Mar 21 2011

On Serious Baking, and a Whole Wheat-ish Bread Recipe

I bake a lot. I’m regularly bringing things I bake to work or to friends, since part of the fun of baking is being able to share, and seeing other people smile when they eat your yummy creations. Last time I brought something to work, one of my coworkers asked me how long I had been baking. I answered without thinking, “I’ve been baking seriously for about 15 years.” Her response “what’s seriously baking?”

Good question, and one I had to think about. I believe I did give the right response. I’ve been baking my entire life, but for years and years I was like most people and just pulled out a random chocolate chip cookie recipe or something every once in a while. But 15 (or so) years ago, it all changed.

It wasn’t really intentional, I didn’t set out to become a baking geek. A friend of mine had a bread machine, I saw what it could do, and thought it was the greatest thing ever. I bought a second hand machine off of Ebay for next to nothing, and discovered I could bake very good bread very cheaply. Financially, bread baking made a lot of sense for me at the time. I joined a bread maker Yahoo! Group, and found that the science behind baking was really interesting and fun to play with.

I still think I tend to approach baking as more of a science than an art – most bakers would agree (in fact, “if cooking is an art, baking is a science” is one of my favorite quotes). I tend to think about what I want as the end result and back into a recipe from there. I think that’s different than what most chefs do, which seems to be more adding ingredients to see what the end result will be, playing with various combinations that seems like they’d work well together. Baking is a bit more complicated.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying I’m a perfect baker. I screw up ALL the time. That’s part of playing around. I always have a couple of recipes I’m working on perfecting, and more and more I tend to make “kitchen sink” bread where I open the fridge/cabinets and throw stuff in randomly. I made an awesome loaf last night this way (and will share the recipe below), but often have disasters. My recent explorations into ciabatta baking have resulted in a number of disasters. My one successful loaf looked like ciabatta, but was fairly tasteless – there is a lot more perfecting to do.

These days, if I want to bake something specific and don’t know how, I tend to read a bunch of recipes and combine them into something I like. But if it’s totally unfamiliar (like ciabatta) I will follow the recipe to the letter until I get the technique and procedure down.

Enough blabbering, onto the recipe. I fully intended to make a pizza for dinner last night, but when I started pulling together the dough, got a bit carried away, and it mutated into something else. This obviously isn’t a tested recipe by any sense of the word, seeing as I only made it once (I wouldn’t put it up there with my perfect French bread or anything), but it is good, healthy, whole-wheatyish sandwich bread. I am out of real sugar at home, which is why the splenda, substitute real sugar if desired.

Ingredients:

3 cups white bread flour
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/2 cups water
1 1/2 tsp salt (this made for a slightly salty bread, which I think worked well with the other ingredients)
heaping 1/4 cup splenda
dash of honey (this was for the yeast more than anything else, there isn’t enough for flavor)
2 tbs olive oil
1/4 cup non-fat milk powder
1/2 cup seeds & grains (I use this – I love everything about KA’s harvest grains blend except for the poppy – this lets me make my own).
2 tsp yeast

Throw all the ingredients in your bread machine set to dough, OR…mix the yeast, honey and water, let sit. Mix all the dry ingredients, then add the yeast/water mixture and olive oil.

Once the dough is kneaded (if by hand, about 20 minutes kneading should do it), let it triple for the first rise. In my case, this means I have to pull it out of the bread machine – the machine will automatically knock the rising dough down before it can fully triple. Took about an hour.

Now to decide what to do with the dough! I made this into 4 rolls (for dinner that night), and 1 big loaf. The rolls baked at 450 for 15, the loaf at 375 for closer to 30. Both batches were sprayed with water 5 and 10 minutes into baking.

Allow to cool off completely before slicing, then enjoy!!

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