Monday, March 29, 2010

MMmmmmm... what's that smell?

Arguably one of the nicest (and most homely!) smells that can waft from the kitchen is that of fresh-baked bread. And ours is no exception. (Okay, vanilla or shortbread cookies come pretty close!)

And one of our dearest goals is to become as self-sufficient as possible, especially when it comes to our food. Obviously I doubt we will ever get to the point of raising our own pigs or cattle; but with the vegetable garden and fruit trees going in this year, and the chicken coop (yes, I did say chicken coop!) going in either next year or the year after that, we will be making small steps to mostly eating only what we produce ourselves.

One of the key steps of this way of eating is to get away as much as possible from pre-packaged and pre-processed food. At Christmas, part of the gifts we gave were packages of raspberry jam (from our own raspberry bush!) and homemade bread. I have tried several recipes, all to varying degrees of success, and have finally settled on a modified whole wheat recipe from the Joy of Cooking cookbook. I still have yet to find a white bread recipe that works for me, but to be honest we enjoy the taste of whole wheat (or rye!) much better.

The recipe states that it makes 3 loaves of bread, but I found them to be quite small, and instead make 2 larger loaves. One thing to remember with home-made bread is (and it took me a while to realize I wasn't doing anything wrong!) that it is much more dense than store-bought. But that allows for smaller, thinner slices, which is just as pleasant.

  • 1/2 cup warm (but not hot!) water
  • 2 1/2 tsp dry active yeast
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1/4 cup butter, softened
  • 2 1/2 cups lukewarm water
  • 3 tsp salt
  • 1/4 cup sugar (or honey/maple syrup)
  • 4 cups all purpose flour
  • 4 cups whole wheat flour (Plus some extra when kneading to get the right consistancy. You want the dough firm, but not sticky.)
Mix together the yeast and warm water in a large bowl, and let sit for 5-10 minutes. Gradually add the next 5 ingredients until well combined. I usually add the 4 cups of all-pupose flour all at once, then stir until well combined. Then I add the whole wheat, a cup at a time, untill it is almost impossible to stir. Then I dump the bowl onto a floured (with whole wheat) surface, and knead for 10-15 minutes, constantly adding more flour (by the handful) as I need it.
Once you have the right consistancy (which IS trial and error - let me assure you!), form the dough into a ball and cover with a thin coating of olive oil. Put the dough back in the bowl and cover with a clean cloth. You need to let it rise in a warm, non-drafty place until it doubles in size (about 1 hour - you can tell it's doubled in bulk when the dough retains the imprint of your finger), then you punch it in the centre, turn it over, and let it rise again another hour. The you can divide the ball into two loaves, place in greased (very important!) bread pans, and let rise another 45- 50 minutes. Then bake at 350 F for about 45 minutes, until crust is golden brown and the bottom sounds hollow when you tap it. Let cool completely before you cut it, though we usually cut the loaves as we need them.
I try to make at least one batch of bread a week, though time doesn't always permit that. What is nice though is that we havn't bought a loaf of bread since Christmas; now I just have to learn how to make nice hamburger/dinner rolls and we wont ever buy those either! In addition to the bread, I also try to make one goody/snack a week too, sometimes cookies, sometimes muffins, depending on what we have lying around my pantry. Today I tried my hand at bisccotti for the second time ever (I made some yesterday that I was not entirely happy with - though I think I've worked out the kinks!), and it turned out wonderful. Chris still isn't entirely convinced (apparently he's never has bisccotti before) and thinks they taste like stale cookies, but that just leaves more for Lucien and I!
My next baking-goal for myself is to learn how to bake bread using starters (yeast mixes that you continue to add to and then use, you can potentially have the same starter batch for months!), which would allow me to make sourdough rye bread. Dimpflmeier Bakery in Toronto makes an amazing sourdough rye - one of my all-time favourite breads. If I could reproduce that at home, I'd be a VERY happy woman!

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