I still remember the poorly-concealed shock on my friend’s face when she found out that I didn’t know how to make bread.
“It’s only water, yeast, oil, some kind of sweetener, salt, and flour….” she said, trailing off at the end.
I was thinking (but didn’t say), “Yes, but I’m a half-J.A.P.* from Southfield who broke up with a perfectly nice boy just because he arrived at my house to pick me up for a date driving a pick-up truck.” Neither half-J.A.P.s nor the full-blown variety would have been caught dead in a truck in the seventies — at least not any that I knew of. In fact, pick-ups were a very rare sight in Oakland County at this time. Try telling this to a practical Nebraska farm girl who had been transplanted to a rambling farmhouse on acreage in Livingston County. Needless to say, I didn’t bother trying to explain. Instead, I quickly accepted her offer to come over to her house one afternoon and learn how, hands-on style.
Twenty years later, I am still making whole wheat bread, six loaves at a time in my Bosch multi-tasking kneader, mixer, and blender. First, I grind organic wheat berries, purchased from a nearby co-op, in my Grain Master Whisper Mill. If you are like most people who hear this about me, you are probably wondering which commune I used to live on. Am I a hippie? A health-food nut? Some kind of fruitcake who should really be living somewhere in California or on a kibbutz in Israel? The truth is much less intriguing. I like to challenge myself by learning new things that I find interesting, and making bread was on that list. I also like the health benefits and the fact that I am feeding something really nutritious to my family for about 50 cents per loaf. You can’t beat that.
The Art versus Science of Bread-Making Have you ever heard someone say that break-making is part science, part art? That’s actually quite accurate because it’s one thing to be able to follow a recipe and another to be able to “read between the lines.” Nothing can replace experience when it comes to knowing just how much flour is the right amount. The recipe will give you a close idea, but after that, it’s a matter of looking and sometimes touching. When the dough cleans the sides of the kneading bowl, it’s time to stop adding flour and just keep kneading. If you are still not sure after looking carefully, stop the machine and poke the dough lightly. It should be slightly sticky, but dough shouldn’t stick to your finger. This is what I mean by “art.” It gets easier and easier with experience to know when there is enough flour. Too little flour leads to dough that is so sticky that it is almost impossible to work with; too much leads to heavy, crumbly bread.
The other artistic aspect to bread-making is having enough experience and knowledge about the process to be able to tinker with the recipe. It took me years to get to this point. For the first several years, I added a little all-purpose flour so that the dough would rise more and have a lighter consistency. I have since figured out how to make light, moist bread using only freshly-ground whole wheat. I also discovered that we prefer a little more honey and oil than the amounts my friend first gave me, and I also now add one cup of flaxseed meal for the nutrition benefits.
The Road Less Traveled I am glad that I decided to learn this ancient art of bread-making and not take the more populated Wonder Bread route. It’s been beneficial and positive in every way. Oh, and after making that mistake with the nice young man in the pick-up truck, I threw out the vehicle standard and ended up marrying a man who, as a college student, drove a VW beetle with “manual” windshield wipers (they operated by having the passenger – or driver if he was by himself – pull on a rope attached to the wipers). There was also a convenient hole in the floor on the passenger side for quick exits of bad dates…
*Jewish American Princess
Whole Wheat Bread (makes 6 loaves):
6 cups water (about 110 degrees)
2 T. Saf-Instant yeast (only one rising is necessary with this yeast—available at food co-ops and Gordon Food Service)
¾ c. canola oil
¾ c. honey
1 T. kosher salt
Whole wheat flour
1 c. flaxseed meal
Knead in Bosch for 6 min. Divide into 6 loaves and place in prepared pans (I use Pam). Let rise in slightly-warm oven for 40 min. and then bake for 35 min. at 350.