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This is the homemade whole wheat bread recipe I grew up on. And it is also the bread recipe my mom grew up on. To help save money, my grandma would make her own bread for her large family. She passed this recipe down to my mom who passed it down to me. My mom would grind her own whole wheat flour and make this bread for us. We always loved helping her knead the dough and shape the loaves. The best part was being rewarded with a warm slice of fresh bread slathered with jam or honey. My mom’s original recipe produced 3 loaves, but I’ve adapted the recipe to produce only 2 loaves (much more realistic for me). That way I have one to keep and one to give away!
Bread is not as scary as most people think. Most people are scared of working with yeast or don’t know what bread dough should feel like. Hopefully, these step by step pictures will help you gain confidence in your bread making skills!
The first step is to activate your yeast. This bread recipe calls for active-dry yeast. If you want to use instant, you can! Active-dry yeast needs warm water to “activate” and make your bread rise. You usually “proof” it by allowing it to sit in warm water with something sugary for around 10 minutes before adding it to your dough. This helps you make sure that your yeast will work before you go through the trouble of making you bread dough. Instant yeast just lets you skip this step and add the yeast directly to your dough without proofing it. If you are using instant yeast for this recipe, just follow the same instructions for the active-dry yeast. It will still work perfectly.
To start making this homemade whole wheat bread add 2 cups of warm water, 4 teaspoons of active-dry yeast, and 1/3 cup of honey in a small bowl. Stir gently and then leave it alone for 5-10 minutes (or until bubbly). The temperature of your water is very important! It should not be hot. Hot water can kill your yeast and if your water is too cold it will slow the development of the yeast. You want it to be just a little bit warmer than room temperature.
Once your yeast is bubbly, add it to your electric mixer (or a large bowl if you are doing this by hand). If you are using an electric mixer make sure to use the dough hook attachment. Add an additional 1½ cups of warm water and ⅔ cup of vegetable or olive oil. Stir once or twice to loosely combine. Add 5 cups of the whole wheat flour and the salt and mix until combined. Do not forget the salt! There is nothing worse than bread without salt.
Your dough should look pretty gloopy at this point. Now, gradually add your remaining 1 cup of whole wheat flour and your 2 cups of all-purpose flour. You want to pour it in around a half-cup at a time. If you want to change the ratio of whole wheat to all-purpose flour you can. Just know that the more whole wheat flour you use, the more dense the bread can tend to be.
Once all of the flour is combined, knead the dough until it is smooth and elastic. In an electric mixer this should take around 8 minutes. By hand, it will take around 10-12 minutes if you are a diligent and experienced kneader. Your dough should still be moist and the tiniest bit sticky. Cover it with a damp cloth and let it rise for 35 minutes or until doubled in size. While the dough is rising, grease three bread pans.
When your dough is done rising, turn it out onto a floured surface and divide it into three equal portions. Working with one portion at a time, shape the dough into a loaf by alternating rolling the dough in the middle and folding the ends towards the middle. You want the shaped loaf to be as smooth as possible on the top. If there are tears or bumps, just keep shaping the dough in the same way until it is smooth.
Carefully plop your shaped loves into the prepared bread pans. You can gently shake the pans back and forth to situate the bread in the middle of the pan. Cover with a damp cloth and let rise for 35 minute. While the bread is rising, preheat you oven to 350°. Bake for 35 minutes or until the bread is a deep golden brown and sounds hollow when gently tapped.
Let the loaves cool in the pans until just barely cool enough to handle (around 5-10 minutes) and then quickly and carefully turn them out onto a clean kitchen towel. Immediately brush with butter for a beautiful shiny finish.
Wait another 10 minutes before slicing the bread. If you cut the bread while it is too warm it will ruin the structure and mush the bread. I think this homemade whole wheat bread is best served warm with butter and jam or honey. It goes really well with my easy Three Ingredient Peach Jam recipe.
Grandma Gwen’s Easy Whole Wheat Bread
- Mixer with dough hook (suggested but not required)
- 2 cups warm water
- 4 teaspoons active-dry yeast (you can use instant if that is all you have)
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1⅓ cups warm water
- ⅔ cup vegetable or olive oil
- 4 teaspoons salt
- 6 cups whole wheat flour (my mom swears by hard white wheat flour)
- 2 cups all-purpose flour
- This recipe yields three loaves of bread.
- Combine the 2 cups of warm water, 4 teaspoons of yeast, and ⅓ cup of honey in a small bowl. The temperature of your water is very, very important. If it is too hot it can kill your yeast. If it is too cold it will slow the development of your yeast. You want it to be just barely warmer than room temperature. (Note: if you are using instant yeast warm water is not technically necessary but it will speed up the development of your yeast)
- Gently mix the yeast mixture and then leave it alone to proof for around 5-10 minutes. Once the mixture is puffy and bubbly move to the next step.
- Pour the yeast mixture into your mixer (make sure the dough hook is attached) or, if you are going to make this bread by hand, a large bowl. Add the additional 1⅓ cup of warm water and ⅔ cup of oil and stir once or twice to combine.
- Add 5 cups of whole wheat flour and the 4 teaspoons of salt and mix well.
- Gradually add the last cup of whole wheat flour and the 2 cups of all-purpose flour.
- Knead until the dough is smooth and elastic (it should still be quite moist at this point). If you are using a machine, knead for about 8 minutes. If you are kneading by hand this might take closer to 12 minutes.
- Cover the dough with a damp cloth and let rise for 35 minutes or until doubled in size. While your dough is rising, thoroughly grease three bread pans.
- Turn the dough out onto a well-floured surface and divide into three equal portions. Shape each lump of dough into a loaf by alternating rolling it in on itself and tucking the ends towards the middle. You want the top of the loaf to be as smooth as possible.
- Transition the dough to the prepared pans. Cover with a damp cloth and let it rise for 35 minutes. While it is rising, preheat your oven to 350°.
- Bake the bread for 35 minutes or until they are deep gold in color and sound hollow when you gently tap on the top.
- Let the loaves cool for 5-10 minutes and then carefully turn them out onto a cooling rack covered by a towel. Immediately brush with butter to get a lovely shine on the loaves.
- Wait for at least an additional 10 minutes before slicing the bread. Serve warm or completely cooled. This pairs beautifully with jam or honey.