In the second part of this mini-series on whole grains I thought I’d detail the process of bread making. This is coming from the perspective of one who perceives himself as a Tom Selleck-like (in his old, Magnum, shorts-wearing days) scientist, who dreams of being a wealthy industrialist. In other words, I don’t know what the hell I’m doing when it comes to the kitchen.
Anyway, on to the practical matters. First off, making bread isn’t hard. I do it because it 1) is relatively easy, 2) tastes delicious, 3) is fun (especially if you sprinkle episodes of Seinfeld in during the rises), and 4) teaches you stuff. In terms of ingredients, one can often get by with just the following: flour, water, yeast, butter, and honey. That’s right folks. When the lady I made it last night, I think we added a little salt, but it’s not essential.
So, on to the procedures (I’ll put the recipe at the bottom). This is the funnest (I know that’s not a word) part, especially for all of you budding scientists out there. What you do is put a couple packets of yeast into some water with 1/3 cup honey. The yeast feeds on the water and sugars in the honey and grows. It’s alive, and always reminds me of creatures out of horror films. After 15-20 min you’ll notice it looks all foamy (hopefully). Use relatively new yeast, so the stuff is still alive (still sounds weird, I know). Another crazy thing is that the stuff is in the air, so some recipes just have you use that source of yeast in a magical way.
Afterwards, you put in the melted butter and a couple cups of flour and start mixing in a large bowl. You need quite a bit of flour here; usually it’s more than the recipe indicates. Just keep stirring and adding flour until it gets sticky and becomes more of a solid. When you can imagine kneading the thing, dump it onto the counter (throw some flour down first) and do so. The goal is to get air well proportioned throughout the dough, so the gluten and (yeast-produced) CO2 can interact properly. When you reach the stage where it’s a little rubbery and pulls easily off the fingers, you’re ready to move on. Simply shape the thing into a ball and toss it into a greased bowl. With a dish towel over it, place it somewhere warm, and go away for ~40 min or until it doubles.
Next, you punch it down and split it into the loaves. Grease the tins first, too, and then give the dough another 30-40 min. The long wait times are so that the yeast not only helps the bread to rise, but also properly shapes the final flavor. Finally, when the dough is slightly above the top of the tins, stick ‘em in the oven for ~25min at 350°. The dough will rise a bit more. You know you’re done when you can pull a fork out of the crust without pulling any muck out. And tada--bread. Don’t be too worried if it looks a little doughy upon slicing, as the loaves continue to cook for a bit after pulling them out of the oven.
We made whole wheat bread from hard red winter wheat (partially hand-ground, partially bought from Whole Foods after getting bored). If you’re looking to make bread with flour shamelessly denuded of bran and germ, ingredients and techniques may vary from those above. For everyone else, check out this link for the exact procedures mentioned above.
Thoughts? Ideas? Favorite recipes? Forgot something in the bread-making process? Leave it in the comments. Good luck out there.