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Homemade Bread

 

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Bread Making

The French eat more bread per capita than any other country because only they know how to make the stuff edible. - Ambrose Bierce, ca 1910

The baking of bread is a practice that was old and revered four thousand years ago in Biblical times. Thirty years ago the art of baking bread in America seemed to have gone the way of the camel caravan and the Spanish galleon. What passed for bread was white, pasty, and tasteless. Sure, it was fine if it was left to dry and then was ground up with pork and beef into meatballs. And it was fine for the occasional bit of toast or the cucumber sandwich to nibble with tea (pinkie up, if you please). But by most normal defininitions it was just barely edible.

Today, however, artisinal breads of crusty and chewy character are enjoying a great renaissance. More and more people are discovering the intense joys that come from eating fresh-baked chewy breads . As Americans, we have started to learn that bread can be chewy, crunchy, and full of all kinds delicious toasty, grainy, and yeasty flavors. And this is a big step in the right direction.

In France the Baguette is bread; and passions about it run high. It's a white bread protected by a hard and flavorful crust. We are told that Marie Antoinette never did say "Let them eat cake;" even so, it is very likely that a bread shortage in Paris precipitated the revolution. And for this reason one can always find bread in Paris at a good price.

In Eastern Europe one can readily find dense rye breads redolent of caraway. Frequently raisins will be added, making a bread that straddles the line between sweet and savory. These are but two examples of the vast variety of artisinal breads in Europe. Anyone who has developed a fondness for crusty European breads will have little tolerance for that material sold for decades in America as bread. It's little wonder that the bread machine was a hit.

Several years ago my wife and I travelled to Sedona to look at the red rocks. We stayed in a very expensive little bed and breakfast with a view of our own pile of red rocks lit flaming red at dawn. There were many little touches that distinguished this place from others, but the most unique was a bread machine. If one told the proprietor what time one was returning in the afternoon, she would arrange to have fresh bread waiting in the bread machine. It is impossible to communicate how homey and relaxing this made the place feel. The smell of bread baking is just as intoxicating as the smell of the grill, but it is more welcome indoors. The thought of it years later makes me hungry.

The Best of Bread

Breads are best if consumed within two hours of baking. Few super-markets get deliveries more than once or twice per day, so most bread is 'old' by the time a shopper puts it into the grocery cart. If you shop early in the morning, you might be able to eat bread less than a day after it was baked; but most of us shop in the evening and the bread is getting old by the time we take the first slice.

Furthermore, the most sensual aspect of bread is the aroma it produces as it bakes; and this you cannot bring home from the grocery store even if the bread is made fresh on-the-spot.

This is why people go to the bother of baking bread. Some go to great lengths, letting the bread rise in a warm place, then painstakingly kneading it by hand. Working dough is real work; but millons find it worthwhile.

All of this aerobic activity may have been necessary one day, but today the bread machine is capable of making a host of different styles of fresh bread with little more effort than is required to brew a fresh pot of coffee.

There are many who find that these machines can deliver bread that is better than what the average home baker is likely to turn out painstakingly following the best instructions. Numerous authorities claim that the flavor, aroma, and texture found in machine-made bread are frequently as good as in that made by experts. And even if it falls short now and then, it is in a whole different league from supermarket bread.

With this page we toast the dedicated foodies who take on the task of baking their own bread. Even if the task of baking bread no longer requires heroic effort, it does require overcoming the prejudice that heroic effort is required. This, quite possibly, is its own kind of heroic effort. So we salute all bread bakers as heroes.

Eat well, and prosper.

Gluten-Free Walnut Apricot Bread

In a bowl combine :

Cover with plastic wrap and microwave on high for 2 minutes. Rest covered for 5 min. Uncover. Allow to cool uncovered for 15 min.

As it cools, put into the bread machine:

Set it for the shorter bread cycle and start it. When 15 min are up or when the bread machine beeps for additional ingredients, add the fruit and nuts.

