Baking Bread

For me, bread is the mana of life. The smell, taste, and texture soothe my soul.

Back in the day, when I was as poor as the poorest church mouse, I made bread all the time. It was a weekly occurrence. It was a time of meditation as well as food preparation. The mixing, kneading, and baking were a ritual for me. There were weeks when it was simple and basic, just flour, yeast, honey, salt, and water. Sometimes it was cinnamon and raisins and lots of butter.

Bread, to me, is best when warm or toasted and slathered with butter. It is good for so many things. Bread is one of finer yet simple things in life.

Yesterday I made a wheat bread with rolled oats, hazelnuts, and almonds. Not my typical recipe. I usually make half and half loaves. They have equal amounts of wheat and white flour. Turned out pretty good, even if I did forget the salt.

One of our favorite store bought brands is up to over $4.50 a loaf. The bread I made yesterday was my attempt at creating something that is similar to that now too expensive loaf. It was a resounding success. From this day forward, I plan on making all of our bread. The cost of the ingredients for one loaf is around a buck. My time is valuable, but free, and yes it does take a few hours to mix it up, form it, let it sit so the yeast can do it’s thing, shape it and let it rest again and then bake it. But, I am sure most of us can find half a day to devote to the process. There is time, during the two resting phases, that you can do other things you need to do. Try this simple recipe.

6 c. flour, 2 1/2 c. warm water, 1 pkg. dry yeast, 1 Tbs. honey, 1 Tbs. canola oil, 1 Tsp. salt.

Mix together warm water and honey. Pour yeast in an let it sit for about three minutes so it can bloom (yeast is a living organism and by letting it sit you will get its full power). The mixture should get frothy. When it does, put the oil in and stir. Next, add four cups of flour. Remember you can mix white and wheat to your liking or just use white or just use wheat. A bread made with all wheat flour will be heavier and chewy. Bread made with white flour will be soft and airy.

Once you have incorporated the first four cups, add the last two cups one cup at a time until the dough forms a ball. It should not be overly sticky when you pull it out and put it on a floured surface for kneading.  You need to knead the bread until it creates enough elasticity that when you push your thumb gently into the ball of dough it leaves an impression. If you have never baked bread, watch this http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dWj8oHMPFm0

Once the thumb test has been passed, the ball needs to be placed in a bowl that has been lightly oiled. After you put the dough in, brush the top very lightly with more oil to keep it from drying and cracking. Cover the bowl with a clean kitchen towel and put it in a warmish place. It will be ready to form into loaves once it has doubled in size. This usually takes about an hour. When that happens, punch the dough down to release the air bubbles.  Remove the dough ball and place it on a floured surface. I generally push it down again and shape it until resembles a thick pancake. Divide the dough into two equal pieces. Knead lightly to remove the rest of the air and shape them into round loaves or shape them into loaves that resemble the stuff you find in stores. For a regular style loaf you need bread pans. They must be lightly oiled so the finished loaf won’t stick. I make rounds… just because. I put both my rounds on a slightly greased cookie sheet and cover them to rest until they have again doubled in size. Again, this will happen in about an hour. Same goes with the pan method.

The loafs or rounds bake in a preheated 375 degree oven until they are golden brown and when tapped on the bottom sound hollow (about 20 minutes). Cool, out of the pans or off the cookies sheet, on a rack. Let it cool, or be bad like me and cut a slice when it is still warm. Throw some butter on that bad boy and eat it!

Because there are no preservatives in this bread, it won’t last long out on the counter or in the fridge. I freeze one loaf and use the other. For freezing I put the loaf, once it is completely cooled, into a zip lock bag. When it is time to thaw it I take it out of the bag, put it on a rack, and cover it with a bowl. I do this so water does not condense on the bread as it comes back to room temperature.

The bread you don’t freeze will have a counter top life of about five days. If you or you and your family can eat both loaves in less than a week skip the freezing part.

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About jaicarney

I am a culinary artist, writer, dreamer and urban farmer dedicated to teaching people to eat and live well. I love my chickens, my garden, my friends, and this mother we call Earth.
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