Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Use your loaf!

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?


Just a Plane Ride Away said...

I make most of our bread now. It's so much nicer than store bought, isn't it? I never baked bread from scratch until I moved to England and had the time to fiddle with it. It's a lot easier than I thought it would be.

I think I'll work on bagles next. No, wait, I'm going to make your wheat bread first (today!) then tackle bagles after travel week. Thanks for the recipe!

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

I'm circling back to report the bread was so easy to make and so delicious (and filling)! I subbed pineapple juice for the OJ (that's all I had) and did 2 T treacle and 1 T Greek Honey. Mmmm. It's all you promised. Thanks again, Bee!

Alyson (New England Living) said...

It's true, there's something about this time of year that gets us to thinking about baking. I, who hardly ever bakes or cooks, am obsessed about getting to the store to get all that I need to make pumpkin bread.

I must look into your recipes!

Brave Sir Robin said...

JAPRA - Bagles?!! That's ambitious!

Bee - I will definitely make this and post a picture!

Nimble said...

Just yesterday I printed out a quick no knead whole grain bread recipe to try. Here's the link to Bittman's NY Times recipe:

I haven't gotten around to it, so no personal endorsement yet.

Yesterday evening I baked cookies to bring to work for boss's day today. (Stupid holiday but we have a good boss and she gives us things on admin. asst.'s day so whatcha gonna do?) I was glad for an excuse to turn on the oven, our house had gotten chilly. The end of my nose had gotten cold while I was watching tv earlier.

By the way, my oldest daughter has decided that she's going to be Carmen Miranda for Halloween. I think it's a hoot but am not sure how we're going to manage it. Suggestions? But no platform shoes for the almost 7 year old.

Elizabeth said...

You almost make me want to bake bread today.
As a child in Essex, we had a little local baker called Mr.Ablin (excellent name!) and the bread was delivered HOT.
Then the board of health closed him down circa 1962. Very sad.
Hard to find good bread in New York -perhaps I will make my own.
When thinking of honorable professions - don't you think BAKER is one of the finest?
Totally morally pure.

Bee said...

I'm so proud! Really, this recipe is so easy that you could make bread every day if you were so inclined.
As for bagels, they are something that I've tried several times -- and never with 100% satisfied results. Remember that New York cookbook that I was telling you about? They have a recipe in which you boil the dough before baking it. BTW, your substitution of pineapple juice for oj amused me. This is just the sort of thing that I always do! The book says that the oj is there to cut the "tang" of the whole wheat flour.

Mmmmm . . . you've reminded me how much I love pumpkin bread! Especially when it is used to make a cream cheese sandwich. Now THAT is seasonal.
I made two loaves of banana bread today -- mostly to use up my brown bananas.

Have you ever made bagels? We can't get good bagels here, so it's definitely worth a try.
I look forward to comparing our loaves . . . and will just point out that it doesn't get a high dome, but stays fairly flat on top. So don't worry!

Whole grains? Fresh bread? No kneading? What's not to like!

So, you didn't mention what kind of cookies you gifted your boss with. You know that I like this sort of detail!

As for Carmen Miranda, (where did she get that notion from?), all I can think of is the fruit piled high on her head. The skimpy top and platforms might not be suitable for a Kansas fall evening. Is it chilly there yet?

Cindy said...

Bee - This bread sounds so good it just can't be true! I'll be trying it for sure, using honey as we just bought some local, dark honey that I think would work perfectly. Now all I am lacking is oj (no pineapple juice in the house either), but it's almost grocery day.
Thanks for the recipe.

Just a Plane Ride Away said...

Bee--Well considering it's only half six and the loaf is half gone, baking every day doesn't seem like a bad idea. It's such a nice, dense bread. Roxi smelled it when she got home from school and wanted a slice. Then she wanted a croque monsieur! I don't think we'll be eating dinner. We're still so full.

And regarding the bagels, I tried making them one time when I was about 14 using a Bette Crocker recipe book. I did boil them first, and they turned out okay. However, now that I have a little bread making under my belt (not to mention a stand mixer), I'd like to try again. Smitten Kitchen has a post about bagels. You can read it here.

Bee said...

I love your thought process! Yes, I think that Baker is a very honourable profession -- there is something wonderful about a job that nourishes people, and contributes to feelings of comfort and happiness. I often think about doing work (paid and unpaid) and how it adds value (or not) to the world around us.