This is a rather durable bread. Composed of whole grain, beans, fruit, and nuts it is high in balanced protien, and contains fruits high in vitamins A&C. It has fair amount of fiber, and is high in omega-3 oils. In other words, one could survive on this bread alone for a very long time. It has a dry texture and keeps pretty well, although freezing is recommended with this bread as it is with most here.

Gluten-Free Millet Bread

Place into the bread machine

Set on jam cycle and run. Near the end of the jam cycle, boil 2 1/4 cups of water. When the machine beeps, remove the contents to a stainless steel bowl, place the bowl in your sink, and add the boiling water. Mix this up well, and allow it to rest and cool for 1 hour . Make sure the lid of the bread machine is open, so it cools down. (This' malting' cycle makes the grain taste better, it helps soften the millet kernels, and it helps the bread to rise. )

Wipe out the bread machine.

When an hour is up, place the following into the bread machine in this order:

Set the machine for whole wheat flour, fast cycle, and start the machine.When it beeps for additional ingredients, in about 30 minutes, slowly add 1/2 to 1 cup rice flour to correct consistency. It should be firm, not like batter but the dough should hold together.

If you are a vegan, you can add 2 tsp arrowroot instead of the egg.

Rye Bread

This bread is Not gluten-free. It is, however, dark and complex, and delicious. If you find bread bland and pasty, this will change your opinion.

Bake on whole wheat bread cycle. This recipe creates out a dark, complex rye that is tender but has a bit of chewiness in the crust. Those with an adventuresome streak should add 1/2 cup raisins and 1 T. water to the recipe. And if you want it a little softer and cakelike, add 2 T. butter

French Bread

It would be a mistake to imagine that a bread machine can perfectly emulate a French bakery. One of the charms of the French baguette is its particular shape and its particular crusty texture. One can get reasonably close on texture, but, if one bakes bread in a bread machine one cannot create the baguette shape. This is a reasonable substitute. A more serious baker might make the dough in the bread machine, then shape it and bake it in the oven. A really serious one will buy a heavy duty stand mixer with a dough hook and make it from scratch. But before going down that path, this is a great way to start out.

Bake on the long bread cycle dark crust.

Oatmeal Toasting Bread

This recipe is adapted from the back of a King Arthur Flour bag. Set the bread machine for quick bake bread cycle, about an hour and a half, medium crust darkness. Place the following ingredients into the bread machine in this order (important) :

Run the bread machine. Check the dough consistency during the kneeding cycle and correct if needed.

The result is a tan bread with a soft texture that toasts very nicely. It tastes delicious with peach, apricot, or cherry jam, and is very nice with butter, sugar, and cinnamon.

Pastry Flour vs Bread Flour

Bread flours differ from biscuit or pastry flours. They are made from high protien wheat. The protien in wheat is gluten and it is gluten that gives the bread its springiness and crustiness. It is for this very reason that it is used for bread, but other flours are used for baking cakes and biscuits. Bread flours typically contain 12% protien by weight, though one can find ones up to 13 %.

Pastry flours are low protien, low gluten flours. They have as little as 2/3 the protien as bread flour, being typically 8% - 9% protein. All purpose flour is halfway between, and this makes it suitable for both breads and pastries, but less than ideal for either. A serious baker or cook is likely to stock bread flour for breads and pastry flour for biscuits and cakes, especially if she enjoys crusty bread and melt-in-the-mouth cakes.

Of Toasting, Malt, and Yeast

In making millet bread, it seems mighty inconvenient to toast the millet and flour first. So why do it? There are two reasons. One is that it makes the millet grain a little bit softer. Without the soaking cycle, the millet in the bread will be too hard and crunchy. The second reason is that yeast - having a metabolic system that is not far different from our own - prefer toast to bread. Toasting the grain and soaking it in hot water uncoils the starches, breaks some down into maltose and other complex sugars, and makes them available for the yeast as food. This completely changes the texture of the bread, making it supple and airy where otherwise it would be dense and crumbly.

 

Eat Well and Prosper.

 

Suppliers

Bob's Red Mill

Arrowhead Mills

King Arthur Flour Co.

Pecans Plain and Fancy - Willson Nut Farm

 

 

 

 

Copyright S.R. Brubaker 2002 - 2006.