Tuesday, October 23, 2007

The Staff of LIfe

If you are serious about ever using your storage, you will want to know how to make bread. Fortunately, bread is not a high-tech food. Although, I guess you can always add bells and whistles until it is hard and complicated.

For me, bread, soups and salads are similar in that they can all be made from a variety of ingredients that you might or might not have on hand. Soups are great for making a new dish out of old leftovers. As long as they aren't spoiled, you can add them to a pot and in a few minutes you can call it soup. When you learn that onions, garlic, and black pepper are almost universal soup spices, you are 90% there. Add celery for chicken and turkey. Add bay leaf for beef. And so it goes.

Gardens are to salads as refrigerators are to soups. If you have some lettuce or cabbage, a few onions, carrots, beets or beet tops.... you are close. Or we have been making a good salad from tomatoes and onions. Mostly tomatoes, a few diced onions, Italian seasoning, black pepper, garlic salt, raspberry vinegar and olive oil and there you have it.....

With bread of course you aren't cleaning out the fridge or the garden, but if you follow a few simple principles you can have pretty good to amazing bread every time.

Start with a sponge. Put some warm water in a bowl. Water that is about the right temperature for a comfortable bath for a baby. I am guessing that you have added from a pint to a quart of water, and will scale things accordingly.

Add some sugar or molasses or honey, something for the yeast to eat. Dissolve it. Add about 2 table spoons or so of dried yeast, kept in the freezer. Mix. Let stand for 5-10 min.

Add flour to the consistency of medium thin pancake batter. This will probably be two cups or so. If you are using whole wheat, and only the whole wheat flour - no white. Also, add plain rolled oats - about 1/2 the volume of whole wheat. So if you put in two cups of wheat flour, add 1 cup of rolled oats. Some people like to chop them fine in a food processor. Whatever floats your boat. You can't see them in the finished bread, but the oats glue the crumbly whole wheat together and give it a better texture.

Add a stick of melted butter or 1/3 cup of oil or, and be strong here, 1/3 cup or so of bacon grease or chicken fat. Yes, I cook with bacon grease. And if you try it, you will probably like it. Your bread will have great texture, and great taste. You will die, as we all will, but not right away.

Add about a generous three fingered pinch of salt. Check the consistency and temperature. Add some water or milk if it is getting too thick, as it will with whole wheat. Check to see that it is just right for a baby's bath, and if it is too cold, nuke it in the microwave for 20 seconds repeatedly until it is warm enough. In the summer you probably won't have to do this. In the winter your flour will be colder.

Let this mixture set for about 30 minutes or until it is all bubbly and looks like a sponge. Then mix in white flour until it is dough, but somewhat sticky. You should be able to mold it into a big ball that is smooth, but a little tacky on your fingers. Too much flour at this stage is not desirable.

Knead it until it feels more like dough and doesn't have the consistency of batter anymore. Make sure it is warm. Microwave for 15-20 secs to rewarm. Let dough rest for 15 minutes if you are making loaves. If you are making rolls you can add just a little more flour and form the rolls.

For loaves, cut into thirds or fourths. Knead in a little more flour and roll with a rolling pin until it is about 1/2" thick or less. This gets rid of bubbles that might form big voids in the bread. Roll up the dough and form into a loaf. Do this with buttered hands to leave a little sheen on the dough, especially on the bottom. Place in a bread pan that is sprayed with pan spray , or smeared with butter. Paint top of dough with a beaten egg and sprinkle on sesame, poppy or flax seed. Place in warm area and let it rise for about 20 minutes or so. It should start to look a little soft and have expanded some. If it rises too much it might collapse in the baking. If you put it right into the oven without letting it rise, there won't be bubbles in the dough to expand in the heat and give it a good texture. There might be some trial and error to this, but keep at it.

Bake for 40 minutes or so at 350 deg. White bread can bake for a few minutes less. Remove from oven and the pan and let it cool. If you cut it too soon the knife will break the dough and you will have a crust with smashed bread inside. I like to let it cool for an hour or so, and turn it once or twice, then put it into a bag to let the crust soften. We make two little tiny loaves from a toy bread set when we bake, and these are sacrificed right away and slathered with jam or honey and butter. Before we did this we often broke the bread. It is OK if you do for eating with soup, but doesn't ever work for sandwiches.

Have fun!!


The Nurse said...

i like it. i like it. i like it. thanks for the information. i'll have to try it. but i only have white flour. maybe i should go and buy some whole wheat. ;)

AnnieOfBlueGables said...

Yes, Sailor has become a better bread maker than I. He loved homemade bread so much that when the nurse was a baby and I had my gallbladder out, he begged me to make bread. I told him I couldn't use those stomach muscles to knead the bread, but I would teach him. He has taken it by the reigns like all his cooking adventures, and made it better!
The kitchen, in a perfect world, is a laboratory for Sailer and would be converted to a craft room for me.

Sailor said...

One step at a time. Try the white, then work into the wheat, a little at a time. When you are using a lot of wheat, or want to use a lot, you will find it will get to be crumbly - then it is oatmeal time.

Also, if you want a darker, more flavorful bread, use a lot of wheat, or rye if you can find some (usually in 1 lb expensive bags) and add some baking cocoa - maybe a tablespoon. I have actually used Quick chocolate milk mix and Steven's hot cocoa mix (somewhat to Annie's annoyance.... :) ) and it worked fine.

You can add sunflower seeds - when you have it all rolled out flat, before you form the loaf, sprinkle with seeds. I think flax seeds would work OK here as well. I have added sprouted wheat seeds as well, and if they have little roots on them, they are OK, but if they haven't sprouted that much, they will break your teeth. So, mostly I don't add them anymore. Have fun Sweet Nurse.

pixiestylist said...

see, i love to know all of this stuff, and i should probably experiment, but mostly if i am in a place where i HAVE to use my food storage, chances are, i'm not going to be able to just look up this blog. :(