I do a lot of bread baking. Almost all the bread we eat is homemade--and that's a lot of bread. I've always loved fresh bread. There's something fascinating and magical (or should I say scientific? I get those mixed up all the time) about mixing a few basic ingredients together, subjecting the resultant mass to certain conditions and seeing it transform into a beautiful, airy loaf of fragrant deliciousness.
Bread's not really hard to make, and it doesn't take much actual hands on time, but there's a lot of waiting time... I gave up bread making for awhile when I had too many little kids, because I'd always forget the bread and let it rise too long or something. But it's also something of an art. Yeast is alive. I'm going to tell you how I made the loaf in the picture, but there's no guarantee yours will come out right. It probably will, but maybe it won't. I still get the occasional flop--after 15 years of practice.
Honey Wheat Bread
In a bowl, stir together:
2 cups white flour
3 cups whole wheat
1.5 Tablespoons dry yeast (or two packets)
1 Tablespoon salt
Add 2.5 cups of warm water--about 115 degrees, and I just estimate by touch--warmer than body temp, but not too hot to touch comfortably. Temp is not highly essential--too hot will kill the yeast, too cold just means it will take longer to rise. 120 is too hot.
Add 1/3 cup oil and 1/3 cup honey.
Stir to combine, I like to use a wooden spoon. But if you have a good mixer with a dough attachment, just let your machine take it from here--it probably has instructions.
Put a cup of white flour on a clean counter and dump out your dough, which should be pretty sticky at this point. (Or do like me and just knead it right in the bowl.) Turn the dough over a couple of times so it's well coated with flour, and try to avoid getting sticky dough all over your hands.
To knead, push into the dough with the heel of one hand. rotate the dough a quarter turn and fold it with the other hand, and repeat. Knead 2 or 3 minutes. The dough will gradually pick up the rest of the flour while you knead. Add more flour if it absorbs it all and is still very sticky--I needed about another 1/2 cup--but adding too much extra flour will make the bread dry. Now let the dough rest about 10 or 15 minutes. (This is a "busy mom" trick that cuts down on the hands-on kneading time.) Then knead another 2 or 3 minutes. By this time the dough should be soft and elasticy, and maybe slightly tacky, but not really sticky.
Now, put the dough in a big, lightly oiled bowl. Put the bowl in a big plastic bag (I use a small trash bag) and leave it in a warm place to rise. Or you can cover with plastic wrap, or a damp cloth. Or you can put it in a big pot and put the lid on. The point is to keep the dough moist. This will probably take around 2 hours--maybe more.
When the dough has doubled, press it down to deflate it, cut in half and form into loaves. I like to make big french style loaves:
Put the dough on lightly floured surface and press into a long flat slab with the heel of your hand. Don't tear the dough, just work it gradually into the shape. Fold top third down, pressing firmly along seam to seal. Fold bottom third up, pressing again along seam. Mine were about 14 inches long. Place seam side down on lightly oiled cookie sheet. I use one big sheet, or use two regular sized ones. But leave room for them to rise. They won't get much longer, but they will get wider.
Put the cookie sheet(s) inside plastic bags and let rise again till doubled. This rising will be quicker than the first--check after about 45 minutes. Mine took about an hour, but it will depend on the temp of the dough and the temp of your house.
When it's ready to bake, place the cookie sheets gently into a preheated 350 degree oven about 35-45 minutes. The temp of a finished loaf is 195-200 degrees. You can test for doneness by thumping the bottom of the loaf--it should sound hollow--but I'm not very good at telling that way.
Let it sit for 15 minutes before you cut it--if you can resist that long!