Wednesday, April 28, 2010

No Excuses for Eating Lousy Bread

I didn't eat store-bought bread until I was in high school.  This is gonna sound like the start of a Martha Stewart story, but I promise it is not.

My mother baked bread for our family every week, except for one week when I was very young and our air conditioning didn't work.   She understandably didn't want to turn on the oven.  That week she bought a loaf of bread for the four of us and I'm fairly certain she ended up using most of it for breadcrumbs later.  I hated it.  I hated it more than the heat.  I wasn't even in school yet, and I knew that bread was just wrong.  Bread should not taste that way; it should not have that texture, or that lack of smell.

Mom taught my brother and I how to bake bread, but our loaves were never as good as hers.  I think it was just the practice.  Once I was old enough to truly recognize the amount of effort it takes to bake several loaves of bread every week for a busy family, I was also old enough to take on a lot of the cooking responsibility.    We all took turns trying to bake, but it didn't happen every week.  We filled in the gaps with store-bought loaves.  I still hated the taste, but I understood the trade-off for our schedule that we made by having store-bought bread.

In the years since establishing my own household, I still only make bread haphazardly.  I've never thought of it as difficult (and neither should you).  I tell myself it is more about the time needed for multiple risings.  However, that is still only a lame excuse.

My mom has starting regularly baking bread again.  She had homemade bread there for us during our visit, and it reminded me of how much I enjoy it and how much it can be worth the time and effort.  Feeling inspired, I skipped the bakery section and bread aisle at the grocery store.  Then, I came home and baked bread.

Honey Whole Wheat Bread

Makes two 9 x 5-inch loaves

3 ¼ cups warm water (no more than 110 degrees F)
1/3 cup honey
2 packets or 4 ½ teaspoons active dry yeast
canola oil or Crisco for the bowl and pans
4 cups, all purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 cup wheat germ
2 Tbsp fine sea salt

In a large liquid measuring cup, combine the warm water, 1/3 cup honey, and yeast.  Stir until dissolved.  Set aside to proof.  The mixture will become creamy and foamy, it took less than 5 minutes.  If it doesn’t, your yeast is likely dead.  It could be that the water was too hot water and killed the yeast or it was dead in the package.

Lightly oil or grease the inside of a large bowl.

To make the dough, combine flours, wheat germ, and salt in a bowl.  I used my Kitchen Aid mixer fitted with a dough hook, but a wooden spoon will work just fine.  Pour in the yeast once it has proofed and knead on low speed until well combined.

To shape the dough, turn it out onto a lightly floured surface.  I found it pretty sticky still so have the flour near by to coat your hands.  Knead the dough by using the heel of your hand to compress and push the dough away from you, and then fold it back over itself.  Give the dough a small turn and repeat until the dough is smooth and elastic, it was a little over 5 minutes for me.  The dough is ready when it bounces back when pressed with your fingers.

Place the dough in the oiled bowl.  Cover with a dry towel and let the dough rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about an hour.

While you are waiting, lightly oil or grease the insides of two 9 x 5-inch loaf pans.

Turn the dough out onto the floured surface, and punch down.  Halve the dough; flatten one piece an oval and roll up lengthwise.  Place the roll, seam side down, into one of the prepared pans.  Repeat with the remaining dough.  Cover the loaves with a dry towel and let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, about 45 minutes.

To bake the loaves, preheat the oven to 400 degrees F.  Bake until deep golden brown, it took just over about 50 minutes.  The loaves will sound hollow when tapped on the top.  Transfer the pans to a wire rack, and let cool for 5 minutes.  Invert the loaves onto the rack to cool completely.

Once cool, be sure to wrap the loaves securely, (if you don’t eat it all in one sitting) so it doesn’t go stale quickly.  You can also wrap in aluminum and plastic wrap to freeze.  This is really easy.  You are going to want to do it again.

 This recipe is from a cookbook by Virginia Willis.  It is one of those cookbooks filled with stories and warm descriptions that I like to read in bed.  Weird, I know... Regardless of where it is read, I think you will enjoy this book.  You will also enjoy how wonderful your house smells when you bake your own bread.

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