In the past 5 years I’ve gone from spooning chunks of cookie dough onto a tray and calling it baking, to baking my own bread every week. I can’t remember the last time I bought bread at the grocery store. Rest assured, my skills are not impressive. This is something you can easily master too.
Fair warning – I do have a KitchenAid stand mixer with bread hook. I know next to nothing about kneading by hand. I direct you to YouTube if you don’t have your own mixer. I will be writing an ode to my mixer at some point in the future. They aren’t cheap, but if you register for one expensive item on your wedding registry, maybe your grandma will buy it for you (thanks, Nan!)
We eat a lot of whole wheat bread in my household; my husband takes a sandwich to work most days, my son likes an egg on toast for lunch, and I enjoy delicious Marmite on toast as a snack most afternoons because I’m weird like that. So it became one of the easiest targets for making at home to save money. I started with a basic sandwich bread recipe that I found somewhere online. My first bread was sort of brick like. It took me a couple of loaves to understand the basics and make it turn out just perfectly. In the process I modified the recipe into my own. Most recipes seemed to make two loaves, and I prefer to make one at a time. I also picked up a few tricks along the way, and now I have a recipe and system that I love and that I can replicate every time.
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread
- 1 Cup Warm Water
- 1 Tbsp + 1/4 Cup Brown Sugar
- 2 Tbsp Yeast
- 1/4 Cup Canola Oil
- 1/2 Cup Milk
- 2 Cups Whole Wheat Flour
- 1 + 3/4 Cups White Flour
- 1 + 1/2 tsp Salt
The TL;DR Directions
Place all ingredients in mixing bowl, mix with bread hook on speed 2 for 10 minutes. Let rise for 1 hour. Shape into rectangle on wet surface and then roll into loaf. Place in greased loaf pan for 25 minutes and preheat oven to 400. Bake on 400 for 10 minutes and 350 for 25 minutes.
Directions For People Who Are Terrified of Screwing Up Their First Loaf of Bread
In the mixing bowl of your stand mixer dissolve 1 Tbsp of brown sugar in the warm water. The water shouldn’t be too warm or it will kill the yeast. When I first started baking I’d get it as warm as I could without it being uncomfortable to keep my hand in and that seemed to work great. Sprinkle 2 Tbsp of yeast on top of the sugar water and leave alone for 15 minutes. When you return your yeast will have done all sorts of exciting, bubbly, growing things. Note: If you’re confident that your yeast is good, you can skip this proofing step. These days I use lukewarm water and toss all the ingredients right on top without waiting on my yeast to activate.
Next add the remaining 1/4 Cup of brown sugar, 1/4 cup of canola oil, and 1/2 cup of room temperature milk. I typically use whole milk, but I’m not sure this makes much difference. Then 2 cups of whole wheat flour are dumped in the mixing bowl, followed by 1 cup of white flour and then another almost full cup of white flour.
To be perfectly honest, I eyeball this last one so I’m estimating in the ingredients above that it’s a 3/4 cup. It’s probably a little more than that. Every recipe I’ve read says to add the last cup in slowly while mixing until you’re at the perfect consistency. I didn’t enjoy that game, so I figured out what I needed in my part of the world and I just do that from the get go. When you first start baking this recipe, you can add just a little of the list bit at a time with your mixer running. The idea is to get the dough to come away from the sides of the bowl while also not being too dry. I find if I mix on the second notch of my KitchenAid stand mixer and have the flour ratio just perfect then after about 5 minutes of mixing what seemed like very wet dough comes away from the sides and is perfect. So I don’t like the slowly adding method, because what might be adequate and come away from the sides if given a few minutes longer probably seems too wet initially and will lead you to add too much flour and then bake bricks.
So, you’ve added just under 2 cups of white flour. Now you add the salt. Don’t add it before the flour because salt can do evil things to yeast. I’ve never encountered any problems with just tossing it on top of the flour and then quickly getting it all mixed in and distributed, but if you love having extra dishes to wash, you can mix the flour and salt together separately and then add to the mixer.
Now place your dough hook on the mixer, lock it down, and mix and knead everything together for 7-10 minutes on speed 2 of your stand mixer. Make sure to place this spill shield on first so you don’t end up with flour everywhere!
