“Baking bread……without a bread machine?!?!?” – Emily Franklin.
Before you read any further in this post, I will tell you quite frankly that baking bread is an act of frustration, bewilderment and, almost surprisingly, enjoyment. By the time you finish, you will be floured and buttered, battered and bruised, and you will have an aching forearm to top it all off. But you will also have loaves of delicious bread. And that is what makes it worth the effort.
So, to start, you will need a few ingredients.
5 cups of whole wheat flour (plus extra for kneading)
1/2 cup of oatmeal
1/2 cup of cornmeal
2 teaspoons of salt (or about two pinch fulls)
1 stick of butter
1/2 cup of honey (alternatively, 1/2 cup of molasses. Personally, I like the honey better.)
1 teaspoon of sugar (about one pinch full)
1/2 cup of lukewarm water (if it feels warmer than pool water than it is way too warm)
1/2 cup of raisins
1/2 cup of sunflower seeds (plus extra for sprinkling)
cinnamon for sprinkling
You will also need various cooking utensils, such as: a large mixing bowl, a small bowl, a fork, a knife, a handy-dandy wooden spoon, a large-ish sauce pan, and a clean table. (Note: Dough is sticky, and whatever is on your table will be on your bread if you do not wash your table.)
1) Place the oatmeal, cornmeal, salt, and the 2 cups of cold water into the sauce pan. Bring to a boil and cook for about five minutes or until the mixture is thick and porridge like. (Sidenote: you can use warm water, it just takes longer to boil in my experience. This is a bit counterintuitive and only slightly defies the laws of chemistry. C’est la vie. Also, I do not recommend taste testing at this point in time.)
2. Add 2 tablespoons of butter and 1/2 cup of honey. Stir in and set aside to cool. ( Side note: at this point, you could stop here and just eat it plain. It is quite good.)
3. While the porridge stuff is cooling, dissolve 1 teaspoon of sugar in the half cup of lukewarm water. Sprinkle the contents of the yeast packet on top of the water. Let it sit for 5-10 minutes or until it is foamy. (Side note: Also, the yeast makes these really cool buzzy noises while it is in the sugar.)
The yeast will look something like this when it is finished.
4) After the fluffy layer has formed on the water, whisk it with a fork and add to the porridge stuff. Stir in 2 1/2 cups of flour. (Side note : it is important the the porridge cool. If it doesn’t, it kills off some of the yeast and the bread does not rise as much as it would. I learned this the hard way.)
5) Beat vigorously for about five minutes or until the dough is springy. (Side note: when I say “beat vigorously” I do not mean “beat to the dough equivalent of a bloody a pulp”. If you do, the bread will be incredibly dense and dry. If your shoulder starts aching after the first minute you are beating the dough too much. If your shoulder doesn’t start aching after the third minute you have not beaten it enough.)
6) Add the raisins and sunflower seeds and mix in evenly. Then add the next 2 1/2 cups of flour. (Side note: it is important to add the raisins and sunflower seed before the flour. As the dough is particularly sticky after step 5, the raisins and sunflower seeds stay in. If you add the flour first, then the they fall out while you are kneading.)
7) Now for the best part. Kneading. Turn the dough onto a floured surface and knead for about 9 minutes. Add extra flour to get rid of stickiness. (Side note: Do not knead too much. Again, the bread will wind up incredibly dense and dry. Not that that’s a particularly bad thing, but its also not particularly pleasant.)
8) Shape into a ball and place into a buttered bowl. Roll the dough around in the buttered bowl to cover it in the grease. Then cover with a damp towel (preferably cloth) and let rise for 1 1/2 to 2 hours or until it has doubled in size.
9) Punch down and divide into about four parts of equal size. At this point you can draw various pictures in the dough and sprinkle with cinnamon and sunflower seeds. Then let it rise for an additional 45 minutes on buttered cookie sheets under a damp towel.
10) For the final step, place the cookie sheets in an oven preheated to 350 degrees F. When the bread is done it will sound hollow when hit with the flat of a blade. Brush the top of the bread with melted butter and let cool.