Runners love carbs, don’t we? Bananas, rice, potatoes, and bread are popular choices amongst runners look to eat properly before their next race and recover after a long run. So today I want to share some of my baking secrets and favorite recipes for how to make homemade bread.
Bread has unfortunately and inappropriately earned a bad reputation over the years with the popularity of gluten free, Paleo, and Whole30. Some breads are indeed unhealthy, such as the nutritionally-stripped cake-like white breads at grocery stores. But, breads made with whole grain flours are nutritional and delicious, especially if you make your own.
In fact, unless you have celiac disease and are gluten intolerant, there is no reason to avoid whole grain bread. Everything in balance: you want to vary your sources of carbohydrates as much as possible, as this will help you consume all the vitamins and minerals you need. Bread at every single meal may not be the most nutritious approach, especially if you are avoiding other healthy grains or vegetables.
However, a slice or two of whole grain bread a day definitely offers nutritional benefits for runners. Runners need carbohydrates, and whole grains such as whole wheat, oats, quinoa, and rice supply a significant amount of complex carbohydrates, along with other essential nutrients.
Right now, I structure my diet around three primary concerns. One, the food I eat must supply the vital nutrients not just for running, but also for an overall healthy lifestyle. Two, I want to minimize my consumption of processed foods and focus on lots of fruits, vegetables, whole grains, and lean sources of protein (both meat and meatless, such as Greek yogurt, eggs, lentils, and nuts). Three, in my food choices I should be aware of the growing environmental costs of modern American eating.
Of course, I apply an 80/20 rule to eating, since a perfect diet in unattainable, unrealistic, and, honestly, undesirable. Sometimes I really just want a donut or some pork tacos, and I do not believe in restriction.
Making homemade bread fits those three criterion, not to mention that homemade bread is very budget-friendly.
That packaged white bread at the grocery store may have more in common with your yoga mat than actual wheat flour and yeast. Even if the toxicity and detrimental effects of certain additives and preservatives are negligible, I’ve never once looked at my Pilates mat and thought, “yum! I bet that foam tastes good!” You don’t want those unnecessary and unnatural ingredients in your bread.
Homemade bread allows you to control the ingredients. When I make it at home, I can control exactly what goes into the bread: how much sweetener and what type, what type of flour, all while avoiding all preservatives or artificial ingredients.
Personally, I only use Bob’s Red Mill flour. If I wasn’t so budget-conscious I would always purchase the organic flour, but at least even the non-certified organic Bob’s Red Mill flour is a high quality flour. Bob’s Red Mill also finely grinds their flours, which is ideal for home bread baking.
What about the environmental factor? First off, store-bought bread is usually shipped from a different location than purchased (when I do buy store bought bread, I purchase either from a local bakery or from Franz, which is a Portland-based non-GMO company). Yes, flour is shipped also, but a pound of flour lasts much longer than a single loaf of bread.
The foods we choose to eat affect the environment. While I love meat and believe it’s beneficial in an athlete’s diet, I also know that meat has a high environmental cost. To enjoy the benefits of meat while balancing my consumption of it, I try to serve meat for one meal a day and enjoy it in moderation while purchasing from local and sustainable sources.
Whether you opt for a PB&J, hummus and veggie, or egg sandwich, bread complements several meatless sources of protein and offers a simple way to create a meat-free, nutritious, and satisfying lunch.
The Mediterranean diet, which is arguably one of the healthiest and most environmentally friendly diets, includes whole grain bread as one of the sources of carbohydrates. You don’t have to limit yourself to whole wheat either; you can use oats or oat flour, spelt, buckwheat, sprouted grain, rye, and other grain-based flours to create a delicious, nutritious, and sustainable loaf of bread.
Curious now about how to make homemade bread? Good. Because I’ve got recipes and tips to help you out!
Homemade bread may seem time consuming, but it requires very little hands-on time. Sandwich bread is the easiest and most hands-off, while tortillas and naan require attention (but are oh-so-worth it). A lot of times I let bread rise while I’m out on a run. You can also make it when you food prep for the week.
What recipes do I use to make my bread? I would share an original one with you but, alas, I’m not that talented of a baker when it comes to discerning the right ratios of flour to yeast. Instead, I follow a few recipes (with some minor alterations along the way, which I’ll note below) that guarantee hearty, fluffy, and tasty bread every time.
How to Make Homemade Bread: Recipes
Whole Wheat Sandwich Bread from King Arthur’s Flour
This recipe makes amazing sandwich bread: dense, sturdy, and delicious. I decrease the amount of sugar to 1-2 tablespoons of pure maple syrup or local honey, and use only about 2-3 tablespoons of grapeseed oil (lighter flavor compared to olive oil).
Whole Wheat Naan Bread from Gimme Some Oven
My favorite bread ever because (1) flatbreads are so crazy simple to make and (2) bread is even better when used as a utensil. I use all whole wheat flour for this recipe and skip the garlic and butter for cooking. Instead I use just a bit of coconut oil to grease the pan.
Whole Wheat Tortillas from 100 Days of Real Food
This recipe produces perfect flour tortillas every time! I have used both grapeseed oil and olive oil in the recipe.
Homemade Bagels from This Runner’s Recipes
I shared this recipe over a year ago, and shortly afterwards began making it with half whole wheat flour, half white flour, and an added 1 tablespoon of vital wheat gluten. I love bagels and need to make these again soon!
Whole Wheat Pizza Crust from Smitten Kitchen
What tastes better the evening after a long run than a hearty pizza? I love pizza because you can add so many delicious vegetable to it (such as this butternut squash and mushroom pizza or this asparagus and turkey pizza).
A homemade crust is simple! I follow the above recipe and use all whole wheat flour plus an optional ½ tablespoon of vital wheat gluten.
Tips and Tricks for Making Your Own Homemade Bread
1. Boil your water.
Most tap water contains chlorine and fluoride, which create healthy and safe drinking water but flat loaves of bread. Boiling water removes some of the chlorine and fluoride, which can kill the yeast in your bread before your loaf has a chance to rise. You can also use bottled water, which will not contain any chlorine (however, bottled water is detrimental to the environment, so I prefer boiling tap water).
2. Use lukewarm water.
Don’t just add your yeast to boiling hot water, though! After boiling your water, let it cool for several minutes until it’s lukewarm to the touch. Cold or room temperature water may encourage yeast growth, but hot water will kill your yeast.
3. Vital wheat gluten aids in rising.
Whole wheat flour actually contains less gluten per cup than white flour or bread flour. Gluten plays an essential role in bread rising, as this protein creates the strength and elasticity of the bread dough and traps the yeast bubbles that let it rise. To help my whole wheat bread rise, I’ll add a tablespoon of vital wheat gluten for every 3 – 3.5 cups of flour.
4. Create a humid environment for your bread to rise.
As I knead the bread in my stand mixer, I boil water on the stove and preheat my oven to the lowest temperature setting. One the oven is at temperature, I turn it off so it doesn’t heat up so much as to bake the dough. Once the bread is completely kneaded, I put it and the boiling water in the oven. The closed space of the oven, the warm temperature, and the humidity from the oven create the ideal environment for yeast activity.
5. Have patience.
It took me a couple years to figure out exactly what worked and what didn’t for making homemade bread. If a loaf doesn’t turn out well, just eat it and try again next time! Over time, you’ll learn how the dough should look, how long exactly to let it rise, and how to adjust for humid vs. dry weather.
I’m hungry now.
Linking up for Foodie Friday!
Do you make your own homemade bread? What’s your favorite recipe?
What are the main influences on what you choose to eat?
What are your plans this weekend?