The Bread Baking Experiment

by Laura on September 13, 2009

in Food

Back when I read Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, I was inspired by his suggestion: Don’t buy products with more than five ingredients or any ingredients you can’t easily pronounce.

Upon reading this, I marched right down to the kitchen to see how well my choices stacked up. I have to say I did pretty well, but I guess that is because I don’t buy much in the way of prepared or boxed foods. Crackers here, ketchup there. And bread. Lots of bread.

I took a hard look at the latter, bread, because compared to the other two, bread was the one culprit that I bought most frequently. Surprisingly so, the ingredient list on the label wasn’t too long, but Pollan’s point struck a nerve. What could I do better in making my choices? How could I substitute whole foods, homemade foods for the packaged ones I bought? I’m not into making crackers. I’m certainly not going to start a production line for ketchup in my kitchen. But, bread, just maybe I can do that. After all, I have made bread before. And, if I take into account the amount of money I spend on bread on a weekly basis, perhaps I should make the change.

Last month we made the switch. And I’m not sure we’re heading back to our old ways any times soon.

Both Greg and I have gotten into the action. I use my trusty Kitchen Aid stand mixer to do the kneading, while Greg uses his own muscle. Either way, the results are pretty darn tasty.

What I like about this arrangement is that Greg is nighttime baker, which means the house smells wonderful when my head hits the pillow. I, on the other hand, slip my bread-baking time in during the day, in between taking the kids to school and working.

Before cutting the bread-buying chord, my initial concern was how much time would this really take. I think more than time, the biggest challenge has been trying to get ahead of the game and to be sure I don’t run out. But when all is said and done, the time I am needed in the kitchen is minimal. All I need to do is plan to do it and get to it.

The kids have noticed the change. No, they’re not saying, “Hey why don’t we buy bread at the store any longer?” Instead they saying “What kind of bread is Daddy making?” or, “Can I help you knead the dough?”

We’re several weeks into the bread-baking experiment, and I am definitely liking it.

Now, I’ve no scientific evidence to back up the need for the switch, but I can tell you through anecdotal evidence, bread baking is a great stress reliever, its healthier than store bought because I know exactly what goes into it, and its opening up the opportunity for dialogue that we might not have otherwise had.

Below you’ll find our (current) Family Favorite bread recipes for Old English Oatmeal Bread, and wheat bread. Next stop crusty starter breads.

Old English Oatmeal Bread

Source: Williams-Sonoma Breads

  • 1-cup old-fashioned rolled oats, plus extra for top of loaves
  • ¾ cup milk
  • ¾ cup water
  • ¼ cup unsalted butter
  • 1 tbsp dark molasses
  • 2-2 ½ cups unbleached bread flour
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 package (2 ½ tsp) quick-rise yeast
  • 1 egg yolk mixed with 1 tsp water, for glaze

1.  Place the 1-cup oats in a large bowl or the bowl of an electric stand mixer. In a saucepan over low heat, combine the milk, water and butter and bring to a boil. Pour over the oats and let stand until lukewarm, about 30 minutes; stir often to hasten cooling. Stir in the molasses, 1-½ cups of the flour, salt and yeast. Gradually stir in enough of the remaining flour to make soft dough that holds its shape.

2.  Knead by hand or with a dough hook, adding flour as necessary. Knead by hand until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes; knead by hook until dough is not sticky and pulls cleanly from the bowl sides, 6-7 minutes.

3.  Form the dough into a ball and place in a clean, greased bowl, turning to grease all sides. Cover with plastic wrap and let rise in a warm place until doubled, 45-60 minutes.

4.  Lightly flour a heavy baking sheet. Turn out the dough onto a lightly floured work surface and press flat. Cut in half, knead briefly and form each half into a ball, stretching the sides down and under. Place well apart on the prepared baking sheet and flatten slightly. Cover loosely with greased plastic wrap and let rise until doubled, 20-30 minutes.

5.  Preheat an oven to 425°F.

6.  Uncover the loaves, brush with the glaze and sprinkle with oats. Bake until golden brown and the loaves sound hollow when tapped on the bottoms, 25-30 minutes. Unmold the loaves and transfer to a wire rack to cool.

Makes two, 13-ounce loaves.

Homemade Wheat Bread

  • 1-cup warm water (110-115°F)
  • 1 tbsp milk
  • 2 tbsp oil
  • 2 tbsp honey
  • 2 tbsp brown sugar
  • 1 tsp salt
  • 1 ½ cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 ½ cups whole-wheat flour
  • 2 tsp instant active dry yeast

1.  Combine first 6 ingredients in a large mixing bowl and stir.

2.  Add flours and yeast, and knead until dough is smooth and elastic, about 10-15 minutes. Place dough in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover with a clean towel and let rise until doubled, about 40 minutes.

3.  Punch dough down; knead for a few minutes until smooth and then form into a loaf. Place in greased loaf pan and cover. Let rise in a warm place until almost doubled in size, about 30 minutes.

4.  Bake at 350 degrees for 30-35 minutes. If loaf starts browning too soon, lightly lay a piece of foil on top of the loaf to prevent too much darkening.

5.  Remove bread from oven and allow to rest in pan for a few minutes. Remove to a wire rack and cover with a cloth. Slice and enjoy while still warm. Leftover bread can be stored in an airtight bag or frozen until needed.



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