Do you ever watch a movie or TV show set during the 1800’s or read a book from the same era and think,
“I wonder what it was like to have to wear long dresses all the time, even when it was a zillion degrees and crazy humid . . .”
“I wonder how people slept on mattresses stuffed with hay, grass, or cotton, ’cause I’m sure my allergies and back wouldn’t have tolerated any of those . . . “
“I wonder how often people got bladder infections in the dead of winter when the privy was below freezing . . .”
I wonder those things and more. Like how rewarding yet exhausting it must have been to make most foods from scratch since the word “instant” wasn’t in Americans’ vocabulary. And I’m guessing drive-thrus hadn’t been invented yet.
So every once in awhile I get in touch with what I imagine my 1800’s self would be like, had I been fortunate (?) enough to live during that century. I’ll make chunky apple sauce from scratch, can peaches, add veggies to my garden or plant another fruit tree, even bake bread from scratch.
My holiday endeavor this past year was making whole wheat yeast bread as gifts for some lucky people. I find freshly baked bread, with a crisp crust and soft, springy inside, to be delectable, so I thought others might appreciate it, too.
You may think I was overly ambitious by taking on this task, especially since there’s a thing called a bread maker I have tucked away in a closet. You may even contemplate how looney a person must be to take on such a task during one of the busiest times of the year.
Apparently I was nesting, because we’d just moved into a new home a few weeks prior. So there you have it.
Should you also feel like nesting, getting in touch with your 1800’s roots, or want to try something new this year, the recipe is below. It’s really not as hard as it seems. Simply keep repeating, “Yeast is my friend, yeast is my friend” as you go and you’ll be fine.
Who knows? Maybe next December I’ll churn my own butter to go with the bread . . . or not.
3 packages (1/4 ounce each) active dry yeast
5 c. lukewarm water, divided
1/4 – 1/2 c. honey or agave (optional)
1/3 c. canola oil
1/2 c. sugar or 1/4 c. sugar and 1/4 c. Splenda
2 tsp. salt
4 c. whole wheat flour
6 – 8 c. bread flour
The dough will seem like it has too much liquid when you’re mixing it up.
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast in 3/4 c. lukewarm water. If the water is hot rather than lukewarm it may kill the yeast. Add the remaining water, honey, oil, sugar, salt, whole wheat flour,
The dough will be too sticky to work with if you don’t add enough flour before kneading it.
and 3 c. bread flour. Mix until smooth. Stir in enough additional bread flour to form a soft dough, which will be sticky.
Place a decent amount of flour on a clean surface before you start kneading and keep adding flour on the surface as you knead so the dough doesn’t stick.
Turn onto a well-floured surface. Knead until smooth and elastic, about 6 – 8 minutes. Place in a bowl coated with cooking spray, turning once to coat the
top or spray cooking spray on the top. Cover and let rise in a warm place (like in the room where your water heater is located or by the washer and dryer) until doubled, about 1 hour.
The dough balloons up nicely as it rises.
To knead, fold the dough in half and do a 1/4 turn after you push down. Use your upper body weight to push down rather than just your arms so you don’t get tired fast.
Punch the dough down. Shaped into 4 loaves. Place in 9″ x 5″ x 3″ pans coated with cooking spray. Cover and let rise until nearly doubled, about 30 minutes.
Bake at 350 degrees for 25 – 35 minutes (depending on if your oven runs hot and whether you’re using glass pans, which bake faster).
This is how the dough looks after you’ve finished kneading. It should no longer be sticky. I cut it with a sharp knife to divide it into 4 loaves.