It may start climbing the dough hook and coming away from the sides of the bowl before 10 minutes is up, but it still needs to be thoroughly kneaded – 7 to 10 minutes is my sweet spot. Once done I pull up the mixer covered in dough, quickly pour a tiny drop of oil into the bowl and oil the sides (I can usually use the dregs from my earlier 1/4 Cup) and then pull all the dough off the hook and turn in the oil. It shouldn’t be so sticky that it’s attacking your fingers at this point, and once turned in the oil it shouldn’t be tacky at all, but it shouldn’t be too dry either. We are not going for play dough texture here.
You also don’t have to oil the bowl either. You can also cover the bowl with a wet tea towel so that it doesn’t lose moisture while it rises, but I like the oiling method because it makes the dough easier to work with.
Let rise until doubled. This can vary in time depending on location, temperature, elevation, but I find mine takes about 45 minutes and I don’t worry too much if it rises too much. Just don’t punch it down if it hasn’t doubled in size yet. It’s really the second rising that you don’t want to get out of hand! On a WET surface (yes, ignore everyone who says floured surface) place the dough and roll (or just hand shape like I do) into a rectangle – like an oversized piece of printer paper. Then roll the loaf the long way and press the seam together and place in a greased loaf pan. Make sure you greased the corners extra well. Your dough will be all sorts of squishy goodness and you’ll be able to feel the life in it yearning to start the second rise.
(My dough and I are getting pretty close, apparently.)
Let sit for approximately 25 minutes. Keep your eye on it towards the end, you want it to rise into a perfect loaf shape, not start spilling over the sides and getting all wiley on you or it’ll be very crumbly. Then pop it into a preheated 400 degree oven for 10 minutes (or a not preheated 400 degree oven for 15 minutes if you’re an irresponsible bread baker like me) and then turn it down to 350 degrees for 25 minutes. Tada! Your bread is done.
Place on a cooling rack and then enjoy.
I like to keep mine in old hot dog bun bags because they’re extra wide. We eat it so fast that I keep it in the cupboard rather than the fridge, but interestingly even if it takes us a week to get through one loaf it seems to stay good longer than the fresh baked loaves I used to buy at Safeway.
Should you bake your own bread? A resounding yes! Here’s why:
Brown Sugar: I need to start buying the big package of brown sugar, but for some reason I haven’t made the leap yet and have been buying the 4 lb bags for $3.28 at Costco. Cost per loaf: 11 cents
Yeast: DO NOT BUY PACKETS! Vow now to always buy yeast in bulk. For the longest time this is why I couldn’t figure out how people were baking bread for so cheap. You can get a teeny tiny one use packet of yeast for practically the same price as 2 lbs of yeast at Costco – $4.93. Cost per loaf: 9 cents
Canola Oil: 1.5 gallons of canola oil at Costco is currently $9.40. Cost per loaf: Almost 10 cents
Milk: I only buy organic milk, albeit probably not the best most pure organic on the market. I’m perfectly happy with O Organic brand which is $5.29 a gallon at Safeway (occasionally on sale through Just 4 U!) Cost per loaf: 16 and a half cents
Whole Wheat Flour: 50 lbs of ADM Whole Wheat Flour at Cash & Carry is $14.28. That’s 175 cups total. Cost per loaf: 16 and a half cents
White Flour: I buy flour either at Costco or Cash & Carry, typically a 50 lb bag of ConAgra All Purpose for $15.87. That’s 181.5 cups total, and I’ll round up to cups per loaf to be safe. Cost per loaf: 17 and a half cents
Salt: I purchase Morton Canning and Pickling Salt (also good for everything else) at Cash & Carry for $1.87 for 4 Lbs. How many teaspoons are in 4 lbs of salt? Approximately 320. Cost per loaf: less than a penny
That’s approximately 81 and a half pennies for a delicious home baked loaf of bread. Compare that to the Famous Bake House Bread I was buying for $3.89 at Safeway and you’ve got yourself a steal! We go through approximately a loaf and a half of bread a week – that’s approximately $240 in savings each year. Compound this with the fact that now YOU CAN BAKE BREAD! and your savings keeps going up. A delicious Italian loaf that impresses your guests? Practically free. Hamburger buns? Practically free. Hot dog buns? Practically free, AND no more agonizing over the fact that buns and actual hot dogs are sold in different counts, wthell.
You are now a baking super hero.