Back to Basics – Bread

Since I’ve been gone for a while, you might have expected that I’d write about Christmas, traveling, or maybe pregnancy.  Nope!  One of my top priorities upon returning from our nice trip to St. Louis was to resume bread-making in full effect.  It happened today, y’all.  And I’ve decided to share the recipe I adapted from one of my most often used cookbooks, Feeding the Whole Family by Cynthia Lair (and illustrated by the fantastic and awesome Nikki McClure).

To make the starter dough, you’ll need:

2 cups cooked grains (like brown rice, quinoa, millet, etc.)

2 cups water

1/4 cup olive oil or melted butter

1 tbsp sea salt

1 tbsp active dry yeast

1 cup whole wheat flour (approximately)

Blend your grains and water in a food processor until they are completely broken down; pour into a large mixing bowl.  Add the salt, yeast, and oil, mixing thoroughly.  Add enough of the whole wheat flour to make the mixture look like cooked oatmeal (not very runny nor do you want it to be totally dry – I know it’s vague, but there is some room for error/personal taste here).  Cover the bowl with plastic wrap or a damp towel and leave it for 12-24 hours at room temperature.  Once it’s done, this poolish (starter dough) can be covered and refrigerated for up to a week.

1/4 cup honey or maple syrup

2 cups whole wheat flour

2-4 cups unbleached bread flour

After 12-24 hours, add your honey to your poolish and stir.  Stir in whole wheat flour.  Now starting adding the bread flour, a little at a time, and mixing it in as you go.  At some point you’ll have to start kneading the dough in the bowl, and when that becomes too difficult you can move the dough to your  floured workspace.  Add flour until the dough is staying together and feels tacky, but not sticky like cookie dough.  When it gets to this point stop adding flour and knead it for 10-15 minutes.  Wash and dry that large mixing bowl.  Using canola or olive oil, rub down the inside so that the entire bowl is covered in a thin layer of oil.  Put the dough in the bowl, cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel, and let it rise for 1.5-2 hours.

After this rising, oil two bread loaf pans using the same method (or use Baker’s Joy like I do – it’s awesome) and set aside.  Divide the dough in half.  Take out half the dough and flatten it on your workspace.  Although in the pictures mine is floured, I talked to Amos (he’s really the baker in the family) and he suggested NOT flouring the counter for this part of the process because it works unfermented flour into the dough, which doesn’t taste good.  My bread still turned out fine, but next time I won’t use flour here.

Now it’s time to shape your dough.  Flatten the dough into a roughly square shape, pressing all the air out (slap your dough!).  Fold over one corner so the shape is now a triangle and press out all the air.  Fold the other two points into the middle and press again.  Fold the last point in and press.  Pick up the dough with both hands and roll it into itself (like a log).  This helps you shape it and works to create an airtight membrane on the top of the dough, which is good for baking.  Pinch the seam together as best you can and continue shaping the dough until you have a small log shape (with the seam on the bottom).  Place this dough into a loaf pan and repeat with the other half of the dough.

1 tsp water

1 tsp honey or maple syrup

1 tsp butter

1/4 tsp sea salt

Melt all these together.  Brush all over each loaf, then cover them and let them rise for 45-60 minutes.

Preheat your oven to 350 degrees.  When you go to check on your dough, you can test it for readiness two ways:  first, push in the side a bit.  If it springs back, but kind of holds the shape of your hand, then it’s good.  Second, it should be approximately double in size.  Bake the loaves for 45-60 minutes.  Note that this cooking time will vary depending on your oven, so keep an eye on your bread.  Also, you should completely rotate your loaves about  halfway through cooking, and I do mean completely – turn each pan 180 degrees and switch sides.  This helps them to cook evenly.  After they come out of the oven you should let them chill out on a cooling rack for 30 minutes or so.  One of these loaves can be covered completely in plastic wrap and frozen, if you like.

And there you have it!  I know it’s a lot of steps, but really this bread is surprisingly easy to make.  I’m so happy with how these loaves have been turning out that I think I’ll have to experiment with other, trickier, types of bread.  Enjoy!

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