Last night I made a quick detour to the grocery store to pick up some flour and yeast. I've had a full-blown obsession with baking bread for the last couple of weeks and I managed to run low on the vital supplies. Although statistics show that people hardly cook or bake anymore, the shelves of Waitrose told a different story: they were fresh out of yeast!
Apparently, it's not just me. I don't know if it is an autumnal rite, nesting instinct, or soothing ritual, but a lot of people seem to be baking. Even if everything is definitely not "all right" with the world, the exquisitely yeasty smell of a fresh-baked loaf can help you feel that it is.
My family aren't big bread eaters under normal circumstances. We hardly ever eat sandwiches, and we tend to favor oatmeal over toast. When I buy sliced bread, it will invariably grow moldy or stale (ie, chicken food) before we manage to finish it. But freshly baked bread! It has a siren's lure. If I leave a warm loaf on the counter on a weekend morning, it will disappear by afternoon -- slice by surreptitious slice. And if I strategically position the peanut butter (for the girls) and Marmite (for my husband), I can manage to get out of making lunch -- and crack on with the "fun" stuff, like washing all of the p.e. kit and school uniforms.
In the past couple of weeks I've made banana muffins, gingerbread, apple pie, butterscotch cookies, english muffins and Homesick Texan's splendid oatmeal bread -- and they've all done an admirable job of perfuming my kitchen and pleasing my family. However, the recipe I keep returning to has the seductive title (and method) of The Easiest 100% Whole Wheat Bread Ever. It is nutritious, adaptable and easy; and for bread, it's pretty quick, too. It doesn't have to be kneaded, or punched down, or proofed, so there's no need to be wary of it -- even if you are short on time and/or baking skills.
The Easiest 100% Whole Wheat Bread Ever
(from the King Arthur Whole Grain Baking book)
Combine the following ingredients in a large mixing bowl.
(If you have a standing mixer, use that bowl.)
1 1/4 cup (10 oz) lukewarm water
1/4 cup (2 oz) orange juice
3 tablespoons (2 1/4 oz) molasses (I use treacle, or honey)
3 cups (12 oz) traditional whole wheat flour (I use "strong" bread flour)
1/4 cup (1 oz) nonfat dry milk
1 1/4 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons instant yeast
At a medium-high speed, beat the mixture for about three minutes. (If you have a KitchenAid, use your paddle attachment. )
Spoon the batter (it will be sticky!) into a greased bread tin. The recipe calls for something that is 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inches, but I just used my biggest tin and that was perfect. Cover the pan with greased plastic wrap and let the dough rise for an hour. By the way, I use Crisco (vegetable shortening) for the business of greasing.
Preheat your oven to 350 F/175 C while the bread is rising. The bread will need approximately 45 minutes to cook, and you should tent if with foil after the first 20 minutes. Remove it from the oven and let it cool on a rack (in the tin) for about 5 minutes. Then you can run a table knife around the edges and ease it out of the pan. King Arthur recommends cooling for 30 minutes before you attempt to eat it . . . but you're on your own with this advice, because I won't even pretend to be so abstemious. It should be golden brown when finished.
King Arthur describes this bread as "a coarse-grained, moist, easy-to-slice loaf." If you make it with molasses, it will definitely have a texture and flavor that brings Boston Baked Bread to mind. (My daughters prefer it made with honey, but I like both versions.) It is sturdy, and it toasts quite obediently. It has a satisfying chew to it, and it tastes nourishing -- but without being the slightest bit reminiscent of sawdust or birdseed.
I was fortunate to have a bread-baking mother, and her kitchen was (and still is) always warmed by the smell of good things. In addition to my KitchenAid mixer, almost any decent pan or knife I own, and a dozen favorite cookbooks, my mom gifted me with this awesome book. Thanks, Mom!
English trivia: "Use your loaf" is Cockney rhyming slang for "be smart." It works like this: "use your head," and head rhymes with bread, and bread is synonymous with loaf. Get it?