Let healthy, homemade bread be a centerpiece this holiday season

By Vicki Hyatt | Dec 07, 2013
Photo by: Vicki Hyatt READY TO EAT — After all the work, don't skimp when it comes to serving this healthy bread with real butter.

There’s nothing that says “You’re important to me,” like serving made-from-scratch bread to dinner guests.

While the thought of spending about 4 hours on such a task, along with perhaps never trying such a culinary feat before, may be daunting, don’t worry. There’s little that can go wrong when baking bread, and simply plan your baking time during a morning or afternoon when you don’t have to leave the house.

The most time-consuming part about bread making is waiting for the dough to rise and for the bread to bake. It is an easy chore to multi-task.

Here’s the basic cracked wheat recipe I use that never fails to bring rave reviews. As with all bread dough, it is very versatile. Once the dough is made and has risen to double in bulk, it can become dinner rolls, hamburger or sandwich buns, a small round loaf for an intimate dinner for two, or a large loaf baked in a bread pan that can be enjoyed for several days.

Cracked Wheat Bread

In a large bowl, mix:

1 quart warm water

2 pkg. dry yeast

1/2 package Hodgen's Mill cracked wheat hot cereal

Set aside mixture and microwave the following items:

2 cups water

1/2 cup shortening (can be Crisco, margarine or butter)

4 tsp. salt

1/2 cup brown sugar

Optional — 1/4 cup molases and 1/2 cup potato flakes

Get the mixture just warm enough to melt the shortening and dissolve the sugar. Cool to luke warm. (Adding liquid that’s too warm to a yeast mixture will interfere with its leavening action and is one of the few things that can go wrong with bread baking.)

Have a 10-pound bag of all-purpose flour on hand, though you won’t need all of it. Begin adding flour until the dough becomes stiff. Then sprinkle a heavy layer of flour on the counter and scrape the dough out on it. Knead in additional flour until the dough is soft and no longer sticky.

Place in a greased bowl and let rise until double in bulk (about 45 minutes to 1 hour). If your bowl isn’t big enough for that, divide the dough into two bowls.

Once it has risen, the dough can be used to make a variety of bread products — dinner rolls, a flat cibatta-type bread, a small dinner round or placed in a bread pan for a traditional loaf.

Small loaves: Cut off a small cantaloupe-size piece of dough and knead lightly. Place on a greased cookie sheet  and let rest for 20 minutes. Flatten slightly and let rise another half hour. Up to three of these loaves can fit on a single cookie sheet.  Let rise for another 30 minutes. Before baking, cut two or three slits no more than 1/2 inch deep across the top.

Bake at 350 degrees until nicely browned.

Loaf: Grease bread pan and cut off enough dough that will fill it two-thirds. Knead dough lightly and place in pan. Let rise about half an hour. Bake at 350 degrees for about an hour.

Cibatta: Roll or pat out dough 1/2 inch thick. Puncture with a fork and bake at 350 degrees about 20 minutes or until it is lightly browned.

Dinner or sandwich rolls: Cut off small pieces of dough. Lightly knead and form into rolls. Let rise 30 minutes and bake at 350 degrees until nicely browned — about 30 minutes or so.

For step-by-step pictorial on the bread-making process, click here.

Helpful tips

• Children love this activity. Give them their own piece of dough and let them follow it through the process. It’s a great way to emphasize the importance of always washing their hands before handling food, too.

• Remove jewelry

• To clean dough off hands, add a little extra flour and rub them together vigorously.

• Clean counter by first scraping it with a metal turner to remove the bulk of the dough.

• Lightly brush the top of the bread with butter when it first comes out of the oven. This will make the top less crumbly when it is cut.

• Treat yourself and use real butter on this. You and your guests are worth it!

• Freeze anything you don’t intend to eat immediately. When you need a loaf, simply place it in the oven to warm, or even defrost. (Don’t microwave.) It will taste like fresh-baked.