Nothing says love like a loaf of homemade bread.
Here is the bread recipe I use all the time. (I'm not sure of its origin, though I got it from mother-in-law.) I can't say whether it's the best because there is a lot of delicious homemade bread out there, and I haven't tried all the recipes. But it is easy and delicious so I can't bring myself to take the extra time and effort to try a different recipe. I timed myself, and it took me 1 hour 34 minutes from "That's right--I was going to make bread today!" to taking it out of the oven. My neighbors say it's the best, and though yes, white homemade bread tastes divine, I'm too old to deny the virtues of whole grains.
I know my mother-in-law made some improvements on the recipe, and naturally I have made my own tweaks as well. Like the honey--you can cut down on the sugar content and be thrifty by using up to half fruit juice that you have saved from canned fruit. There is less honey flavor, but I don't particularly love that anyway. Another tweak is vital wheat gluten. I ran out of that and have been just using more of the whole wheat flour and it's just as good to me.
The recipe makes 3 loaves, but I did the math so I can make 4 loaves at once (since my KitchenAid is big enough). I'll give you the numbers for both.
Whole Wheat Bread
4 loaves : 3 loaves
4 cups : 3 cups hot (not scalding) water
<1/3 cup : 1/4 cup olive oil
1 cup : 3/4 cup honey (can use part canned fruit juice)
1 Tbl. : 3/4 Tbl. salt
1 2/3 Tbl : 1 1/4 Tbl. lemon juice (or other dough enhancer)
2 Tbl. : 1 1/2 Tbl. active dry yeast
3/4 cup : 9 Tbl. vital wheat gluten (or just flour)
10 cups : 7 1/2 c. whole wheat flour (I prefer winter white wheat)
--put in mixer (like a KitchenAid) all the ingredients, but only half the flour
--with flat beater beat on low speed (#2) for 7 min. to develop gluten
--change to a bread hook and gradually add remaining flour
--continue to knead for 5 min.
--dump out on a floured surface and divide into loaves
--preheat oven at 325 degrees for a min. or so and then turn off
--shape loaves, place in greased pans, and set in oven uncovered to rise until double or they peak over the pan. (45 min. according to the recipe, but I just timed mine for 25 min. Keep an eye on it--it depends a lot on your oven. You can preheat a little more and speed up the process.)
--turn the oven back on and cook at 325 degrees for about 34 min. (that' my oven--check for a golden crust).
--remove from oven and set pans on their sides to loosen them from the pan. Allow them to cool 10 minutes or so and remove from pans and set on racks to cool.
There are the instructions all in one place, and if you appreciate visual support, here are some illustrations.
The dough is still sticky before turning it out onto a floured surface. ( I do use white flour here--too much goes to waste.)
After dividing, I knead each loaf just as much as I need to, or maybe a little bit more than that, to shape it for the pan.
Here it is just as I put it in to rise. (I purposely made this photo look like my oven was old and grimy so that you would feel grateful for your own oven. Though if you are looking for vintage ovens, mine is for sale.)
This step is optional, but I did laundry while the bread rose.
Time to turn the oven on.
I was going to put in a picture of me taking a nap here, but my photographers were all at school or napping.
Just a few minutes on their sides to loosen, switch to the other side if you like, then out onto a rack so they don't sweat in the pan and get soggy.
Nothing like coming home from school to the smell of homemade bread on a chilly day and then having a nice thick slice.