms and some aggression to let out.
Or an Italian grandmother.
Any of the above will work fine for kneading your bread dough. The bread machine is just the easiest and least messy way to go about it.
I’ll interject here to say that I never, ever, actually bake my bread in the machine. Yes, while it is true that most standard machines have that capability, and while it is convenient… a big part of bread-making is the look of the finished loaf. And the bread machine bakes a very generic-looking tall square loaf that has a hole in the bottom from the kneading mechanism. And I’m like, “NO, thank you!”
We will be forming our loaf by hand.
Start by dumping everything into the mixing bucket/bowl/thing of your bread machine. (Or into the bowl of your mixer, or just a bowl if your hands are doing the mixing.)
First the water…
Then the butter…
Not melted and HOT but heated til its slightly mushy. The trick is to heat it in the 1/4 cup measurer so that your molasses will come out more easily later.
Now the molasses… one fourth-cup should come out pretty easily now!
I like to add the cracked wheat next. That gives it maximum time to soak up some moisture.
Next dump in the oats!
Isn’t this easy?
And the dry milk (also known as: powdered milk.)
Next comes the flour! Whatever combination of white and wheat you’ve chosen.
The final ingredient we’ll be dumping in is the yeast!
You can buy yeast in pre-measured packets… which I’ve done before. But my favorite way to do it is to buy it in a jar and measure it out. That way if I ever need a little more or a little less than a packet, there’s no waste!
So, measure out 2 1/4 teaspoons…
And dump the yeast in with the other ingredients!
We’re going to wait to add the salt later.
It’s a little trick to help the yeast get started… salt can inhibit the growth if added too soon.
Great, now click the dough bucket thing into place in the machine and select the “dough” setting.
Press Start… and then go amuse yourself for an hour and a half!
That’s right… this process is easy but I never said it was fast. And that’s ok! It’s worth it to have patience. Homemade bread is always worth it.
I decided to tidy up a bit.
And then I whipped out an old restaurant-trick we used to use on ketchup bottles when I worked at Belgian Waffle & Pancake House.
Feel free to peek as the bread machine kneads the dough.
Here’s an early peek, a few minutes in…
And here’s another peek about twenty minutes in…
Looks like its ready for the salt now!
Ok, now you can walk away for an hour (or two ) and relax and enjoy the sweet, yeasty, bready smell wafting in from the kitchen. It’s heavenly.
I sorta forgot about my dough for a few hours (which is no problem for this particular dough… it won’t go too crazy.)
Here’s what it should look like when you come back.
The smell of this is intoxicatingly good. Like when you’re smelling a baby.
Now, turn the dough out onto a floured surface.
And divide it into two (somewhat equal in size) hunks. Form those hunks into loaves.
Grab and egg and a splash of milk. And beat it slightly to make an eggwash.
Now, brush each lovely loaf with the egg wash.
Cut slits into each loaf. This helps them rise and also looks very nice!
And finish them off by sprinkling the tops with flax seeds or oats. I chose oats.
Give them about 45 minutes to sit and rise before baking.
It’s reeeeeally hard to wait at this point… especially if you’ve been thinking about eating this bread since 3 in the afternoon. But give em’ time to puff up!
When they got to about this point… I decided I wasn’t waiting anymore.
Bake the bread in a 375-degree oven for 19 minutes.
It’s very forgiving… it will brown up beautifully and be moist and delicious and chewy. Perfect for eating right out of the oven… perfect for toasting the next day!
Time to enjoy a little evening snack!
GOTTA add a little butter!
And of course apricot jam from the good ol’ Ozark foothills…
Or peanut butter and a little sprinking of salt is especially nice!
Or you can try what is perhaps my favorite way to eat it!
Smeared with peanut butter, sprinkled with a little salt, and topped with plump dried apricots.
This was a very, VERY good Saturday (and Sunday.)
The smells alone make it all worth it.
But of course, the real reward is the warm, slightly sweet, totally delicious cracked wheat bread you will be feasting on when you’ve finished.