Dec 21 2007

How can a nation be great if the bread tastes like kleenex?

…quote from Julia Child

This recent article from the NY Times made me laugh.

As any true bread-lover will tell you (and I am a bread geek of the worst kind), whole wheat and whole grain bread is the only kind of bread worth eating. White bread is generally bland, over sweetened and buttered stuff left for dinner rolls, challah, and real traditional sourdough. Other than that?? Whole wheat/grain bread is healthier, ends up with a much better texture, and tastes about a billion times better. White bread’s also boring to play with as a baker. The fun comes in when I play with the other stuff.

King Arthur Flour (the god of all flour companies) has made white whole wheat bread for ages now. It�s not bad, although it still doesn’t act quite the same as real whole wheat. Still better than white bread, though, and marketed as a way to get the wonder bread generation eating whole wheat bread.

I love baking bread. To me, it�s a fun, enjoyable, edible hobby.

I still do buy bread on occasion, the best bread takes time and hours of love, and if I�m not going to do it right, I�d rather not do it. It�ll take me a minimum of 4 hours to bake a basic loaf from start to finish, but can take weeks if I really want to make that fantasy bread of every baker that crackles as it comes out of the oven. The perfect bread is crunchy on the outside, slightly dense, chewy on the inside with the big air bubbles that no storebought yeast will ever produce.

The ingredients in a basic loaf of bread are extremely simple. Some mix of different types of flour, and some mix of additional ingredients, depending on what I’m trying to get out of the bread (light and fluffy vs denser sandwich bread, etc). I�ll use butter or oil, eggs, powdered milk, but I rarely use sugar. If I’m making real, heavy whole wheat, I’ll add splenda, and dinner rolls just have to have a ton of sugar and butter, but other then that? The whole point of making bread at home is that it isn’t that icky sweet sticky storebought fluff balls they call bread.

That said, if someone is going to start baking bread for the first time, the transition is smoother if they use use some sort of sweetener, especially if they’re going to try to get kids to eat the bread. Just makes the transition a little easier, and after a while, you’ll find yourself making up your own recipes. Bread’s one of those great things you can throw half the refrigerator into. Even if you don’t make it part of the actual dough, you can always wrap dough around stuff and suddenly you’ve invented something.

Baking bread is easy, fun, and nowhere near as difficult as people think it is. It’s edible playdough. Beat that.

Below is my recipe for my simple version of whole wheat bread. It�s light, fluffy, has a crunchy crust, and tastes better then anything you�ll find in the store.

Ingredients:

2 tsp yeast
1 � cup white flour
1 � cup regular whole wheat flour
2 tbl honey
4 tbl butter, unsalted
1/4 cup powdered milk
1 egg
� tsp salt
1 � cup water

Mix, let rise (about an hour), pound down, let rise again (about 45 minutes), shape, let rise one last time (until dough has doubled). Bake for 30 � 40 minutes on 425 in a VERY well preheated oven. You’ll know the bread’s done if it sounds hollow when you thump on the bottom.

Once you get the hang of the basic recipe, you can mess with ingredients – the only way to truly “fail” at baking bread is to forget the yeast (or flour, obviously). Play with shaping the dough – any bread loaf can also be made as rolls, or braided, or whatever, and play with the baking temp and time. Ideally, bread should be baked in the hottest possible oven you can get for the shortest period of time.

I’ll write another entry with general tips tomorrow.

Have fun, and happy eating!!

(oh, and thanks for the unanimous recommendation on what host to use, that made my choice easy!)

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