For the last several years, we have been working to localize our food. One aspect is that we began milling our own wheat last fall, after discovering Sloping Hill Farm in Qualicum Beach was growing wheat. To find a source of wheat so close to home justified the $320 investment in a flour mill.
You can still buy small, stone flour mills like the days of old, but the reviews said they are very slow to grind any quantity of flour. Also, the friction generates significant heat, which will hasten the flour turning rancid.
We bought a Nutrimill on the recommendation of the wheat farmers. We are very happy with its high speed “bud buster” style blades that create fine flour quickly and without generating a lot of heat – although it is admittedly quite loud. We usually grind 10 cups of flour at a time, taking about five minutes to run through.
Half of the flour will be used in today’s loaf and the rest will go into a container in the fridge for the next loaf. Because our flour is truly 100% whole wheat, it contains all of the germ (the part of the seed that grows into the plant). The germ contains many micronutrients that are good for your health, but results in the flour spoiling sooner. In commercial flours, even those labelled “100% whole wheat”, much of the germ is removed to improve shelf life. White flour lasts the longest because the bacteria are literally starved of nutrients. In contrast, fresh-ground whole wheat flour should be used within a few weeks if stored in the cupboard, a few months if in the fridge, and potentially a few years if in the freezer. Incidentally, if stored dry, whole wheat in grain form will literally last for decades.
I resisted using a “bread-maker” at first, but it is just so much easier than mixing dough by hand. I don’t generally bake the loaf in the breadmaker, I just use it to make my dough. You can, of course, leave the dough and allow the breadmaker to run the full cycle and bake your bread for you, but I have found it makes a smaller, denser loaf. At the one hour mark, I pull out the dough for a final knead by hand – this step is necessary for the bread to rise well.
I tried running the dough through the breadmaker again for a second cycle of kneading, but it resulted in a loaf that didn’t rise at all. I later read that too much kneading will tear the gluten strands you are trying to build. Kneading lines up the strands of gluten, forming a fabric that traps the carbon dioxide, creating better rise and fluffier bread.
To knead, I lightly flour the counter to keep the dough from sticking. I then fold and flatten the dough with the heel of my hands, give it a quarter turn – fold – flatten, over and over. As you knead the bread, you will notice the dough get stiffer and harder to knead – when the kneading becomes difficult (maybe 5 minutes or so), the dough is ready for the pan.
To shape the loaf, I pinch the edges of the dough together and set it with the edges meeting in the bottom of the well oiled pan. I also like the aesthetics of a sharp knife cut across the top of the loaf.
Cover the loaf with a clean dish towel and let it rise in a warm location for about an hour. I turn the oven on for a minute to warm it slightly and let the loaf rise in there.
Remove your loaf before pre-heating the oven for cooking. Oven temperatures vary, so pay attention to the results you get. For my oven, I use the lower-middle rack at 350 degrees for about 30 minutes until golden brown.
Processed white flour almost always gives bread a decent rise, but fresh wheat provides a challenge. I’ve started adding 2 eggs to my loaves, measuring them as part of my 1 1/4 cup liquid. The eggs and the final knead after the breadmaker have created generous loaves for me.
My wife tells me my bread tastes like cake. She thinks it’s because of the two eggs, but I really think the secret ingredient is an extra big dollop of local honey.
It certainly takes more effort to make your own bread, although cheating with a breadmaker makes the whole process pretty easy. The results are well worth it: a nutritious whole wheat loaf you can eat as dessert.
Whole Wheat Breadmaker Dough Recipe:
- 1 1/4 cup liquid (2 eggs and remainder warm water)
- 3 Tbsp vegetable oil
- 3 Tbsp honey (I use heaping spoonfuls)
- 4-5 Cups Flour (start with 4 cups and add flour as needed)
- 3 tsp yeast
- 1 tsp salt
Put ingredients into breadmaker in above order. Check on your dough after 5 minutes – the dough should be lifting from the edges of the breadmaker as it kneads. If your dough is too dry and the machine is knocking heavily, add a tablespoon of water. If the dough is too wet and sticky, try adding small quantities of flour until the dough thickens into a ball.
After 1 hour, the dough is ready for a hand knead to shape for the pan. Leave it to rise for another 45 minutes to an hour in a warm location. Protect the dough from drafts by covering it with a clean dish towel. Drafts could cause your loaf to deflate.
Preheat oven to 350 degrees and bake on lower-middle rack for 30 minutes, or until golden brown.
Chris Semrick, B.Sc, RRT, CRE is a Registered Respiratory Therapist, Certified Respiratory Educator and a Smoking Cessation Counselor.