Tuesday, June 12, 2007

The Comfort of Bread

There's nothing that takes me back to my childhood faster than the smell of freshly baked bread. I recall my halcyon days of youth, the light steaming through the back window and onto the kitchen counter, lighting up small particles of flour in the air like tiny fireflies. I'd watch my mother in that light, hands and arms dusted in flour, kneading large batches of bread dough, enough to make four or five loaves at a time. I remember watching the dough rise, too, and wondering at the magic behind the yeast, water, and flour that made it so. Then the smell, oh the wonderful warm smell that would fill the kitchen as they baked.

Someone once said, "Cooking is art, baking is science, but bread is magic." Oh, how right they are.

My mother didn't always make bread. She didn't think she made good sandwich bread. At a young age, I'm sure I felt the same way as she did from time to time. But oh, I remember it was the best bread for toast, and even better for French toast, cut thickly and drenched in eggs for frying. Hot slabs of the stuff smothered in home made maple syrup. It was far better than store bought bread ever could be.

I've not always been successful making bread, and my lazy streak makes it a chore. My wife and I got a bread maker from her parents for Christmas one year, however, and I really enjoyed that. We wore it out and had to replace it after the first year or so. The unfortunate part is that my wife, and children, prefer the store bought "air bread" to the richer textures and crispy crusts of the bread I would make, even in the bread maker. So ended up eating more of the bread than they did.

Maybe that's part of why I'm shaped the way I am. Round.

My neighbor gave me some automatic bread maker recipes that she had come up with, and they work every time. I started using them more than the recipes that came with the bread maker. What I wanted to be able to make kept eluding me, though. I wanted to make a really good loaf of 100% whole wheat bread. Preferably in the bread maker (there's that lazy bit kicking in again). My neighbor's recipes included a killer half white / half wheat recipe, but try as I might, I've never been completely satisfied with any of the 100% whole wheat bread maker recipes I've found.

My family certainly has trouble with them. They're too dense and bitter for general sandwich use, and even I get tired of them after a while. So I've always been on a quest to find a really good whole wheat recipe. I thought I'd never find one, until two weeks ago when I discovered the Prepared Panty.

This is the most amazing recipe I've ever found for 100% whole wheat bread. I've contacted them about getting permission to reprint it here for you, but they've not gotten back to me. That’s okay. It’s worth clicking on the link. Trust me. The Prepared Panty website has so many cool things about it, even if you never make this bread, you should go check it out.

This recipe is life changing. I can't make it in my bread maker, but since I started using dough hooks with my hand mixer, it's made the process a lot less painful. It's the strangest recipe I've every found for bread. It takes at least two days to make, counting the rising time, and a good portion of the first rise happens in the refrigerator. How weird is that?

But oh, what bread it makes. Even my wife and children like this one. In fact, the other day after we'd run out of it, my wife said, "I was so disappointed to wake up, go to make breakfast, and not find any of your bread."

Considering this is coming from my "air bread only, please" wife, it really is life changing.

One thing this recipe uses is an ingredient called “dough conditioner.” I’d never heard of it before, and I’ve only picked some up just recently. At first, I added an extra tablespoon of wheat gluten. and it worked wonderfully. This last batch was made with the dough conditioner, but don’t know if made much difference. Some people swear by it but, even without it, this bread is heaven.


autumn said...

Hello... okay, I am trying to remember a recipe that our mormon neighbor's mom made....it was the best bread...all I can remember of the recipe is that it had something like 12 cups of wheat flour, 1 cup reg. flour, a cup of honey and that is about it...I know there is yeast, etc... OH and she baked it in the large/tall tomato juice cans so it came out round!! I have (I think) everything I need to make it BUT the actual recipe!! Help!! Thanks, Autumn Brown... autumn.brown4re@gmail.com

John Newman said...

Hello Autumn! Almost any bread can be baked in a can. This became a popular, and necessary, thing during WWII. Home bakers donated their baking pans as scrap metal to support the war effort and started baking in their empty coffee cans, instead. It has remained a kind of novelty since then. Your neighbor's mom probably used tomato juice cans because she didn't drink coffee. :-)

I did some research online for coffee can breads, and found several recipes that looked promising, but not quite right based on the information you gave me. Several included nuts or raisins. I also found similar recipes under the name Digger bread, and Hippie coffee can bread. Most cut the whole wheat flour with all-purpose flour too much to match (1 to 1 or 2 to 1), or didn't use honey as a sweetener. Given the ratios, I suspect the very small amount of all-purpose flour you specify had little actual effect. on the bread.

Because of your comment, I've decided to post my favorite 100% whole wheat bread recipe soon. It could easily be baked in a couple of large tomato juice cans instead of a regular loaf pan. I'll try it out and let you know how it goes, so stay tuned.

In the meantime, her are three recipes you could try, to get you started. This one looked quite interesting. http://tinyurl.com/247qazb

This one doesn't specify baking in a can, but it does use whole wheat flour and honey as a sweetener. http://tinyurl.com/m6jryv

I have one that I make in a bread maker that uses brown sugar as the sweetener you may want to try. http://tinyurl.com/2b5vxsy

Thanks for stopping by! I hope to hear from you again, soon.