Food I cook for my family, baking recipes, cookbook reviews, and your cooking questions answered
Simple wholemeal loaf
This has to be the easiest bread you can knock up at home, with a few ingredients. Kids love it when it’s fresh and soft, but it also makes for a wonderful toast.
In theory you can make this with 100% wholemeal flour, but the kneading gets quite difficult, and the bread quite dense, unless you add a decent amount of fat. If you are starting out baking bread, this is a good recipe to attempt. I suggest a 50/50 blend of wholewheat to white flour. Once you have mastered this, you can increase the ratio to 60:40 or even 70:30. If you do increase the wholewheat content, remember to increase the water a tad, because the bran in the wholewheat absorbs more water.
You do need to use high gluten / bread / strong flour for this bread. If you can’t find strong flour, check if you can buy gluten from a health food store and add that to the mix (about 1-2 tablespoons) as the bread needs the strength, else it will be dense.
A stand mixer will make the whole process a lot easier. I have made this bread by hand, and it does need about 10-15 minutes of good kneading. If you do make it by hand, definitely pre-soak the flour (autolyse) as stated in the recipe, and then use intermittent kneading / resting for 15 minutes until you achieve the window pane test. For kneading, check out this video by Richard Bertinet.
This is a good time to briefly talk about baker’s percentages – bread bakers just remember formulas, not recipes. Everything is expressed as a percentage of the total flour. A very simple formula to remember (with which you can whip up a good basic bread) is given below. Although bread doesn’t need much other than flour, water, salt and yeast, for wholemeal bread, I do add a touch of oil and a tiny bit of honey to help the yeast.
100 % flour
1% instant yeast
The water is mentioned is grams, as it’s easy to weigh that along with the flour, and more accurate than eye balling in a measuring cup.
Simple wholemeal loaf
If you have the time, do soak the flours and water for 30-45 minutes before you add the remaining ingredients, as it allows the flour to hydrate and make kneading quicker. If you don't, just mix all the ingredients and jump straight to step 3. As with all bread recipes, if you need to step out and need a break in the bread making, you can pop the dough into the fridge (see notes below). I wouldn't recommend doing this more than once in the process, and ideally not on your first attempt!
Measure out the warm water into the bowl of a stand mixer. Then add the flour (measuring the water first avoids bits of flour lurking at the base of the bowl after mixing.)
Mix together on the first speed until just mixed, and no dry bits of flour remain. Cover with a shower cap or cling fling, and leave for 30-45 minutes if possible.
Uncover and prepare the final dough by adding the remaining ingredients - yeast, salt, honey and oil. Switch on the mixer, mix on first speed for 2-3 minutes in order to incorporate the ingredients. If necessary, correct the hydration by adding water or flour in small amounts.
Rest the dough for 2 minutes and then mix again on second speed for 2 minutes. Repeat rest and mix one more time. The dough should be supple and moderately loose.
The dough should pass the window-pane test. If you have a thermometer, the dough temperature should be between 23-26C.
Cover the dough, and allow it to rise for 90 minutes to 2 hours. At the halfway mark (45min-1hour), give the dough one fold and turn. To do that, transfer the dough on to a floured counter. Acting as if the dough has four corners, stretch and pull each corner and bring it back to the middle of the dough. Then flip the ball of dough over and place again in the oiled bowl (See my video above to see how it's done).
At the end of this fermentation, the dough should double. If it doesn’t, it’s probably too cold where it is, so keep it for a bit longer in a warmish place, until it doubles.
Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured surface, and pre-shape lightly into a round, following the same method described in step 4. Leave it on the work surface, covered with plastic. Once the dough has relaxed for about 15 minutes, shape into a loaf, as follows.
First flatten the dough into a rough oval shape. (Watch the shaping video). Stretch the left side of the dough and fold into the centre and use the side of your palm to push the edge of the dough into the centre to seal. Repeat the same action with the right side of the dough, by folding and bringing it into the centre. The idea is to create some tension on the outside surface of the dough, which will form the exterior of the bread. Now roll the top third down into the centre and repeat the same process by using the side of the palm to join the side to centre. Roll the top down to create a nice package and pinch the seam together.
Place in a lightly oiled deep loaf tin (see note below), seam side down. Use your knuckles to press the loaf down firmly and level the top.
Dust the top of the loaf with some flour, and then using a sharp knife make a few diagonal cuts across the loaf. Alternatively use a pair of sharp kitchen scissors and snip the top of the loaf 3-4 times. Cover the tin with a shower cap or cling wrap and leave to prove in a warm place (ideally 28-30C) for 45 min to 1 hour.
You know that the loaf is fully risen and ready to bake, when it reaches the top of the tin and crests over. If you're unsure, you can try the poke test. Flour your finger and poke the top of the bread gently. The indent should be visible and only slowly fill back. This is the point at which the bread is ready to be baked. If the indent springs back too quickly, leave for another 10 minutes. Preheat the oven to 230C with a tray in the bottom third of the oven.
Once the bread is ready to go into the oven, spray some water on the top of the bread and then place on the preheated tray in the oven. Create steam in the oven by throwing a few ice cubes on the tray in the oven, and quickly close the door. After a few minutes, open the door a crack and spray some more water using a spray bottle.
Bake the bread for 20 minutes at 230C, then lower the oven temperature to 200°C and bake for another 20-25 minutes. At the end of the baking time take the tin out of the oven, invert carefully using an oven glove and tap the bottom of the bread. It should sound hollow when knocked on with your knuckles. If in doubt, and you possess an instant read thermometer; check the internal temperature of the bread. It should read 96°C. Bake longer if needed.
Allow to cool completely on a wire rack before slicing
A weighing scale is essential for making bread.
All proving timings are based on an ambient kitchen temperature of between 23 and 26°C. If your kitchen is cooler it could take longer, and you have to rely on the dough doubling as an indication, rather than the timings given. In Singapore, if I left the dough on the kitchen counter, it would develop much faster, and I would have to slow it down by finding a cooler spot. As a general guide, use the shorter timings for a warm kitchen and the longer timings for a cooler kitchen. One solution to a cold kitchen is to place the dough in the oven with the pilot light on.
The best thing about bread making is that you can work around your schedule. At any point in the proofing process, if you need to get suspend the process (and it has happened to me), just pop the dough, well covered, in the fridge. The dough will continue to proof but very slowly. If you do this, you will need to then judge timing based on the "size" of the dough. for e.g. doubling the dough in the fridge will take a lot longer.
Loaf tins come in different sizes and the ones with sloping sides are generally meant for loaf cakes and not bread. Tins for making bread have straight sides and tend to be deeper. I always use a deep tin for making bread and this recipe is perfect for a standard loaf tin, which measures 20cmx12cmx11cm. If you are using a cake tin you might have excess dough, which you can use to make a few rolls.
The best way to avoid dough sticking to your fingers is to wet them. It's much easier than flouring your fingers. Use water for all dough handling, except at the very end when you are doing the final shaping as you need to keep the outside of the dough dry.
“Autolyse” is a bread baking term, which just means letting the flour and water mix rest, which aids gluten formation, and is particularly useful when using whole grain flour as it allows the bran to hydrate fully and make the subsequent kneading a lot easier.
This is a perfect bread for toasting from frozen. If you have any left over after two days slice and freeze it in a ziplock bag.