Maybe not always Pope hats, but they certainly do wear little toques in the oven and they certainly have been blessed by the heavens.
Which brings me to the discussion at hand: namely BREAD BAKING. A few months back I promised some lovely bake-tresses that I would post my very own bread recipe, but it's possible I became sidetracked for a hundred or so days.
I've been baking my own bread for years now, tweaking and experimenting with various recipes until finally developing a hearty loaf with a chewy crumb and a touch of sweetness that lends itself scrumptiously to poached eggs, jams of all sorts and smears of brie. It's practically perfect in every way.
There is so much about baking bread that makes me feel intrinsically connected with the act of feeding my little family. I know every ingredient that goes into my bread, I'm able to make purchasing choices I believe in (buying local and organic ingredients), I work over the bread, kneading and forming the loaves, timing the rises with other kitchen tasks, the whole while allowing the heady scent of bread to fill the house.
Honey Whole Wheat Bread
(makes three loaves)
You will need:
3 Cups Warm water (110 degrees F is the going rate for "warm")
2 Tbsp Active Dry Yeast (or two packets)
2/3 Cup Honey (divided)
3 Tbsp Unsalted Butter
1 tsp Salt
5 Cups Bread Flour
1 Cup Oat Flour**
3 Cups[ish] Whole Wheat Flour
2 Tbsp Ground Flax Seeds**
~ Step One ~
In a large bowl, dissolve yeast into warm water. Add 1/3 Cup honey, give a stir, then add in 5 Cups of Bread Flour (stirring the dough after each cup is added will help with the mixing process). Set the bowl aside for it's initial rise in a room temperature spot for 30 minutes - or until the dough is puffing up into a large and bubbly (but very gooey) consistency.
~ Step Two ~
Melt the butter in a small bowl, then pour over dough. Add salt and remaining 1/3 Cup honey to dough then give the mixture a good stir. Add oat flour, ground flax seeds and 1 Cup of whole wheat flour to dough and stir gently (I only say gently because vigorous stirring generally results in this:).
~ Step Three ~
Turn out the entire doughy mixture onto a well [whole wheat] floured surface (be it a large cutting board or a clean kitchen counter), sprinkle liberally with flour, and get kneading! Continue to add flour as the dough becomes sticky, counting on adding anywhere from 1.5 to 2.5 Cups of flour. In the end, you want the consistency to pull back and feel tacky, no longer a gooey mess, but a smooth, easily rolled ball of dough. At this point, grease a large bowl and set your dough inside, flipping it once to coat the dough. Cover the bowl with a tea towel and set in a warm place to rise, about 60 minutes or until dough has doubled in size (I turn my oven to a low setting and set the bowl nearby, rotating it every 20 minutes or so).
~ Step Four ~
Once the dough has doubled in size, give a solid punch-down then turn out onto your work surface. Divide the dough into three equal portions, then give each a light kneading and shape into loaves (more than anything here, you are making sure that any air bubbles are released). If you need direction on shaping loaves, a simple youtube search will do the trick. Place the bread-to-be into three lightly greased loaf pans and set back in your warm place for their final rise, about 20 minutes or until the dough has risen and topped the sides of the loaf pan by about one inch. Meanwhile preheat your oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit.
~ Step Five ~
Bake your loaves for 25 to 30 minutes, interrupting the baking process half-way through to place the bread hats - a single 6"x8"ish sheet of foil - over each loaf to keep the tops from becoming too dark and hard. Turn the loaves out onto cooling racks when done, and prepare to carb-overload!
~ A few tricks and tips ~
**I buy rolled oats - the same kind used for oatmeal - and whole flax seeds in bulk and grind them to a floured consistency in a cheap coffee bean grinder.
* Buy great quality flour. I've always loved King Arthur flours, but recently I've been playing with a local organic flour - but of course don't let a lack of flour keep you from baking!
* When testing the bread for doneness, tap the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon. A "done" loaf should give a hollow knock - but if you're still in doubt, do insert a wooden skewer and be sure it comes out completely clean.
* This recipe makes three loaves - perfect for slicing into one immediately and freezing the other two for later consumption (once the loaves are completely cool, wrap them well and pop 'em in the freezer - they'll defrost beautifully).
* Buy real butter. I'm just saying. Smear it on and take the stairs.
Full bellied and Loafily yours,