Until recently, I was afraid of making bread. My sister makes bread, kneads it by hand, does marvelous things.
About a year ago, we got a fantastic kitchen appliance: a KitchenAid stand mixer. Yes, it's heavy. Yes, it's barely too tall to fit on the countertop beneath the cabinets overhead. I don't care, I love my mixer! I make bread using the dough hook. I've not yet tried hand-kneading; for some reason I'm afraid of it. I have no clue how to judge elasticity or know if I've kneaded long enough or too long. I do "punch down" the loaf by hand kneading it a little - maybe half a dozen times. I feel this amount of hand kneading is a fine accomplishment and I am proud of it.
Usually I follow the recipes included in the booklet that came with the mixer. I've also tried a recipe or two I got from friends and one from my Backwoods Home cookbook. Most recipes I use make two loaves. That's a good thing, because we eat the first loaf right out of the oven when it's too hot to even slice neatly. I use whole wheat flour, which makes for a heavier, coarser loaf than "regular" bleached or unbleached flour. The whole wheat bread is great for accompanying a meal or a bowl of soup, but is a bit dense for sandwiches (in my opinion - my husband loves sandwiches on the whole wheat). I find that if a recipe makes a heavy loaf that won't rise well, adding about a tablespoon of wheat gluten to a two-loaf batch of dough helps a lot. The flavor and nutritional value of homemade whole wheat is unbelievable. Store-bought bread absolutely cannot compare.
The loaves above are Honey Oatmeal Bread, from the KitchenAid booklet. This bread is a fabulous breakfast bread - excellent with jam, honey, or apple butter. I didn't bother topping the loaves with egg white and oatmeal, but it does make a beautiful loaf if you do that. The dough hook is used for everything, including mixing the dry ingredients.
Honey Oatmeal Bread
- 1 1/2 cups water
- 1/2 cup honey
- 1/3 cup butter or margarine
- 5 1/2 - 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
- 1 cup quick cooking oats
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 packages active dry yeast
- 2 eggs
- 1 egg white
- 1 tablespoon water
- 1 tablespoon wheat gluten*
First place oats, then 5 cups flour, salt, and yeast in the bowl. Mix well.
Gradually add the warm water mixture to flour and mix well.
Add remaining flour, 1/2 cup at a time, until dough starts to clean sides of bowl (if using whole wheat flour, let the dough stay a little "sticky") and knead a couple of minutes longer. Be careful not to add too much flour, as this results in a dry loaf. I guess this is where you would hand-knead the dough and gradually add flour if you were going to hand knead, but I'm not sure. Comments from experienced hand-kneaders welcome!
Place dough in greased bowl, turning to grease top. Cover, let rise in warm place, free from draft, about 1 hour or until doubled in bulk.
Punch dough down and divide in half (I divide in half and then hand knead each half a few times). Form into loaves. Place in greased 8.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 baking pans. Cover. Let rise in warm place, free from draft, about 1 hour, or until doubled in bulk. I've had this step take up to 4 hours; wheat gluten helps a lot if your loaves are slow to rise on the second rising.
Beat egg white and water together with a fork. Brush tops of loaves with mixture. Sprinkle with oatmeal. Bake at 375F for 30 to 40 minutes. Remove from pans immediately and cool on wire racks.
* I add wheat gluten because I use whole wheat flour instead of all-purpose, and it helps the second rising.