Back-to-Basics Bread Making

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There is so much information out there, so many voices telling us that they know the way to eat, to exercise, to work and live.  I find it all time-consuming, overwhelming and, at times, stressful.

I had an epiphany over the holiday break:  Experience has shown me that my instincts are spot on for what works for me.  Call it body intelligence.  I’m paying attention.

In the past I worked from the outside in.  Now I work from the inside out.

Since tuning in, I realize my body has been shouting for me to get back to my core, my foundation, and move outward in all things that are important to me (writing, family, fitness, etc.).  For example, my diet has become a blend of my background in Paleo, vegetarianism, French culinary technique, farm-to-table, organic, unprocessed, blah blah.  Meaning, my main focus is a base of vegetables and low-moderate amounts of pastured meat, eggs, and some dairy, grains, and legumes.  Everything is organic. I go by what my body asks for.  Some days I want more meat, other days none.  I naturally crave a bit of sugar, so rather than deny myself, I have a small bit in the coffee. And I eat the cake.  And ENJOY it.  BUT, if I want the baked goods, they have to be organic and unprocessed (i.e. I have to make them).

Enter the bread.

Our household eats a ton of bread a week (2-3 loaves). What can I say, Hubby and Kiddo love their toast? 100% organic bread (free of pesticides that are used to ripen and dry wheat) gets pricey at this pace.  Bread making as a process has been a fascination of mine for years, though I don’t crave bread like some folks (and that’s okay; we’re all wired differently).

My sister and brother-in-law spent two weeks last summer in England and talked about eating bread and butter so fresh that you could make a meal of it.  France and Italy are a lock, of course, for great bread.  When I think of America’s processed sliced bread, the word “filler” is the first one that bubbles to mind. It is not a destination. Not trying to be pretentious or snarky here, but do Europeans salivate at the prospect of eating a loaf of Wonder Bread?

I remember the times my mom made a fresh loaf or pulled out a tray of from scratch biscuits or cookies.  Now, that was something for us kids to line up for. And, that is a legacy I want to pass on.

All things considered, the transition to making our bread was a no-brainer.

White vs. Wheat?  “It is said to simply clutter up the insides and to be very bad for children.”

The debate over whether white or wheat bread is better has been around for a while. Here’s what Hubby’s great-grandmother had to say to his grandmother in a 1941 letter:

“Blanche said she wouldn’t have white bread in the house.  Florence is equally down on it, and the doctors, ditto.  I wish you wouldn’t have it either.  It is said to simply clutter up the insides and to be very bad for children.”

My preference is wheat since I grew up on it.  Wheat bread does have more protein, nutrients and, as the quote mentions, fiber.  No one enjoys cluttered insides 🙂

But the occasional fresh baguette, brioche or dinner roll?  With a sweet pastured butter? Mmmm. Divine.

Basic White Bread 

This is the recipe I have been using in modified form over the past few months.  I like a 50/50 white/wheat flour blend.  I have tried different organic flours and like both King Arthur’s 100% Organic Unbleached All-Purpose Flour (great for cakes and cookies, too) and King Arthur’s 100% Organic Whole Wheat Flour.  I have found that these flours yield a softer textured dough and bread.

The recipe below comes from the out-of-print Breads: Step-By-Step Techniques.  It comes together quickly with a stand mixer and dough hook, about the time it would take me to go to the store and pick up a loaf.  Most of the total prep time is in the rising and baking, but if you plan, you can multi-task around the house or kitchen during this time.

Prep Time:  30 mins

Rise Time:  1 –2 hours (in a warmed oven)

Bake Time:  30 – 45 mins

Yield:  2 loaves

 

Ingredients:

1/4 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)

1 package active dry yeast (or 2 1/4 teaspoons of loose dry)

2 tablespoons sugar

2 cups warm milk (about 110 degrees)

2 tablespoons oil (or butter, melted and cooled)

2 teaspoons salt

6 to 6 1/2 cups all-purpose flour (I substitute in 3 cups of wheat flour)

 

Directions:

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Turn on oven to 200 degrees to heat up for dough to rise.

Pour water into a measuring cup; add yeast and 1 tablespoon of the sugar; stir until dissolved.

 

 

 

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Let stand until light-colored and bubbly (about 15 minutes); the bubbling tells you that the yeast is active and has not been destroyed by excessively hot water.

 

 

 

Pour milk into a large bowl (about 4-quart size); stir in oil, salt and remaining 1 tablespoon sugar, and yeast mixture.

Time for the dough hook. Dough pulls from bowl.

 

Turn off oven.

Sprinkle in 3 cups of the flour, 1 cup at a time, stirring until flour is evenly moistened (I use a regular mixer paddle for this step).  Add the 4th cup of the flour and beat until dough is smooth and elastic.  Mix in 5th cup of flour to make dough stiff enough to pull away from sides of bowl.

 

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From this point, you want switch to a dough hook and sprinkle in flour a bit at a time. Depending on the humidity, you may not need 6 cups or you may need more.  It can take 10 minutes, but the more you knead without overdoing it, the lighter the loaf will be. The objective is a non-sticky, smooth, and satiny dough.

 

 

Put dough in a greased bowl (I like softened butter); turn dough over to grease top. Cover bowl loosely with plastic wrap or damp cloth.  Let rise in a warm place (the oven) until doubled (45 minutes to 1 1/12 hours).

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Test by pushing 2 fingers into dough – if indentations remain, dough is ready to shape.

After dough has risen, punch it down with your fist; then turn dough out onto a lightly floured surface.  Knead dough briefly to release air bubbles, and shape into a smooth oval.

 

 

With a sharp knife, divide dough in half.  Form each half into a loaf by gently pulling top surface toward underside to make top smooth.  Turn each loaf over and pinch a seam down center; turn ends under and pinch to seal.

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Put shaped loaves, seam side down, in greased 9 by 5-inch loaf pans.  Cover; let rise in a warm place until almost doubled (about 45 minutes). Loaves should come just to tops of pans – when baked, they’ll rise above the tops of pans.

 

 

 

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Bake in a preheated oven 375 degrees (350 for glass pans) for 30-45 minutes or until loaves are nicely browned.  Turn loaves out onto a rack to cool.  To keep loaves soft, brush the tops with butter.

Stores nicely in freezer until ready to use.  Also, there are no preservatives so use up sliced loaf in a couple of days or store in the refrigerator.

 

 

What are your thoughts?