Red Fife Whole Wheat Bread

I just made the best – and healthiest – loaf of 100% whole wheat bread I’ve ever tasted. The key is pesticide- and fertilizer-free heirloom wheat grown and freshly stone-ground right here in Illinois.

It should be noted that this is what’s known as enriched dough – meaning that it contains fat from milk, butter and eggs. This is as opposed to lean dough – bread that’s made from nothing but flour, yeast, salt and water. No-Knead Artisan bread – the chewy, hole-y stuff you get at a good Italian restaurant – is an example of lean dough.

RECIPE NOTE: If you don’t have access to freshly stone-ground whole wheat flour, this recipe won’t work as written. The reason is that freshly ground flour has a much higher moisture content than flour you buy at the store.

If all you have is store-bought flour, conventional wisdom is to use half whole wheat and half bread flour, to prevent your loaf from being unpleasantly dense, heavy and coarse. That’s how my grandmother made her whole wheat bread; and I’ll confess that as a kid, I didn’t like it as much as white bread. The other thing you could try is increasing the wet ingredients; but I haven’t experimented with that. Although I do notice that my grandmother’s bread recipe does call for more milk, relative to the flour, than the recipe below.

OTHER RESOURCES:
You’re about to see that this is more than just a recipe; it’s a mini-lesson on what a gift from Mother Nature natural, organic, whole wheat is. It’s a nutritionally balanced and nearly complete food, capable of sustaining healthy life throughout the cold winter when fresh food isn’t available. To read more here are a few starting places:

History of wheat & the dangers of modern methods of growing it – Brian Severson Farms
Nutritional content of whole wheat – Ecological Agriculture Products website
Summary of the 2019 study that shone a new light on why ultra-processed food is so unhealthy and causes such significant weight gain – NIH Clinical Center

Why I started on this journey.

My friend Baeth Davis recently encouraged me to start eating as much locally grown and produced food as I can, due to my human design. So I went online and found, among other local producers of food, a farm here in Illinois that grows & stone-grinds their own pesticide- and fertilizer-free wheat. They even have an heirloom strain called Red Fife – it’s wheat that has existed since pre-1945, when here in the US we started converting all of our war factories into manufacturing plants for ultra-processed food. The strains of wheat that were developed in that period were designed for maximum manufacture of calories, with a steadily decreasing concern for whether this “food” was actually still healthy or not.

I learned so much about wheat in my research, it has set me off on a whole bread-making – and bread-eating! – journey.

But should we even be eating bread at all? Doesn’t bread make you fat?

Bread has gotten a bad rap here in the US as a leading cause of overweight; even as some observers occasionally query, “But French people eat tons of bread (and butter and cheese), yet most of them maintain an appropriate weight. How is that?” I’m now convinced that the answer is, It’s not bread itself, it’s the ultra-processed and chemical-laden junk food that passes for bread here in the US.

I have recently learned that the definition of ultra-processed food is anything that a) comes wrapped in plastic and b) contains 1 or more ingredients you wouldn’t find on a grocery store shelf. Check out the ingredient list of any commercial bread you choose – they ALL meet the definition of ultra-processed. See the link above for more about why ultra-processed food must be eliminated from our diets.

I have also learned – mostly from Brian Severson’s website, above – that modern agriculture practices rely heavily upon toxic chemicals, which of course in turn make us sick. The main one is glyphosate, aka Roundup. That’s the toxic herbicide that coats almost all crops in the US thanks to the wicked, vile, evil corporate monstrosity, Monsanto and its thirst for profits at all costs. Modern agriculture also uses pesticides which are also crazy-toxic. But none of this farm’s flours – including the organic heirloom Red Fife flour – use any pesticides or herbicides or fertilizer at all. See their website above for more detail.

This bread is actually healthy.

This bread is whole food, loaded with nutrients, offered up for our sustenance just the way Mother Earth intended. Whole wheat – including the bran, the germ and the endosperm – boasts the full spectrum of B vitamins, vitamin E, iron, fiber … the list goes on and on. See the link at the top for more detailed information.

As a result, this bread is FILLING. Meaning, it doesn’t cause you to fill your system with a bunch of “empty calories,” mostly because the calories in this bread aren’t empty.

What about people who are sensitive to gluten?

I’ve been eating half a loaf of bread a day for the last week; yet I’m not having ANY symptoms of gluten intolerance that I get with other wheat products. I’ve suspected for a long time – and am now convinced – that what I’ve called “gluten intolerance” is actually symptoms of low-grade poisoning by the toxic chemicals used to produce wheat and bread in our modern American system.

While this flour is “expensive,” it’s much cheaper than manufactured bread.

Of course this natural flour is more expensive than regular, chemical-laden, manufactured flour – a 2.5-lb bag is currently priced at 6 bucks on Brian Severson’s website. But that 2.5-lb bag of flour makes 6 small loaves of bread. You can’t buy even the cheapest, unhealthiest bread for $1 per loaf.

