Introduction: 100% Whole Wheat Home-Ground Sandwich Bread, Rolls, and Focaccia

About: Science fiction and fantasy author. Once-archaeologist. Foodie. Mom. Occasional woodworker and beginning gardener.

This bread is made from six simple ingredients, with only home-ground, whole wheat flour. In this instructable, I'll show you how to bake the dough into sandwich bread, Dutch oven pull-apart rolls, and focaccia loaves.

When I first got a wheat grinder, none of my favorite standby recipes (all no-knead) worked anymore. Home-ground wheat isn't the same as store bought. Even the stuff labeled 100% whole wheat has usually been processed or altered in some way to extend the shelf life.

Despite the learning curve, it was worth it. Freshly ground wheat has a sweet, clean flavor. It's fun. And, I found out, with a little kneading, it's possible to make a great bread with simple ingredients. Many sandwich bread recipes have milk or eggs, but I developed this with more shelf-stable ingredients I can always have on hand. For this bread, all you need is:

2 cups tap water

1/3 cup sugar (brown sugar, white sugar, or honey all work great)

2 teaspoons salt

3 tablespoons oil (canola oil, sunflower oil, olive oil, melted butter...whatever you fancy)

5 1/2 to 6 1/2 cups of home ground white whole wheat flour, or about 1 lb 10 oz (more detail on this is up next)

1 tablespoon instant dry yeast

Step 1: Grinding Your Own Wheat

First, you'll need a way to grind wheat. Wheat grinders are fairly expensive. I own a Wondermill, which as of this writing, costs $220 on Amazon. I really like baking bread, but wheat grinders can also turn popcorn kernels into cornmeal, lentils into lentil flour, and so on. It's been more than worth the investment for me. I've heard of people trying to use high-power blenders, but these don't get the same fine consistency as a mill. Home mills are a bit noisy (like a vacuum cleaner), but fast and efficient. For the past seven or eight years, mine has been happily turning eight cups of wheat berries into heaps of flour in just a few minutes. If you're looking into getting a mill, I encourage you to do plenty of research to see what meets your needs.

When grinding wheat, follow the directions for your mill. I highly prefer the hard white wheat I've pictured here. Most of the time, at least in the USA, when you run across anything labeled "whole wheat", it's made from hard red wheat. This wheat has that nutty, strong flavor. Hard white wheat is nutritionally equivalent to its red cousin, but much more mild-tasting.

Finding wheat berries in your area may take some Googling. I live close to a Winco, which sells 25lb bags of non-GMO hard white wheat berries for ten dollars and some change. Other stores with bulk food sections may offer hard white wheat berries as well. If they're not available in large bags, it may be worth it to talk to a manager and see if you can special order your own bags and get a further discount. There are online providers as well, but shipping costs makes this less economical.

Step 2: The Other Ingredients

Water: I just use tap water. Nothing fancy. If I've just ground the flour, so it's already quite warm, I use cold water. If I have room-temperature flour, I use water that's warm to the touch. Cold dough is much slower to rise.

Salt: I use plain old table salt. This bread recipe isn't super-picky, though. If you like kosher and have it on hand, go for it.

Oil: I have used canola, olive oil, sunflower oil, and melted butter in here. I don't think the flavor changes between them are particularly noticeable, since there's so little oil to dough. Any relatively neutral-flavored cooking oil should do.

Sugar: This helps feed the yeast and keeps the bread tender. Brown sugar, white sugar, and honey all work fine here. I haven't tried other sugar options (like agave syrup), but they'd likely also work. If you're using a sweetener you haven't tried before, just watch the dough during the early kneading to make sure it doesn't throw off how much flour you need.

Yeast: Plain old instant dry yeast. You can use one of the teeny-tiny packets for this recipe if you like -- they only have 2 1/4 tsp, so the bread will take a bit longer to rise. Buying yeast in the jar or from a bulk foods isle is usually much more economical, though.

Step 3: Putting the Dough Together

If you're an experienced bread maker, you probably already have your favorite way to knead and rise bread. Mine is inside a bread machine. It does almost all of the work for me and creates a warm, moist environment that gives me a great first rise even in the dead of winter. The really nice thing about bread machines is that thrift stores always seem to have them in abundance. I bought mine for $7 and it's been faithfully rising my bread for years. I almost never actually bake in it. The proportions of this recipe give me the most dough that my machine can handle (as dough. If I tried to actually bake this bread in it, the whole thing would overflow horribly).

If you have your own method for kneading dough, knead this well and let it rise for at least an hour in a warm place. But my lazy bread machine method goes like this:

Pour in the water, salt, sugar, and oil into the mixing bowl of the bread machine. Then add 5 1/2 cups of your freshly ground white whole wheat flour. Then pour the yeast on top. Set your bread machine to its dough setting, and hit 'go'.

Step 4: Adjust the Flour

Especially the first time you do this, you'll want to stick around for the first five minutes. Humidity in the air, the tap water, and probably ten million other things can affect how the dough forms.

After the dough has been going for a few minutes, peek inside.

