Bakin’ Up Some Love

by Wendy

Nothing spells love like B-R-E-A-D.  Hot, homemade, lovely, wonderful, fresh and steamy from the oven.  MMMmmmm…..smells like love.  To me homemade bread is the ultimate rustic, primal, holistic, down-home way to express love.  Bread takes simple ingredients, turns them into magic, and comes out heavenly.  Do I hear angels singing?

Bread was the first thing, beside pie, that I wanted to learn how to make when I was 17 and out on my own.  (ok, so I know it’s weird that a seventeen year old wants to bake bread, but it’s just who I am)  I bought my very first cookbook and rolling-pin at Target.  (I worked there while in college.)  It was the All- American, traditional, Betty Crocker.  Yep, you know the one.

Here’s a photo of my well-loved Betty Crocker today!

Oh, if we could all embrace aging like Betty….A little worse for wear, color fading from the photos, pages coming loose, spills, and splotches throughout, wrinkles covering the edges, but oh so loved, and cherished!!!!!!!!!!!  I still love Betty, even though our family has chosen a more whole foods approach to cooking and nutrition, Betty and I still rendezvous regularly.  I have adapted many, many, recipes to offer more whole grains, and less other stuff, so Betty and I continue on.

The very first bread recipe I made was Betty’s Traditional White Bread.  Heaven’s to Betsy, oops, I mean Betty.  We’ve come a long way, baby!

These days I make a more traditional, artisan bread. It is an ages old technique that actually is quite practical for the modern mama.  There are many books and recipes out there for artisan bread, 5 Minutes a Day to Artisan Bread is my favorite.  (don’t let the name scare you, it just makes you feel fancy in the kitchen)  This is my adapted and simplified technique that fits my lifestyle as a creative and busy wife and mama to my guys.

Mama’s Basic Lovin’ Bread

3 c. Buttermilk

1 & 1/2 T. Granulated Yeast

1 & 1/2 T. Redmond’s Salt or Sea Salt

2 T. Olive Oil

2 T. Raw Honey

5 & 1/2 to 6 c. Flour & Whole Grains

6 qt. ice cream bucket with a lid, or extra-large mixing bowl w/cover, 2 gal. crock, etc.*

Heavy Duty Wooden Spoon, a.k.a. ‘Stirrin’ Stick’

*I normally re-use a 6 qt. ice cream bucket with a lid for this recipe because it stores well in the fridge, but you can also use a bowl or crock as well.  I do this when making extra-large batches of bread for birthday parties and family gatherings, and when I am baking right away, rather than storing my bread dough in the fridge to bake later.The Goods

After you have gathered your goods, measure and place your buttermilk in the bucket. Yep, cold right out of the fridge if you want, or freshly cultured.  (that’s a post for another day!)  Add yeast, salt, oil, and honey.  Scratch your head and wonder when the work starts?!!! Decide what combo of grains you would like to add to these fresh and beautiful loaves you are baking.  I like to use rolled oats in my bread, it’s a great whole grain, and creates a lovely, lighter texture.  I also use flax in everything!!! So, I usually add 1 c. of thick rolled oats, and 1/2 c. of whole ground flax.  Both of these grains are gluten-free, so adding more than this can result in a crumbly loaf……and no one likes crummy buns so choose wisely!!!  The total amount of flour and whole grains is 5 1/2-6 c. So, if you are using a cup and a half of oats & flax, you will add 4-4 1/2 c. flour. Does that make sense? It really goes by consistency so just check out the photos for reference. This is a basic recipe that you can build upon, and customize for your family. Please feel free to play and have fun!!!! Sometimes I add 10 grain cereal, sometimes I add rye, sometimes I just close my eyes and choose, oh wait, just kidding! The great thing about this bread is that once you have the technique down, you can make any type of loaf that you like by adding different flours and grains, raisins, spices, etc. Gotta Love the versatility!! So be creative, be brave, be bold, be the bread.  Ok, ok… I know I am out of control.  I will get a hold of myself now… sorry all my children are in school and I have no one here to hold me accountable. I will try to behave.  Ahem, throat clearing noise…

Next, we will add the flour and whole grains, and stir.

Seriously, just stir, that’s it for right now.

This picture shows that the spoon should stand up in your dough if you have the right consistency.  If it tips over easily, you need to add more flour.  This is a wet dough, and will stay sticky, unlike a regular kneaded dough.  So the spoon test is helpful to know if you need to add more flour to get the consistency right.  This is the consistency of the dough you are looking to achieve.  Still wet, but nice and thick. Mix it well.

 Once all ingredients are handily stirred together to form a beautiful dough, we will place the lid on our container, and place in a warm 70-80 degree place.  If you live in Northern Mn. like I do, you may need to warm your oven and place your dough in there to rise.  My kitchen is on an outer wall and stays cool in the winter, so when it is below zero outside I always place mine in the warmed oven with the door closed.  Leave it in your warm place for 8-12 hours.  The dough will rise up, and fall down by this time.  You are also soaking your flour and grain that is in the bread for a healthy beautiful loaf that is easily digested.  (For more info on soaking grains, and why to soak, look for Sally Fallon’s Nourishing Traditions cookbook, or the Weston Price Foundation website, www.westonaprice.org)  Often, I mix my dough up in the evening while in the kitchen during supper, and bake in the morning.  Other times, I mix up my bread in the morning and bake it for supper.  Just depends on my mood, and what else is cookin’ that day!