If you’ve got the luxury of just a little bit of time – and of course a working oven – you can make healthy, nutritious food for yourself and your family for less money than anything you could buy in the store.

RECIPE

Makes 1 smallish loaf (I used a 4.5″ x 8.5″ loaf pan)
OR 3-4 mini loaves

See notes below, especially from 3/29/24, for tweaks to the following recipe.

1/2c + 2T milk, heated to 100° (a little higher is ok – just nothing above 125° or you’ll kill the yeast)
1t active dry yeast (the kind that comes in a packet or jar, not a fresh cake of yeast)
2T white sugar (or 1.5T honey) (most artificial sweeteners won’t work to activate the yeast)
2-1/2T melted butter (you can experiment with other fats for different flavor nuances)
1 egg, whisked (skip it unless using unsifted, whole wheat flour – see notes from 4/14, below)
2c Red Fife whole wheat flour, freshly stone ground
2T gluten flour
1/2t salt

Make the dough: Combine the heated milk and the yeast in the bowl of your stand mixer for 5 minutes to let the yeast bloom. Stir in the sugar, salt, melted butter and egg. Add the flour. Set the machine to knead on low for several minutes until it comes together enough to turn it out onto a floured surface and knead for several minutes. (see notes at the bottom)

First rise: Put your smooth ball of dough into a well-greased ceramic bowl (either my purple or blue salad bowl), cover with a dish towel, and set inside a warm oven to rise until doubled. This will take 1-2 hours. You can tell it’s done when you can poke 2 fingers into it and the holes stay in place.

Second rise: Shape your dough into either 1 small loaf or 3-4 mini loaves and place into well-buttered, dark metal pans. (Glass pans won’t darken the crust properly). Cover again with your dishtowel and let rise for another 1 to 1-1/2 hours in a warm oven.
Note: The longer you let it rise, the more gluten will develop. The bread will get “chewier,” (less fluffy) and will begin to develop a faint version of the tanginess we associate with sourdough bread. Even 5 or 6 hours is still fine.

Bake: In my toaster oven, 22 minutes at 350° is perfect for a mini loaf (make sure to preheat it first). I keep foil on it until the last 5 minutes, to prevent the top from burning. 25 minutes is probably about right for a full sized loaf.

Rest and cool: Some recipes encourage you to let it cool almost entirely before cutting into it, because it does continue to cook a bit more in its own internal steam. But who can resist that fresh from the oven moment when the bread is at its most delicious??

NOTES

5/24/24: This time I tried using Einkorn wheat, which has more protein than other wheat, but the gluten is weaker. Therefore, the website warns me it might “need help” making yeast bread. So I followed the recipe above + added an egg, then let it mix in the KitchenAid for 10 minutes. It removed itself from the bowl but still seemed a bit sticky (the website warns me that it “hydrates differently” than other flour) so I just turned it directly into a bowl. It had almost tripled in size in only 90 minutes, at which point I did my usual thing of dividing it into 4 small loaves and popping them in the freezer. The finished bread was moist and slightly chewy – just what you want!

But Einkorn isn’t my favorite flavor. So for my next batch I might try adding some herbs – I’m thinking dill and garlic might complement the flavor of the Einkorn well. I might also try making a multi-seed version with amaranth, quinoa, sesame, etc

4/14/24: I used sifted flour + gluten flour as well as the increased quantity of milk – but I added the egg back in. The result was a loaf that was back to being too fluffy and light. A little google research later, yep – eggs add fluffiness. That might be a good thing when using unsifted whole flour though. It might make the otherwise heavy, dense bread develop a bit of gluten.  
Update: The second mini loaf from this same batch was much less fluffy and had almost a chewiness to it. The reason? A much longer rise. I put the frozen loaf in the warm oven at around noon and baked it at 5.

3/29/24: This was easily the best loaf I’ve made yet! It was the most moist, not at all crumbly. I added 2T milk to the 1/2c the recipe already calls for, plus I added 2T gluten flour to the flour and salt mixture (I used red fife sifted). Also, I forgot to put in the egg! I wonder how much difference that made to the overall result. The other thing I did differently was I kneaded the dough for 3-4 minutes by hand after doing a good 10 minutes in the mixmaster. It didn’t have the “windowpane” you typically want when you stretch a gluten bread, but it turned out well nonetheless. I let it rise for a total of about 3 hours in the warm oven, split between 1st and 2nd rises.

3/23/24: I needed to use up my Red Fife and my HRW (I just bought 2 new bags of Red Fife – one sifted, one not) so I did a batch approximately 50/50 with the two. I think my milk might have been not quite warm enough because it didn’t rise that well the first time around. But I shaped it into a single loaf and gave it a full 2 hours in a warm oven (after one hour it hadn’t risen much and I almost gave up) and it did get to pretty much the size I wanted. So we’ll see!