Use some of the orange juice to make the bread -- and then have a nice glass with your bread -- and you will feel healthy and virtuous (in the best possible way). I can also attest to the fact that small children and gardeners (both of whom have visited my house today; both of whom reside in your house) will lap it up.

Thanks for the tip about the Smitten Kitchen bagel post. I'm just on my way now!

Shauna said...

It must be an Autumnal nesting thing. I've been baking a new loaf every few days. I have some kind of odd stubborn streak that makes me keep trying without a recipe and I'm happy to report that my bread is reaching a hearty Italian style. Of course quick breads (like banana) have always been a visitor to my kitchen. Although it's been ages since I've made carrot or zucchini bread. I'll have to give your recipe a go.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, how funny to be out of yeast. To avoid the bread box blues, I sliced fresh baked and then freeze half the loaf before it goes moldy. If I baked bread, I’d eat it all myself. Your house must smell so yummy. How do you resist the temptation? Fun rhyming slang – I hadn’t heard that one before. It sounds like from the comments above that yeast is infectious causing a delicious baking disease.

JaneyV said...

Yumm! What a great recipe. I'll get Hubby (who is the bread maker in my house) to give it a go.

I adore the smell of baking bread however there was one time in my life where I couldn't stand it - when I was pregnant with my third child. It made me heave. He won't touch bread but thankfully I have returned to loving it again.

I hate not having a Waitrose near by. I love their food! I get it delivered but it's not the same as buying it yourself. It's probably one of the things I miss most about not living in Berkhamsted any more (aside from friends and family that is!)

Audrey said...

First of all, I can really only read food related blogs when I'm not completely starving as I usually am about mid-morning when I am catching up on blogs. So, now that I have read this I have to's made me hungry again.

Actually, that's not true. I'm just not a baker. I think "one" is either a baker or a cook just like "one" has a preference for Coke over Pepsi and Elvis over The Beatles. I'm a cook/coke/Elvis gal. But I love to read about other people's efforts and marvel.

Bee said...

I think that one's stance towards recipes could be used as a sort of personality test. I almost always use a recipe, but then I change it! I just threw all of my zucchini into a stew, and your post reminded me that I meant to make bread with it!

My mom freezes her bread, too; but I'm bad about that. I like it fresh -- and I like to feed anyone who walks through my door. I don't know why, but I LOVE to feed people.

How nice to have a bread-baking husband! In the Barbara Kingsolver seasonal food book (that I referred to a post or two ago) she mentions that her husband is the resident baker. I first fell in love with Waitrose through a warm baguette. We lived in Wokingham at the time and I was pregnant. Unlike your experience, bread was one of the few things that didn't make me feel sick. Pop tarts were another, unfortunately.)

Honestly, this bread is really rewarding in terms of pleasure vs. effort.
You made me laugh with your dichotomies. I'm definitely baker and Beatles . . . but at least we have Coke in common.

Sarah Laurence said...

Bee, fresh baked bread wouldn't last long enough to freeze in our house either. I bought my kids' favorites at the farmers' market yesterday: cinnamon swirl bread and apple bread. She calls her baked goods "Farmer's Daughter" as they also run a farm. Frozen bread is best for toasting. I wish I could drop by your kitchen for tea.

Audrey, I'm neither a baker nor a cook. Luckily Henry is a cook who occasionally bakes when we pick too many apples. My kids occasionally bake although sometimes that results with banana on the ceiling. I'm an eater!

Lucy said...

Do you know, I'd never cottoned on to 'use your loaf' as rhyming slang! And only quite recently did I learn that 'scarper' also is,ie 'Scapa Flow'='go'!

The bread sounds very good indeed; I don't do much breadmaking these days, I have all kinds of excuses, with two of us it isn't worth it,we would eat too much of it and get fat(ter), my kitchen temperature is too uneven, but really it's just laziness, though I do occasionally make soda bread from a very good Irish mix our Irish Shop franchise sell. However, this recipe sounds interesting: quite a small quantity, and not too much rising and proving time and space required. Perhaps I'll give it a go!

Don't forget the current craze for breadmaking machines, which may account for the products you see in Waitrose (ah, Waitrose...!)

Bee said...

Ummm . . . cinnamon swirl and apple bread!

Well I didn't know about scarper -- so we're even! (Funnily enough, I saw "use your loaf" in a banking ad a few days after I used it here.)

I don't really see the point of bread machines. Maybe I'm missing something?

I tend to think that the whole wheat aspect of this loaf makes caloric considerations irrelevant. I know it's an odd logic, but I'm very good at this sort of rationalization.

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