Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Grain to bread

I love this baby. It's a KitchenAid stand mixer, the lowly "Classic" model with the 250W motor. I got it for free with grocery store points back when Erin was a toddler. It probably gets used 5-10 times a week and it just keeps on trucking despite the fact that it does far more work that it's technically supposed to be capable of. Mostly I use it for bread, lots of bread.

I never set out to become a home-baker of bread. Many years ago we got a breadmaker, from that same grocery store points program, and I learned for the first time about yeast rise cycles and bread recipes. I got kind of hooked on the push-button approach to home-baked bread. Store-bought bread was never quite as delicious, and it certainly didn't evoke a sense of accomplishment.

Then one thunderstormy night our breadmaker got fried in a power surge. I discovered I missed fresh home-baked bread. At least I could still do pizza dough -- I used the same recipe I'd always used in the breadmaker, and just set my mixer and dough hook to the kneading task. It dawned on me that it probably wasn't that much more complicated to bake bread than it was to bake pizza crusts. But what a lot of effort that would be! I doubted it was worth it.

But then I bought a Really Big Bowl. Suddenly I could make four loaves of bread dough at once, for only slightly more fuss and bother than it had taken to make one loaf four times in the automatic breadmaker. Soon I was into a routine of traditional bread baking once or twice a week.

Nowadays I start with wheat berries, or sometimes a combination of wheat and rye wheat. I got a grain grinder attachment for the mixer a couple of years ago -- the 325 or 475W models are recommended for the grinder, but my unit does just fine, thank you very much. I usually do this step the night before, and lately I've been starting an overnight sponge. So last thing before we start our readaloud each evening, I run the grain-grinder. After story time I mix the sponge.

The next morning I mix and knead the dough. I usually do three or four loaves at a time. My mixer will only handle about half that much dough, so I split it in two and hand-knead half while the other half gets kneaded in the mixer, then I trade the two lumps and carry on. I actually like kneading. It's sort of a zen thing.

The bread goes through its three rises in the morning and by early afternoon we have piping hot fresh loaves. One usually ends up in the freezer, the others disappear over the next two or three days.

I use Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book as my reference and the source of a few favourite recipes, though I improvise a lot. I can't imagine going back to buying bread on a regular basis. My increasingly snobby palate demands the type of loaf that costs $4 a loaf, which I can't bring myself to spend except in case of emergency.

My evolution into bread-bakingdom mirrors the way many other changes in my life have taken shape over the past decade and a half. They have crept up on me, gradually, partly due to serendipity, partly because they felt right. They have connected me more closely to the source of things and caused me to think of the implications of simple actions, of how choices we make ripple out into the rest of our lives and the world around us. They have encouraged me to live more mindfully, more deliberately and with more forethought. These changes accrue naturally, with a logic of their own, each taking root in the last. Sometimes I don't think my old self would recognize me today.

8 comments:

  1. Very inspiring!

    I never liked my bread maker because of the odd shaped loaves LOL So I would often use it to mix and knead the bread and then transfer it to regular loaf pans. But I haven't done that in ages!!!

    I received a baking stone for Christmas a few years ago and it had a booklet with some amazing whole grain recipes that I planned to get around to making and never did--you may have just motivated me ;-)

    And King Arthur Brand Flour has an artisian bread baking class that travels the country--I may inquire as to when they will be in California next. I missed lastyear and that class really called out to me.

    Your loaves look yummy and I can taste the butter melting on them now LOL

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  2. Looks great- when can I be over, lol

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  3. Anonymous8:14 pm

    Being connected to the source of things is the thing. The latest in our household is roasting our own coffee beans in a popcorn maker we picked up in the local Trader for a $1. Feels great to buy green fair trade organic beans from East Timor (the closest place to NZ that we can source them from) and take control of the roasting once a week for a quater of the price of ready roasted beans. Somehow it makes my morning coffee habit more justifiable!

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  4. Anon.... I'd love to do something to make my own morning coffee habit more justifiable. What sort of popcorn maker do you use? Sounds like a brilliant solution!

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  5. Making bread is one of those *scary* endeavors that I have been wanting to try. I've even gone so far as to buy yeast packets. I'd like to make a hearty, nutty, *meaty* (for lack of a better word) bread- that is what I tend to buy- but that seems even *scarier* than the white flour scary stuff.

    Thanks for such an inspiring post!

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  6. Anonymous7:12 pm

    Sorry for the delay-still figuring this whole blogging and commenting business! Anyway, I don't think there is any particular benefit in getting aa particular popcarn maker, as I said we just got the cheapest in the local Trader. As long as it has a cavity to put the corn or beans in our case. Then you just fill it up and turn it on. The trick is that the beans "crack" and after the first crack,we usually put a homemade contraption made up of an old baked bean can with holes in it (to let the heat out) on the top of the cavity so that the heat is retained a little. Then we wait for the second crack andout they come. We throw them into a big pot and swish them around with the intention of them cooling down quickly or else they will keep cooking. As you can see this is a method that has just developed at home over time and with time you will just develop the best method for you. Good luck!

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  7. Thanks for the tips, Anon! After reading your original comment and googling a bit, I managed to purchase an air popper and am well on my way in this venture, inspired by you!

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  8. http://health.msn.com/dietfitness/articlepage.aspx?cp-documentid=100164969&page=1

    Read this and thought of your homemade bread...

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