I have tried and tried at different points in my life to make bread. And in the spirit of being bitterly honest, it was awful. Every. Last. Dry. Bit. Horrible, I tell you!
But I have been reading more and more about food additives, preservatives, and colors, and those things, my dearies, are worse than my bread. And the ingredient I am currently hating the most: corn syrup. I also am not a fan of partially hydrogenated ANYTHING! but I have been working to eliminate the corn syrup-filled ingredients from our diet. Please note: We eat marshmallows. We lo-uh-uh-uh-ove marshmallows. And there is just no way we will be removing s’mores from our diet, corn syrup or not. And people, I have read the labels. Every last one at the tiny grocery store in town, and many labels in the bigger town (they do call it a city) to the north of us, and I have found one bread that does not have corn syrup. ONE! It was a Pepperidge Farms whole grain bread, and a few of the breads in that line also had no corn syrup.
So in the spirit of winning The Battle of the Corn Syrup, I ventured into making bread for the Dayton Five. I experimented with the Williams-Sonoma Essentials of Baking book, which yielded some lovely results. But those recipes didn’t utilize whole-wheat as much as I wanted, and they felt labour-intensive. So while they were good, that one place did not provide what I was looking for. Other nutty-whole-grain friends of ours have been making bread for years, so I called for their recipe.
And that was the answer to the deep and penetrating question of bread.
The best thing about this recipe is that it is flexible. Add oats, don’t add oats. All white flour, all wheat flour, a comibination…whatever you want will work. Half a cup of sweetener, a whole cup, it’s all good. Butter, olive oil, vegetable oil…what you have in your kitchen will be just fine.
That said, I use rolled oats. Actually, I use a seven-grain rolled mix that provides a wonderful nutty flavour. And I am moving toward using 80% whole wheat (the kind I purchase is Prarie Gold, it’s ground to a consistency similar to white flour, much softer than other whole wheats I’ve tried)/20% white flour. For sweetener, I use a half cup of raw sugar, and I use olive oil. The eggs are optional, and I always use them. Not sure why, exactly, but I do. And finally, I use instant yeast that I purchase from my Bulk Food Store. It costs $2.99 for a pound. That is an amazing deal. The packets cost about a dollar, if I am remembering correctly, and who wants to spend an extra dollar per batch of bread? Not me. So look for instant yeast in big packages.
And the most important thing: USE A SIFTER!!!! Why? Because in a 1 cup measuring, umm, cup, you can get nearly two cups worth of sifted flour. Flour is one of those things you measure by weight, not volume, and it’s not meant to be packed like brown sugar. So go buy a sifter and thank me later.
what you use:
- 2 cups rolled oats (or not)
- 6-7 cups warm water
- 2 eggs
- 1/2 – 1 cup sweetener (sugar, honey, maple syrup)
- 2 Tablespoons yeast
- 1 cup wheat bran (or not)
- 7-9 cups flour
- 1/2 – 1 cup butter or oil
- 2 Tablespoons salt
- 6-8 cups flour
what you do:
- In an ENORMOUS bowl, combine oats, sweetener, and bran with 6 cups warm water. Let sit for 5 minutes. Or until you remember that you had started to make bread a while ago. (If the latter is the case, stick your finger in the mixture. If it’s mostly warm, you should be good to go. If it’s room temperature, boil 2 cups of water and add it to the mixture. Stir well and proceed.)
- Add yeast, and 7-9 cups of flour. At this stage, it should be really easy to stir with a wooden spoon.
- Let sit for at least an hour. This is the sponge stage of the bread. It’s where the yeast makes out with the sweetener and the natural sugars in the wheat. It gets all bubbly and full of itself, like a couple of naughty teens.
- Stir in all of the rest of the ingredients. This is where I abandon the use of a utensil to mix the bread. Because, really, I come with two handy (har, har) ones on the end of my arms, and they work way better. And, hey, less dishes.
- Knead the bread. I have such an enormous bowl that I just knead right in the bowl. (Yes, also I don’t like to clean my counters, it’s just way easier this way. Purist I am not.) Knead until the bread is elastic and springy, and you are tired of kneading. About 10 minutes. Or so. Don’t be a wimp. You might need to add flour if things are getting sticky. Sticky = bad in breadland.
- Put the bread back into your enormous bowl. Cover it, if you like. Or don’t. This bread is not a fussy guy. Let it sit for about an hour. It will grow to twice its original size. Like seamonkeys. But better. Much, much better.
- Punch the dough. This is not so much about thrashing your bread as it is about letting some of the fermenting gasses out. If you are a lover and not a fighter, you could gently poke the air out of your bread. Do what you need to do, but get the air out of the bread.
- Let it sit for about an hour. Yes, again. Patience, people. Use this quality time to oil you bread pans. Gently oil. Bread does not need to bathe in oil as it is baking. That is called fried dough, and you find it at carnivals and amusement parks.
- Cut the dough into three equally-sized blobs. Flatten each blob, one at a time, into a square that is slightly longer than your bread pan by slightly longer than your bread pan. Roll up the dough, nice and tight. Fold the ends down toward the seam (that is where you ran out of dough to roll up), and place the loaf in the pan. Gently apply a little oil to the top of your loaves. That makes it purty.
- Let the loaves sit for about half an hour. This is a good time to not forget you are making bread. Otherwise, your bread will rise too darn much and then it will be a disaster. And I can’t help you with that. Sorry. Turn your oven to 350 degrees. Or 375. Whichever.
- Bake bread at 350 degrees for 40-45 minutes, and 375 degrees for 30-35 minutes. To find out if it’s done, tap or knock on the top of the loaf. If it sounds hollow, it is done. If it sounds full, it is not.
- Turn out of pans onto a cooling rack. Cool completely before cutting, or you will have a serious mess to clean up. That is, unless you plan to eat the entire loaf at once. Then go ahead and dig in.
There are a lot of steps involved in this recipe, but I think that the hands-on time is 30 minutes or less. There’s just a lot of waiting time, which could be used to drink coffee, read, or paint your toenails. I mostly do laundry when I’m baking bread. Actually, I just mostly do laundry, bread or not.
Bread is not scary. Try it. Just remember to use a sifter.