My mom’s family hails from central Kansas, where the tall-grass prairies of the Flint Hills stretch for endless mile after endless mile and small family owned farms rise up from the land. My mother was raised on one of those farms, awaking each morning to the sound of the milk can jingling as my grandfather returned from milking. My grandmother’s garden, the red-clad barn, the creek running through the property and acre upon acre of fields brimming with bounty comprised her landscape. My mother and her siblings have since inherited the farm, and the majority of her family still reside in that same small town. It is there, and throughout the state of Kansas, that my aunt is well-known for her homemade whole wheat bread.
Throughout the past few years, as we’ve sought to eliminate processed foods from our diet the best we can, I’ve experimented with a variety of homemade bread recipes. But without question, my aunt’s is the one I return to. Her recipe yields a consistently airy loaf with a beautiful rise. We love it straight out of the oven slathered with butter or honey-sweetened lemon curd (recipe to come). It also makes a fantastic sandwich bread.
This recipe calls for freshly ground wheat. I purchase my wheat berries from the Homestead Gristmill in Waco, Texas, where they grow their grains without chemical pesticides or fertilizers. I then have a very generous neighbor who grinds it for me as needed. But if you don’t have access to freshly ground wheat, you can substitute store-bought whole wheat flour. Also, be sure to keep an eye on the bread as it is rising. You want it to double in volume during both rises, no more. If you let it go too long, you won’t get any rise in the oven, and the result will be a dense loaf (believe me, I know!). I find that the first rise usually only takes about an hour and a half, and the second rise takes about an hour. A great place to let your bread rise is in the oven with the light on; just don’t heat your oven while your bread is rising.
Whole Wheat Bread
Yield: 3 loaves
4 cups freshly milled whole wheat flour
1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
4 to 5 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, plus more for kneading
2 Tablespoons dry yeast
1/2 teaspoon sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
1/4 cup oil
3 Tablespoons molasses
3 Tablespoons honey
Mix the 4 cups whole wheat flour with 3 cups water and 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar. Set aside to soak overnight or at least 3 hours.
After soaking, combine in a separate bowl 1/2 cup warm water with the yeast and sugar. Set aside to proof (double in volume).
While the yeast proofs, add the salt, oil, molasses and honey to the soaked wheat mixture. Pour in the proofed yeast, then mix in the 4 to 5 cups unbleached flour. Stir until the dough can be handled without sticking to your hands.
Flour your work surface, then pour the dough onto the floured surface and knead for 5 minutes, working in more four if necessary. Be careful not to add too much flour; you want a soft, elastic dough.
Grease the inside of a large bowl, drop the dough into the bowl, and then turn it so the greased side is facing up. Cover with a cloth and let rise in a warm place until doubled in volume. After the dough has doubled, turn it out onto a floured surface and cut into three equal parts. Form each section into a loaf and place in the greased loaf pans. Let rise until doubled.
Bake at 375 for 35 minutes. Remove from oven, spread the tops with butter, let cool and enjoy!