There will almost always be a bit of something clinging to the sides. Scrape this down with a wooden spoon, or something else that won't scratch the bowl.

If the dough is shaggy or sticking to the walls, add some more flour. Where I live now, I always need just six cups, but in a different state, my dough formed with less. You might end up needing more.

If you have a round dough ball that is merrily thumping from wall to wall, congratulations! It's perfect. Let it be.

If the inside of your bread machine sounds like a fistfight and you're worried it might knock itself off the counter, there's too much flour. Next time, start with less. For now, add water one tablespoon at a time until it quiets down a bit.

At the end of the kneading, you should have a lovely, smooth ball of dough.

Advanced: After you've made this bread several times and are pretty sure about exactly how much flour you need, you can dump everything in and carefully put the yeast on top of the flour so it's not touching any water. Most bread machines have a delay function. Since there aren't any highly perishable ingredients in this recipe, you could delay the bread to start kneading later, so that it finishes when you get home, or early in the morning, or whenever.

The bit of flour that clings to the side of the mixing bowl will end up in a clump on the outside of your dough, but it can be easily brushed off, no harm done.

Step 5: The First Rise

My bread machines takes an hour and a half to go from a bunch of ingredients to dough. The dough should be warm to the touch, very airy, and much larger than you last left it. Once you get to this step, you have a lot of options of what to do with it.

This dough, you can see, was a bit too warm. It collapsed all over itself. The bread machine is nice and warm, the dough went in warm, and then I moved it near the window so I'd have better light for photos. If you get really warm dough like this, just watch it carefully when it's rising, because it will go faster than usual.

Step 6: Bake Foccacia

Focaccia is very forgiving of a too-short rise or a too-long rise, and the easiest of the three baking methods I'm showing.
Dump all of your nicely risen dough onto a cooking sheet covered with a silpat or parchment paper. Use your fingertip to spread the dough out until it nearly fills the pan. Cover lightly with plastic wrap, or a tea towel, and leave it alone for thirty minutes. After that, drizzle a bit of olive oil on top of the bread, and sprinkle with salt. Feel free to get creative -- garlic and herbs go great on top of focaccia, too.

Preheat your oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. Put the rack in the top third of the oven, and slide in the bread on its cookie sheet. Let it bake for 13-15 minutes.

This bread is great for cutting into squares and slicing in half for sandwiches. You could also cut it into wedges and serve with a dip as an appetizers.

Step 7: Bake Sandwhich Bread

Divide your nicely risen dough into two sections. You can form it directly into logs and place, seam-side down, into a well-greased 9.5 inch loaf pan. This will give you a faster final rise (around half an hour to forty minutes), but risks over-rising and collapse. I've started giving the dough just one or two kneads, then shaping it. This helps redistribute the bubbles and produces a slightly higher, more even rise.

Lightly cover the pans with plastic wrap or a tea towel. I'm using a re-purposed baby receiving blanket. My dough is already warm from its rise in the bread machine, so I don't put it in any especially warm place. Just on the counter top works fine. If you haven't given your dough a second, quick knead, start checking it after half an hour. Dough with that extra knead usually takes an hour. When the dough is ready, it will be much bigger. If you (gently!) poke the dough and it doesn't spring back quickly, it's proofed and ready to bake.

If the top of your bread looks sunken instead of domed, this means it's risen too long. You can reshape the bread and try again, or if your patience is running thin, dump it out on a cookie sheet and follow the previous step for focaccia bread, which is very forgiving. Just don't bake it as-is. It'll have a denser texture than it ought to.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit and bake on the center rack for thirty minutes, or until golden brown. Remove from the oven, flip out of pans, and set somewhere to cool. Let it sit at least five minutes. Cutting into piping-hot bread can mess with the inside texture. Theoretically, it should cool all the way, but me and anyone in the house is rarely that patient. Hot bread is more difficult to cut -- you'll get big slabs that deserve butter and jam. If you want thin slices for sandwiches, you'll actually need to let it cool for an hour or two.

Step 8: Bake Dutch Oven Pull-Apart Rolls

This only requires half a recipe of dough. You can either halve to dough recipe to start, or use the rest for a single loaf of sandwich bread or a smaller loaf of focaccia.

Grease a 10" cast iron Dutch oven super-well. Rub butter all over the bottom and up the sides. I've had rolls stick before, and there's nothing quite as depressing as hot rolls that cannot be properly eaten.

Divide the dough into twelve pieces. Shape into balls and set roughly equally around the inside of the well-greased Dutch oven.

Cover and let this rise for 20-40 minutes, depending on how warm your dough and house are. The rolls will expand into each other. Unlike sandwich loaves, however, these are not prone to collapsing on themselves. They're held up by the Dutch oven and by each other.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Bake near the center of the oven with the Dutch oven lid on for twenty minutes. Remove the lid, then finish baking for another ten minutes. Remove from the oven.

You can leave these rolls in the Dutch oven for another hour or so, but the edges will continue to brown. You can also brush a little melted butter, or garlic butter, or whatever you like on the top when they come out.

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