Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Hmm Bread

I love baking bread.  Well, specifically I love trying to bake bread.  I don’t know what it is, especially considering my almost constant failures at each attempt.  But I love it.  And I keep coming back for more.
Sophomore year of college offered me a unique opportunity to try out bread baking – I had a kitchen in my dorm.  This was still when I was actually a pretty terrible cook and I would experiment quite regularly.  I took my mother’s Homemade Bread Baking book back to college with me and began trying things out.  You may be thinking to yourself – what about studying Jamie? Yeah I didn’t do a lot of that.  I did however manage to read the Lord of The Rings trilogy.  And I made bread.
Now most of the ‘bread’ I am referring to was largely inedible.  I used different flours and completely disregarded proportions of whole grains to all-purpose flour.  Typically, a recipe for bread will yield two loves; mine never did.  I wound up with small loaf pan shaped bricks of varying shades of greyish-brown.  I do not recommend trying to make 100% buckwheat bread.  It’s not good. 
In fact most of my attempts ended in such failure that my college roommate at one point begged me to stop making bread.  Her exact words upon coming into the room one day were “Did you try making bread again?” and I had to sheepishly admit that yes, despite it smelling like freshly baked bread in our dorm, I had produced a 3 pound edible brick (edible being negotiable).  I think I single-handedly kept the demand for flour at the Watergate Safeway grocery store much higher than usual.
I have since gotten a little bit better.  Well, I am still not great at making bread.  I can make a really good Challah thanks to hundreds of tries during my run with the Jewish Cookbook author.  And I can make some other passable breads.  But I am by no means an expert.  So I wanted to share a bread recipe with you.  As long as you follow the directions (very few) and allow the dough to rise (which I forgot once) then you will have some very health and (almost) fool-proof bread. 

Whole Grain Bread
As adapted from Mother Earth News December 2009

This bread works on a pretty simple formula.  However, there are no sweeteners in the recipe, so the bread will be very “healthy” tasting.  I think it is very nice toasted and slathered in butter and jam.  Feel free to experiment with different grains and flours but be sure to keep the ratio the same each time.

5 cups flour (I use all white-whole wheat, but a combo of all-purpose, whole wheat, bread flour etc. could work as well)
2 cups other grains (such as Bob’s Red Mill hot cereals, bran, wheat germ, instant oatmeal etc.)
¼ c vital wheat gluten
2 packets yeast (1 ½ Tb)
1 Tsp. Kosher salt
2 cups warm water

Wisk together all of the dry ingredients in the bowl of an electric stand mixer.  Add warm water (about 90-100°F), and using the paddle attachment, mix until the dough just starts to come together in a ball. 

Cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and allow to rise for about 2 hours, or until the dough has risen and then collapsed back in on itself.

Next, loosely cover the bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. 

When you are ready to bake, take about 1/3 of the dough from the bowl and return the bowl to the refrigerator, and use the remaining dough throughout the week (yup it will keep).  Working quickly, shape the dough into a ball, without kneading.  Using your hands, tuck the edges of the dough up under and towards the center of the mass.  Then, place the ball onto a piece of parchment paper and push into a cylinder shape. Cover loosely with a kitchen towel and allow to warm up and rise for about 90 minutes. 

At 60 minutes in, preheat the oven to 450°.  Place a baking stone  on the center rack and a heavy duty cookie sheet on the very top rack.  After 30 minutes, make several diagonal cuts into the top of the bread. 

Place the dough on the parchment paper onto the baking stone.  Pour 1 ½ cups of water into the cookie sheet in the top pan and quickly shut the oven door.  Bake bread for about 45 minutes, turning the cookie sheet as necessary to brown evenly.  About 10 minutes before it is done, slide the bread off of the paper and directly onto the stone. 

Allow the bread to cool and serve.  Repeat baking steps throughout the week with the remaining dough.  Baked bread can be frozen as well, so if you bake it, store it wrapped in plastic and aluminum foil in the freezer.

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