3/12/24: I tried another batch with HRW – this time without any added gluten, and with butter as the fat. It was also rather crumbly; plus it was “light.” Each loaf had a lot less heft to it than you would otherwise expect.

Notes from 3/3/24: For this batch I’m trying this Hard Red Winter wheat for the first time. It’s an heirloom all-purpose flour and I got it sifted.  I added 1T gluten flour and it came together in the bowl in just 3 minutes of kneading. I also tried using bacon fat instead of butter and maple syrup instead of honey. I’m going to let it rise for the first time for 90 minutes. Then I’m going to separate it into pans and freeze as is; meaning that after it thaws it will have to do its second rise. I’m hoping to fix the problem I’ve been having that freezing dough that has risen for a second time just flattens again in the freezer. 

The freezing thing worked; but this batch was quite crumbly. Not sure if it was because of the extra gluten, or the bacon fat, or what.

Notes from 3rd batch on 2/12/24:

This time I used the Hard Red Winter Wheat, rather than Red Fife. It’s marked as All-Purpose flour, and sifted. I kneaded it in the KitchenAid first (didn’t time how long); and when I turned it out, it was stickier than the red fife. I incorporated maybe 1/2c flour as I kneaded? It rose beautifully in less than 2 hours; then the second rise in the pans took less than an hour. With this batch I made 3 mini loaves, simply because 1 of my pans still had an unbaked loaf of red fife in it. I preheated the toaster oven then baked it for 22 minutes at 350°, covered by a piece of tin foil for the first 18 minutes or so. I realized belatedly that I’d used a full teaspoon of salt, and close to 2T honey.

This batch turned out a bit … crumbly? So maybe the incorporation of the extra 1/2-cup of flour is to be avoided. Maybe I should have continued trying to knead it in the KitchenAid, before turning it out. Also I think the flavor of the red fife is indeed preferable.

Notes from 2nd batch on 2/7/24:

This time I tried mixing it in the ceramic bowl (skipping the KitchenAid) and learned it requires quite a bit of kneading before it even begins to resemble a ball of dough. Fortunately the Danish whisk I bought was a great tool for this; but my poor weak arms weren’t up to it! I finally got it to something that was only sticky, not gooey, and was able to turn it out onto the counter. It took only the tiniest sprinkling of flour to keep it from sticking to my hands and the counter as I kneaded it.

After rising in the oven for 2 hours, the dough wasn’t just doubled, it was tripled! I turned it out and divided it into 4 pieces, then shaped each of those into a little loaf. They were so little, they didn’t quite touch the ends of the mini loaf pans and were no more than 1.5 inches high. But after just 90 minutes in the oven they had risen to fill the entire pans! I put 3 of them in the freezer and one in the fridge.

The next morning, the one in the fridge had continued to fall. I tried popping it in the warm oven once more, but it only rose a little. I baked it at 350° for 25 minutes (the first 20 minutes with tin foil over the top so it wouldn’t burn) and it was quite yummy!

Notes from my first batch of dough on 1/13/23:

Summary: I incorporated a small amount of gluten flour; used yeast that may have been old and only partially effective; and wasn’t ultra-precise in my measurement of either butter or eggs (I initially cracked 2 eggs, realized I only needed 1, and fished one of them out of the bowl. Did I remove the exact right amount of egg white? Who knows). The wheat that I used was “sifted,” meaning I think it didn’t have all the bran in it?? But the finished bread was fantastic! (although after it cooled, I realized it was a tad on the dry side) Even if the top was slightly burned.

I started it in the KitchenAid; but instead of turning into the smooth ball of dough you want, it appeared sticky, loose and wet. Ack! I had read somewhere that the bran contained in whole wheat flour actually functions like little knives, slicing through the developing strands of gluten. I was afraid that’s what I’d done and would need to save it.

So I sprinkled a bit (less than a tablespoon) of the Red Fife wheat onto my cutting board and turned the dough out onto it. Then I sprinkled maybe half a tablespoon of gluten flour onto the top of it. But as soon as I started to knead it, I realized it was a lot smoother than I thought it had been. It did soak up the flour I’d sprinkled, but wasn’t sticky at all. Smooth ball of dough in hand, I proceeded with the recipe.

After the first rise is another place where I strayed from the script. My grandmother’s bread recipe (and the standard bread-making process I’ve always followed) calls for punching the dough down, shaping it into loaves, then letting it rise a second time in the loaf pans. Since I was only making a single loaf, I didn’t have the same need to section the dough into individual loaves and shape them. Maybe that process would effectively have punched the dough down, whether I tried to or not?

But I also suspect that the yeast I’ve been using isn’t pulling its weight, since it does have an expiration date of March 2022, almost 2 years ago. Anyway, I just sort of tugged and pulled my ball of dough into an oblong loaf shape, and then proceeded.

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