Once upon a time there was a young woman named Jerri who lived in Kentucky. One day she decided to bake a bread that was different from the white bread she had been baking, so she went to the library and found a recipe for cracked wheat bread in a book called A World of Breads by Dolores Casella.
She followed the recipe very carefully and soon had a sticky mess in the bowl. “It was like cake batter when I scraped it out on the bread board,” she explained, “but I just kept adding more flour.” Her perseverance was rewarded, and the bread turned out so good that she is still making it. The recipe (now on a card) has a place of honor in one of her recipe boxes with a note that this bread is “chewy but good.”
Compared to commercial cracked wheat breads, this loaf that has some texture and a delightful flavor of whole wheat. Jerri sometimes makes it with wheat berries from Kansas that she grinds in a coffee grinder, but you can buy coarsely cracked wheat in many supermarkets and most food co-ops.
Having made this bread dozens of times, Jerri now knows why her first attempt was such a challenge. Some kinds of cracked wheat are finer than others, flours differ and even the humidity in the kitchen can affect the proportion of water and flour needed to make a good dough. Just add enough flour to make a soft but workable dough, and don’t worry. Your bread will turn out just fine.
2 2/3 cups water (divided)
1 1/4 cups cracked wheat
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 1/2 tsp. salt
2 T butter plus extra to grease a bowl
1 1/2 T yeast
About 5 to 6 cups all-purpose flour
Dissolve a tablespoon of granulated sugar in two-thirds cup of lukewarm water (about 100 to 105º). Stir in the yeast and allow it to proof. While the yeast is proofing, boil two cups of water and and pour them over the cracked wheat in a large mixing bowl. Stir in the brown sugar, salt and butter and allow the mixture to cool to lukewarm.
Stir the yeast into the cracked wheat mixture when it is cool enough. Add the flour a cup at a time, beating well between additions. When the dough begins to pull away from the sides of the bowl, turn it out on a floured surface. You will have added between four and a half and five and a half cups of flour when you turn it out.
Use a spatula or baker’s scraper to coat the dough with flour and let the dough rest a couple of minutes. Then knead until the dough is smooth and elastic.
Grease a large bowl with butter. Form the dough into a ball and put it in the bowl, turning the ball to make sure the entire surface is covered lightly with butter. Cover the bowl with a damp towel for about an hour in a warm place until the dough is nearly doubled in bulk.
Punch it down and let it rise for another half hour. Then punch it down and turn it out onto a floured board. Let it rest for a minute while you butter two bread loaf pans. Divide the dough in half and shape each half into a loaf. Place the loaves in the pans, cover them with a damp towel and allow the loaves to rise in a warm place until the dough reaches the tops of the pans.
While the dough is rising preheat the oven to 350º. Bake for about an hour and fifteen minutes. After an hour if the bread is a rich golden brown, turn the loaves out and test for doneness by tapping on the tops and bottoms. If the loaves sound hollow, the bread is done. If not, let them bake another few minutes on the oven rack and test again. Cool the loaves on a rack before slicing.
NOTES: Our standard bread loaf pans measure 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 x 2 1/2 inches and hold six cups. Jerri sometimes substitutes a cup of whole wheat flour for all-purpose flour and has even used a little rye flour, but follow the recipe the first time you make this bread.
Jerri has a neat way of forming loaves that she learned from her mother. Instead of trying to make neatly shaped oblong loaves, she divides the dough into four parts, makes balls of dough and puts two balls in each pan. One of these days I will begin doing this, as her loaves always turn out, and it makes it easy to share a half loaf with a friend.
It’s good toasted too, smothered with butter and jam.