I am young still, but very "Old School" when it comes to how I cook and what we eat. I am hearing more and more how odd it is that we make bread every week.
Recently I did a bread seminar at a nearby elementary school and was almost shocked that only one little girl knew where bread came from! She said it came from flour. She didn't know what wheat was. I was there with my jars of wheat and my grain mill. I talked in depth about the growing process and what grain goes through to make bread. We flapped our wings and pretended to be "The Little Red Hen". I had a diagram of what grain looks like inside the seed and showed them the bran, endosperm, and germ. I giggled inside when one of them looked very concerned about wheat germ. "Will I get sick?". Yea, I guess in an antibacterial gel and hand soup world, her question was pretty normal. Scary that we have come to that point in our understanding of grain though. With a big glowing smile of love and happiness I was sure to tell her that these where the only safe germs to eat and we should eat them everyday!! No. She didn't have a wheat allergy. They sent home a form for that before I came to the school... in case anyone is all freaked out about it.
So how do we get away from the white flour and into the germ kind (with bran and the whole grain)? This is ultimately the kind of bread..."STAFF of LIFE" kind of bread we all should be eating. I have some ideas. Simple, but effective in making the transition. First of all, you may need to buy whole grain flour. I hate to make it sound simple. It is, however, that simple. I grind my own but I am a little nutty. Hard wheat makes good soft bread. Soft wheat makes good soft cakes and cookies. Use the whole grain BREAD flour. It has the high protein content you need for good dough development. Secondly, you will need a good recipe for whole grain bread that doesn't end up so dry you have to pile a ton of butter on it just to get it choked down your gizzard. Yea, it will feel like you need a gizzard if it's that dry!! We aren't birds who can just eat that whole seed! I do know a few very cool chicks and buzzards. Even they prefer soft bread. Amazingly the Little Red Hen had it right!! We should all help make the bread! We should be creating learning environments now more than ever where children learn to appreciate the value of work and a job well done. My kids get right in the dough with me. I could write pages and pages on the subject. I have. This is the bare bones recipe. I won't lie to you... it will take practice. Bread making is quickly becoming a lost art. I am good with teaching art. I hope you will be good with trying to learn something new.
The protein in wheat flour goes through many changes during the course of the dough making process. Many people ask me for quick recipes and I have to say that really you don't want to skimp on the fermentation process. What is that? In simple terms it is the chemical process the yeast goes through. The fermentation process conditions the natural protein in the wheat called gluten. This sponge like mesh is responsible for the trapping of gas that leavens bread. Cutting corners in this fermentation process or not allowing this process to take it's full round on the gluten will not allow the mesh to become as strong and elastic as it could be. Your bread will not stay fresh as long. It will not raise as well. It will not have a full rounded mild flavor. Most "quick" recipes give you bread that has a very strong "yeasty" flavor. How do I get into bread if I have a very busy day? I usually add less yeast and let it raise longer. I still handle the dough just as much as a quick bread, but I fit it into my schedule. If I want quick dinner rolls and I know my family will eat them all I may skimp and just use more yeast, but for bread that I know will be on my kitchen counter and ready for sandwiches, I want something that will stay moist and taste just as good cold as warm. Just as good two days later.
I have no doubt you will have questions, especially if this is your first bread making experience. Feel free to ask. I am really nice. Promise.
My Bare Bones Recipe for whole wheat bread
2 tsp active dry yeast
1/2 cup cool water (not cold, but cool to the touch)
6 cups whole wheat bread flour (spankin' fresh! with no hint of bitterness)
2 tsp salt
2 1/4 cup lukewarm water
2 T honey
1/4 cup oil
Directions:Dissolve the yeast in the 1/2 cup warm water. Mix the flour and salt in a large bowl make a well in the mixture. Dissolve the honey in the 2 1/4 cup water and add the oil of your choice. Pour the liquid and the yeast mixture into the well of flour. Stirring from the center, first combine the ingredients to make a smooth batter, then fold in the remaining flour from the sides of the bowl, mixing them together into a soft dough. Soft dough is the key!! Since the whole grain flour takes a while to absorb water, wait 10 minutes--then evaluate the dough. Add water or flour if more is required, but do this slowly as it will probably take less flour than you think. If you want really good bread--best keeping quality, flavor, and rise--knead the dough about 600 strokes without adding any more flour. The dough should remain soft and should become elastic and smooth. Rest whenever you want, but aim for 600 strokes. This is about 6 minutes on medium speed in a Kitchen-Aid mixer. This may seem like an amazing and outrageous requirement, but after many hundreds of loaves, I'm convinced that thorough kneading makes the critical difference. As you continue to work the dough, toward the end of the kneading, it will become lustrous, utterly supple and elastic. It should actually be white if you look closely, with brown bran flecks clearly visible against pale gluten. Form the dough into a ball and put in an un-greased crock. Spray LIGHTLY with oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap or a lid and allow to ferment. At about 80 degrees, this will take 1 1/2 hours to 2 hours. Wet your finger and poke it into the dough (called the ripe test). If your finger goes in without very much resistance and the hole remains when your finger is removed, the dough is ready to be punched down. For best results, do not wait until it sighs and collapses when poked. Gently press out the accumulated gas. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured table and keeping the smooth surface, carefully unbroken, deflate the dough by pressing it with wet or floury hand from one side to another. Cut it in half and form each part gently int a round ball, still preserving the smooth surface on the outside. Roll dough int a rectangle and fold into thirds. Roll, pinch, and form into a loaf. Place in greased loaf pan (standard size only! 8inch by 4 inch--or loaves will be squat-ty). Loaves should take 35-45 minutes for their final rise (called proof)--I cover them with a loose gallon size bag. Make sure the surface doesn't get dry or the top crust will separate from the loaf when baking...Preheat oven to 425 degrees. When oven is hot and only then, place loaves in the oven. If all has gone well, the loaves will arch over the top of the pan, touching the sides all the way up! The dough feels spongy but not soggy. Place in hot oven. After 15 minutes, reduce heat to 325 degrees for 30-35 minutes, until internal temperature is over 175 degrees (can be measured with a chef style meat thermometer). Allow to cool before placing in a bag. Keeps 3-4 days if you kept the dough soft.
For a full picture tutorial, visit my friend Kate's blog: Bare Bones Bread Tutorial! She did a wonderful job!