Friday, May 4, 2007

The best bread EVER

I grew up eating this bread toasted with butter every morning for breakfast as long as I can remember. My mom doesn't like to cook much, but she's passionate about this bread, for which she created the recipe. It has a lot of what my grandpa calls "garbage" in it: grains, healthy stuff, lots of fiber, etc. It doesn't stick together too well for sandwiches, so it's pretty much exclusively for toast.

I've always been disinterested and even intimidated by baking for one main reason: I don't like measuring, and I know when it's crucial I'll probably screw it up. It always seemed to me that baking didn't allow much wiggle room for creativity because it relies so much on chemical reactions for leavening, creaming, and lots of other things I'm ignorant about. I was especially intimidated by THIS bread because my mom always made it, it was always there, and it seemed like magic...I thought nobody could make it except my mom. Until now. Why, you ask? There was no bread, and I wanted some. Necessity is the mother of....motivation? I definitely didn't invent this, but I was hungry enough to take a stab at it, so I called my mom for the recipe. It turns out that this bread didn't involve as much measuring as I thought, which was initially even more daunting as I don't trust my baking instincts, but this venture was ultimately successful. My mom has never written this down, it was all in her head and her hands. Here, for the first time ever written down, is my mom's bread may find some of the instructions and descriptions a bit odd, but I'm taking no creative liberties putting this down, it's exactly as she instructed. She also mentioned it's a little different every time, and the ingredients are dynamic: modify all you want.

1 Loaf of the best bread EVER:
*essential tools: big bread bowl, wooden spoon, bench scraper, loaf pan, tea towel

the liquid mixture:
2 cups warm water (bathwater temp)
1 T. active dry yeast (instant)
1/4 cup brown sugar (can sub molasses)
2 T. canola oil
1 tsp. salt
1/3 cup quick oats
1/3 cup cracked wheat
1/3 cup wheat bran
1/3 cup cornmeal
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
*at this point taste the liquid for seasoning (salt and sugar)

Here's where the measuring ends. Once you have this liquid mixture and you're comfortable with the seasoning, add whole wheat flour until you cannot stir the dough anymore with a wooden spoon. Really try hard to stir, because this determines how "wheat" your bread will be. Once you can't stir anymore, turn the dough out onto a clean, dry surface. At this point my mom is very particular about method: soak your bread bowl in warm'll see why in a moment.

Knead white flour into the dough until you cannot get anymore into it. This should take about 10 minutes, and it's a great upper body workout. If you're lucky enough to have a 4 or 5 quart mixer, use the dough hook for 10 minutes. You can't fit a double batch into a 4 quart mixer, I found that out the hard way. Back to the recipe: once you're finished kneading the bread, go back to your bread bowl soaking in the sink. Rub the dough off the inside of the bowl with your hands, if you use a sponge you'll have to throw it away, dough sticks to it.

Once your bowl is clean and rinsed, use a dry tea towel to dry it, and hang on to the towel. Lightly oil the dry bowl, coat your dough ball in the oil and set in the bowl. Cover it with the damp, warm tea towel and let it rise for an hour and a half.

Once the dough has risen, punch it down with your fist and turn it back out onto the cutting board.

Press it out flat and roll it up tight into a loaf, then place in a loaf pan greased with shortening...apparently shortening works better than other non-stick methods.

Place the pan in your oven and cover again with the tea towel to let it proof (2nd rise) for 20 not turn the oven on yet.

Once the time's up, take the tea towel off, turn your oven to 375 (yes, I know it's not pre-heated, that's part of the magic), and bake for 50 minutes. Ovens vary a lot from house to house, so if you know your oven runs hot or cool, make the necessary adjustments.

Ta-da, that's it! You now have the best bread EVER! Well, of course that's subjective, but give it a try:-) The method makes it sound complicated and time-consuming, but it really isn't...there's just a lot of waiting to rise, etc., perfect for if you're hanging around the house anyway doing chores. This bread is extra delicious when you cut a thick slice with a sharp serrated knife while it's still warm (even though that's not usually allowed) with a pat of cold butter that melts as you eat it. I've also gotten a recent serving suggestion from a friend: sub avocado for butter, he says the earthy flavors compliment each other. mmmm. -K

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