*You may also choose to store your dough in the refrigerator and take out to bake when you would like.  You can bake as many loaves as you would like at one time.  If you don’t have as many hungry boys in your house as I do, you may want to bake one loaf at a time to have fresh bread all week!  Customize to fit your family plan.  The dough will store up to two weeks in the refrigerator. 

Baking Time Next, sprinkle entire top of the bucket of dough with flour.

You want a nice even dusting.  This creates a gluten cloak to help your dough retain its shape.  Isn’t it cool to say cloak???  I wish I had a cloak….

You are now ready to bake.  Choose your method below.

I use two beautiful, handmade ceramic baking bowls to bake my bread.  They are wonderful and fool-proof.  I bought mine at a local art fair, but I know you can also buy them online.  Let me encourage you, as a fellow artist, to seek a local potter, and support a local family.  If you do not have baking bowls, you can also use a regular loaf pan, (you will need four), or free-formed round loaves work well too.  When I bake in quantity for family gatherings, I use the round free-form method for my loaves. 

I think from here, for the sake of sanity, I will break down the recipe into 3 methods of baking.  Choose the one that works with your kitchen tools. 

Forming and Shaping Loaves:  The following instructions for forming and shaping the loaves apply for all three baking methods. Basically you form your loaf and throw it in the pan, or on the sheet…Tah-Dah!!!! That’s it!!!!  Once the loaves are formed, please refer to the individual instructions for each baking method.

Loosen the edges of the dough from the bucket.  Yes, and please excuse my giant arm while I do this 🙂 Work your way in a circle all the way around the edges of the dough.  Gently pull the dough away to release it from the bucket.  This just helps you in scooping the dough from the bucket to form your loaves.  *If the dough seems REALLY sticky use wet hands to form your loaf.

To create your loaf, scoop half of the dough out of the bucket, leaving your gluten cloak intact. Tuck the edges of dough underneath itself, and pinch to seal, as if making a giant bun.  Do not overwork your dough, try to keep as much flour on top as possible, so that your loaf may remain shapely. Remember that this is a rustic loaf, we are not looking for perfection here.  The beauty lies in the imperfections!!! Place in baking bowl, seam side down, cloak side up.  Beautiful.  Pat yourself on the back, after you wash the dough off your hands so you don’t get your shirt all gooey!!!! Ha, ha.  That’s it simple as pie, oh, I mean bread!

Baking Bowls:  Butter your baking bowls. Get ready to shape your loaves.  Now, here comes the tricky part…equally dividing the dough.  Seems like I always get one that’s a bit bigger, but just do your best.  My baking bowls are large enough to just divide the dough into two parts.  Adjust as needed.

  If you feel like you need more flour on top for your cloak, lightly re-dust. 

With a sharp knife make a slit on the top of your loaf to allow steam to escape while baking.  Let rise in a warm place 50-60 min.

Free-Formed Loaves  If you are free-forming loaves, oil your cookie sheet with a little olive oil, and lightly dust with cornmeal. 

You will want to divide your dough into 3 or 4 loaves, about the size of a cantaloupe.  Forming and shaping instructions are the same as above for the baking bowls.  *this loaf is large for a free-formed loaf….make yours smaller like I said, not like I did 🙂                                                      Cut slits on top, and allow to rise in a warm place 50-60 min.

Regular Loaf Pans:  Honestly, I am not sure I would ever make my bread in regular loaf pans, but some people like the consistency of rectangular loaves, so here goes.  You will probably need 4 regular sized loaf pans.  Butter them well, and divide your dough into four softball sized pieces. Tuck the dough underneath itself as with a round loaf, but keeping the shape oblong.  Remember that this is a rustic loaf, and will not look perfect.  Shape in less than 30 seconds, do not overwork the dough.  Place in pan.  With a sharp knife cut a slit or two for the steam to escape while baking.  Let rise in a warm place 50-60 min.

Cookin:  Heat oven to 450 degrees.  Place a small pan on the bottom rack in the oven while it is heating.  This pan is for water.  When we bake our loaves we want a steamy oven to create a gorgeous, moist loaf. Place risen loaves into the oven.  Quickly pour 1 c. of cold to lukewarm water into the small heated pan on the bottom rack, being very careful not to burn yourself, as the steam will rise instantly.  Close the oven door, and bake for 30-40 min. till loaves are deep golden brown and sound hollow when tapped.  Do not underbake.  If you are not sure your bread is done, let it bake a few more minutes. Better to err on the side of overbaking, than to have it doughy in the middle!  Timing may need to be adjusted according to each oven, so go by the color rather than the exact timing.  

An after thought:  I was going to have this be a post all of its own, and I probably still will, coming soon, however I feel that a brief intro here is appropriate. 

When I cook, especially bread, I am very aware of the energy that I put into it.  Bread = love. Plain and simple.  The ingredients are plain and simple, which become a nourishing whole food to sustain the body.  Beautiful.  Everything we do with our hands comes from and/or through our hearts.  When we create, it is a manifestation of our intentions.  Be awake, be aware, and be present in your kitchen, but most of all fill your thoughts, fill your body, and fill your soul with  love.  Have loving thoughts in your mind, pray over your process, bless your bread, and those you are nourishing.  Make cooking a moving meditation that  allows love to manifest into a physical creation to nourish not only the creators’ body and soul, but also to all those who encounter the creation.

Give us this day our daily bread.  ~Matt. 6:11