Making bread is one of the many hobbies that I enjoy. It began with a simple time-tested white bread recipe, but soon evolved into multiple experiments with various ingredients. I’ve settled in on a favorite that I call ‘honey mixed grain bread.’
It all began when I became exceedingly hungry for homemade bread one chilly afternoon. It would be no problem to go to a local store and buy a loaf of Amish-made bread, but I wanted it warm and fresh, so I decided to try my hand at it. Unlike my Dad, who seems to have had some natural aversion to the kitchen (except to enjoy Mom’s great cooking), I am not intimidated by entering the domain that we have traditionally assigned to the fairest of our species.
With only a few (very) helpful hints from my dear wife, I worked up the first batch of dough, punched it down after the first rise, divided it into loaf pans, and waited impatiently while it rose again. Then, with an abundance of hope, the loaves were placed into the preheated oven. Before long, the scent of baking bread was so intensely mouthwatering, that I cared little if it came from the oven less than perfect. But the sun shone brightly on my first attempt, and we ate warm, delicious homemade bread, slathered with real butter. We quickly decided that one slice was not enough. Generous amounts of homemade apple butter graced the next pieces. Talk about taste bud heaven!
In the intervening months since that first batch, I’ve tried many modifications to the standard recipe, in an effort to make it healthier and better tasting, without sacrificing the soft texture. I’ve finally stopped trying to make improvements. The final product includes unbleached white flour, whole-wheat flour, rolled oats, flax meal, honey from our hives, and a few other ingredients.
Now here’s a little story for you. My son and I went to a Beekeepers Expo a while back, where there was a baking contest for products using honey. I was sorely tempted to enter a loaf of my homemade bread, because it qualified for the rules of the contest. I vacillated a while about this, and finally talked myself into it. “Nothing ventured, nothing gained,” I said to myself, and headed for the Expo with a loaf of fresh bread on the seat beside me.
It was a little embarrassing to go to the entry table and declare myself a contestant in a (typically) woman’s world. But they were gracious, and refrained from sideways glances or whispered comments.
The judges were an assortment of people, including one professional chef. Perhaps I am a skeptic by nature, but I’ve learned through observation that while judges are entitled to their opinions, they are not necessarily always qualified in the field they are judging. But today, having a professional chef on board to judge the baked goods was both gratifying and humbling. The judging was based on appearance, taste, and texture. I saw the other entries, and walked away with full assurance that my loaf would bring sad wags of the judge’s heads, clucking tongues, and perhaps feelings of pity for the poor entrant.
Several hours later, I cautiously approached the table of the now-judged products, and nearly dropped to the floor. My poor humble loaf of bread was proudly posing with the blue ribbon. I was told that the judges had unanimously agreed. Needless to say, that made my day. We include the recipe here, and perhaps some of you will agree this bread meets the taste and texture test of discerning tongues. Hope you enjoy it.
Blue Ribbon Honey Mixed Grain Bread (No-Knead!)
(Makes 3 loaves)
3-1/2 Cups warm water
6 Cups white unbleached bread flour
2-1/4 Cups whole wheat flour
1 Cup rolled oats
2/3 Cup flax meal
3 pkgs dry yeast (or 2 rounded tablespoons bulk yeast)
1/2 Cup honey
1 Tablespoon salt
1/3 Cup oil
2 Large eggs
1/4 Cup wheat gluten
1/4 Cup vinegar
Gluten and vinegar may be omitted. (I prefer using these two ingredients because gluten makes the bread more pliable, and vinegar works with yeast to help the dough rise – as well as keeping the loaf fresh longer.)
In a small mixing bowl combine remainder of water (very warm) with everything except flour, starting with oats so it can begin softening.
Mix the contents of the small bowl into the large bowl.
Add 4 Cups white flour, and mix thoroughly.
Add remaining 2 Cups white flour and 2-1/4 Cups whole-wheat flour. Mix well.
Cover the bowl and allow the dough to rise to double or triple size.
Bake at 350 for approximately 40 minutes. (A little less with a convection oven). Remove from oven and brush butter on the tops. Remove from pans after five minutes; set on rack to cool.