Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Homemade Bread--From Scratch

        In my introduction to this blog, I warned potential readers that I would stray from the main focus of Lawnlessness in order to share recipes using what I've grown. I'm about to do that.
        I've been baking bread from scratch for decades, but for these loaves, I scratched a little deeper.  I used grain grown here in my garden. Growing my own wheat is something I've wanted to do for many years, but this happened by accident.  
Three loaves of homemade bread made with homegrown wheat.
       Last year I mulched the old vegetable garden with straw.  This year I planted most of that garden to peas as a first step to renovating the depleted soil.  The west end where the tomato stakes stood didn't get planted or even weeded.  Most of the "weeds" were wheat volunteers.  When the heads started to fill out this summer, I covered the area with a floating row cover to keep the birds at bay.  Later, I cut the stalks with scissors and laid the harvest on a wooden clothes drying rack to finish drying, again covering it with a floating row cover.
       Lacking a machine to do the work, I separated the kernels by rubbing handfuls of "beard" (seed heads)between my gloved hands.  Works okay for small amounts, but I sure wouldn't want to make a living doing this.  I poured the results from bowl to bowl in front of a fan to remove additional plant parts, then hand-sorted what was left. Tedious.  I reminded myself, several times, to enjoy the process and anticipate the final product. 
Home-grown wheat
       I make the best bread!  I think so and others have told me that I do.  I'm going to share with you my recipe for the everyday bread we use around here. These are simple loaves, but over the years I've added so many little nuances that this may sound kind of complicated.  Please don't let this discourage you from making your own bread! The stuff you buy in the store is so much tasteless paste by comparison.  If you've tried making bread before and haven't been satisfied with the results, maybe some part of what follows here will help you.
       The recipe I use originated with Betty Crocker as Rich Egg Bread.  Ingredients:  1/2 cup warm water (105 to 115 degrees. Use a thermometer to be sure), 1 Tablespoon yeast (I buy it by the pound, not in little packages, and keep the bag in the freezer), 1/4 cup sugar, 1-1/2 cups milk scalded and cooled to 105 to115 degrees (I just warm it up in the microwave), 1 Tablespoon salt, 1/4 cup solid shortening, 3 eggs, 7 1/4 to 7 1/2 cups flour.
        If you're using a metal bowl, warm it with hot tap water before starting.  Sprinkle the yeast over the half cup of warm water.  Stir in sugar and warm milk.  Let the yeast work for up to an hour.  It will look sort of foamy.  If it doesn't, your yeast may be old, or the water or milk may have been  too hot and killed the yeast.  Add four cups of flour and beat for two minutes by machine.  At this point I use three cups of fresh whole wheat flour ground in my Vita Mix and one cup of unbleached all-purpose flour.  Recently, I tried substituting store-bought whole wheat.  Texture and flavor both suffered.  I won't do that again except in an emergency.  Add salt, shortening, eggs, and another three cups of all-purpose flour.  Mix and knead, adding additional flour if needed to easy handling.  Add too much flour and the loaves will not cook in the middle.  I used to do this by hand, kneading for five minutes.  Now I use the lovely machine my husband bought me. (He really appreciates the bread!) 
       Form the dough into a ball and place in a greased bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled.  Punch it down and let it rise again.  A second rising improves the flavor.  Shape into loaves, three if using 7-1/2x3-3/4x2-1/4 or 8-1/2x4-1/4x2-5/8 pans; two if using larger pans.  Flatten the dough with a rolling pin or with the fleshy part of your hand to an oval about fourteen inches long and ten inches wide.  Turn the sides toward the center to a width that will fit your pans.  Use the rolling pin again to remove possible air bubbles. Roll the dough into a cylinder.  Pinch the bottom seam with you fingers.  Use the side of your hand to make a flap to seal both ends.  Turn these ends under and pinch them to hold them in place.  Cover and let rise until about doubled again.  I don't recommend that you let the dough rise more than an inch or so above the top edge of you pan*before it goes in the oven.
Use the side of your hand to make a flap at both ends.
       Preheat the oven to 500 degrees F.  Every time you open the oven, the temperature drops at least 25 degrees.  The dough needs heat to "spring" in the oven.  This is a final rise that takes only a few minutes once the bread has gone into the oven.  If it happens at all.  If it does, it's an indication that the yeast is, well, happy. You want the yeast to be happy.  So 500 to start; adjusted to 425 as soon as you put the bread in.  Bake at 425 for 15 minutes.  Reduce heat to 350 and bake about 25 minutes more or until done.  I cover the loaves loosely during the entire time with foil to keep the tops from browning too much.  The bread is done when taping it produces a hollow sound.  Immediately remove the loaves from the pans and cool on wire racks.  If the bread looks really pale when you take it out of the pan, it may not be thoroughly cooked, in which case, you might want to put it back in the pan and return it to the oven.  If you like a soft crust, wipe the loaves with butter or shortening, or spray lightly with olive oil.
       Everything I've read says to let the loaves cool completely before slicing, but fresh, still-warm buttered bread is a real treat.  So is fresh, still-warm sliced and toasted bread.  You do this, though, and your loaves will be gone before they've cooled.
       It's been a long time since I've had a failed batch of bread.  When it did happen, I made crackers.  The kids loved those.  Sometimes, I'd save some of the dough for dough gods.  To make these, roll golf ball sized balls, flatten them, slip them into hot oil, turn once when first side is a golden brown, roll them in confectioners sugar and serve warm.  Don't overcook.   
       There's that saying that man can't live by bread alone, but I suspect the person who originally said this meant that food wasn't all one lives for, because you can survive on little in addition to bread--unless, of course, what you're eating is that store-bought stuff.
*Spray bread pans with a non-stick spray for easy release and easy cleanup.   

1 comment:

  1. Hi, I just found your blog, and I love this post! I recently ground my own wheat, and thought I was a champ but GROWING it!? Amazing, Im curious how big was the space you used to grow the wheat, and how much "finished product" did you end up with?

    Also, I won the dried lavender(from the Adventures of tha thrifty mama blog) and received it today, it smelled so good, as soon as I opened my front door. I didnt think I would be this excited to have the lavender but getting something like that from another gardener is pretty meaningful I think. It will be soap soon :) thanks!