food, farming, friends and family: a meditation on chosen simplicity and (in)voluntary complications – life.

Our Daily Bread

Okay, so the secret’s out: Neil and I like bread. Our days of dumpstering dozens of loaves a week at Essential Bread in Seattle are behind us (for the time being), and we don’t really buy bread, so it’s not that we eat it all that often. But when we do – ho boy! Entire loaves have been demolished in the course of a day.

Well there must have been something in the air yesterday – a drop in temperature, raindrops perhaps – but I came home, ready to bake the 2 loaves I had prepped in the morning only to find that Neil had baked a deliciously warm and warmly delicious loaf of beer bread – fresh out of the oven.

the bread trinity: sourdough starter, beer bread (half-eaten), whole wheat loaf
I’ll work on hunting down Neil’s beer bread recipe (quickly explained why there was a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon sitting on the floor – beer bread is a great way to use mediocre beer … sorry Pabst fans), but in the meantime here’s a really easy recipe I use for whole wheat bread.
It comes from Laurel’s Kitchen:
(makes 2 loaves)

Basic Whole Grain Bread

3 cups warm water
1 tbsp yeast
1 tbsp sugar
1 tsp salt
6 cups whole wheat flour*

*sometimes I’ll substitute masa or corn flour in for 1-2 cups of the flour – and some of my best loaves have come when I’ve put in a cup of cooked quinoa or rice. Experiment!
** My friend Jac has a suggestion that took this recipe up at least a few notches – add in 2 grated carrots.  Not only does it make the flavor more interesting, but the sugars in the carrot help the bread rise more and give it better texture.  Thanks Jac!

  1. Mix the sugar and warm water in a large bowl, and sprinkle the yeast on top.
  2. After a few minutes, the yeast should be bubbling to the top (it’s really neat to watch); Once you see this, stir in half of the flour. Give it a good stirring, making sure to get the flour clumps out and get the dough (still quite wet at this point) to a good stretchy point.
  3. Now add the salt and the rest of the flour, a cup at a time. You can stir and fold it in with a wooden spoon, but at some point you’re just going to have to get your hands dirty.
  4. I like to keep my clean-up to a minimum, so I continue kneading it inside the same bowl and it seems to work just fine – feel free to get it out onto a cutting board if you want. Knead the bread, folding it over and into itself for several minutes. You’ll notice its texture and feeling change. Once the dough no longer feels sticky and you can poke your finger into it and see it slowly spring back at you, you’re in good shape.
  5. Shape the dough into a large ball and put it back in your bowl and cover it; let it rise in a warm area until it has doubled in size (This usually takes 2 or 3 hours for me). Then split it in half and put each half into a greased bread pan. Let it rise again until it reaches the top of the loaf pan (Confession: this rarely happens for me – it gets close, but it’s usually half an inch or so below. A lighter whiter flour will get you there, but I like the flavor and texture of whole wheat).
  6. Once it reaches a height you like (be patient – you’ll notice when it stops rising), pop it in the oven at 375 degrees for about 40 minutes. I take mine out when the top starts browning and it sounds good and hollow when I tap on it.
  7. Lather it with something and enjoy!
So we only have one good bread pan. Sometimes I’ll halve the recipe, but yesterday was not the day for just one loaf (like I said, something in the air). I made the full recipe and let half of my dough rise without the crutch of the bread pan. It can fend for itself, right? … Picture Jaba the Hut in dough form – it was definitely growing, but not upward.
I did a bit of doughy improv, hearkening back to my days at The Common Grill, a restaurant in my home town that has incredible dinner rolls. I worked preparing take-out orders for a summer, and 9 times out of 10 people would come just for the rolls. I took the mass of dough, stretched it out into a log the diagonal length of a cookie sheet, and rubbed it with olive oil. I cut it several times with scissors to create the individual rolls (I love the look of it!), sprinkled salt and black sesame seeds on them, and baked it at a slightly higher temperature (400) for about 20 minutes.
And Presto!
I won’t say that they’re better than the Common Grills (seriously, they’ve recently started a 5k “Run For the Rolls” in Chelsea … I can’t make this stuff up), but they turned out great! I’m definitely keeping it in mind in case of a bread experiment SOS.
The sourdough beckons next – I am yet to bake a loaf of sourdough bread that has risen above brick level. So wish me luck (or send some advice my way!) and I’ll keep you posted.
Happy February

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