Sunday, February 28, 2010

The Recipe for Truly Simple Homemade Bread

I have to laugh that I am trying out baking bread. As a child, my mom baked bread. I don’t remember specifics about the bread, but I do remember jealousy at lunch time when my friends would whip out Ding Dongs and fluffer nutter sandwiches (on perfect, crust less white bread). And here I am baking bread for my children. Hmmm. But neither child is complaining. Yet.

Anyway, for those of you who would like to whip up a quick, healthy loaf for your family, as promised, here is Mark Bittman’s recipe. I personally thought the loaf I made last week with sunflower seeds (which we then smothered in veggie cream cheese) was best. But the kids happily snacked on this loaf all day yesterday. This go round, we added ½ cup of pecans and ½ cup of dried cranberries.

Almost No-Work Whole Grain Bread
Recipe from
Food Matters by Mark Bittman (pages 156-7)
Makes 1 hearty loaf

3 cups whole wheat flour
½ teaspoon instant yeast
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons olive or vegetable oil
Optional: up to 1 cup chopped nuts, seeds, dried fruit or proofed whole grains

Combine the flour, yeast and salt in a mixing bowl. Add 1 ½ cups warm water and stir until blended. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it rest in a warm place for at least 12 hours. The dough is ready when it is dotted with bubbles.

Use some of the oil to grease the loaf pan. If you are adding nuts, raisins, cranberries, etc, fold them into the dough with your hands. Transfer the dough to the loaf pan, and let it settle in evenly. Cover with a moist towel and let it rise until doubled, an hour or so. When it is almost ready, preheat the oven to 350.

Bake the bread about 45 minutes, or until deep golden in color and it sounds hollow when you tap it. (If you have an instant read thermometer, usually kicking around since Thanksgiving, it should read 200 degrees when inserted into the center of the loaf.) Turn it out of the baking pan and let it cool before slicing.

Here are photos of the bread recipe in action for those who find them helpful:

The photo at the top of this post shows the bread the morning after, when it has risen. Hopefully the photo is clear enough that you can see it's more airy and there are tiny little bubbles dotting the top, compared to the dough I prepared the night before. So ideally, that's what you should wake up to. Then I simply tossed in 1/2 cup of pecans and 1/2 cup of dried cranberries;

and (lightly) kneaded them into the dough with my hands, until the pecans and cranberries were incorporated.

Next, I popped the dough into a lightly oiled loaf pan. You'll see that the dough didn't fill the pan, so I just centered it as best I could by shaking the pan a bit.

When I left the dough out to rise for the night, I just left it on the kitchen counter in the bowl covered with Saran wrap, as the recipe says to do. But, our home is really old, and really drafty, so the warmest place to do the second rise is in the oven. (This also guarantees that the second rising would only take an hour, since I knew the space would be warm and condusive to rising.) To do this, I turned our oven onto 200, let the heating process start, then turned the oven off after a couple of minutes. I didn't want the oven hot, just warm. Then I put the loaf into this warm oven and closed the door for the hour. As you'll see above, I also wanted the space to be slightly moist, so I covered the loaf with a damp (ran it under warm water then rung it out) kitchen towel.

And here's what the loaf looked like after rising for 1 hour in the warm oven, covered in the damp towel. Nice!

So, then it was ready to go into our second oven, which I had preheated to 350.

And here it is after baking for 45 minutes. Hollow sound when I tapped the top. Couldn't find our kitchen thermometer, so had to assume it was ready to come out. Bittman's recipe says to turn it out of the pan right away, then let it cool before slicing.

Here it is, ready to offer up as a snack on a snowy filled day!

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