|Crispy on the outside, soft, but not crumbly on the inside...sooo worth the effort!|
Planning to start a new workout program in the new year? You can turn bread baking into an aerobic sport, if you follow my technique! First, warm up slowly, searching every cookbook you own for a no-sugar recipe, then give up and call your Mom, to find out how much sugar yeast actually needs. Turns out that although yeast loves sugar, it also grows big and bubbly on flour and eggs, so less than a teaspoon to get it started is fine. Thanks Mom. BTW: if your mom doesn't know these things, you can call mine. Just call her "mom", and act like you know her, and she'll assume you are one of about a hundred of us kids' friends who still call her this. It will drive her batty trying to figure out who you are, without letting on that she can't remember you. (wicked bad child, I am! :))) )
Once you've got your recipe, whip up a shopping list, and pull on your winter gear for a lovely hike to the grocery store. Weather in Belle Plaine was a balmy 40 degrees yesterday, if balmy means dang windy, with icy drizzle. After the snowfall of the past several weeks, I was relieved to see that the sidewalks ahead were all shoveled, as I headed out. What I didn't see was that they were like little canals, between the mountains of melting snow to either side. That's okay. Jumping from shallow spot to shallow spot adds intensity and variety to your usual walking routine, as do the windmilling arms when you hit ice patches.
Now, it's always good to add weight to your aerobics. Once at the grocery store, do this by remembering that not only do you need bread ingredients, but also things like milk and frozen Lima beans. It's also helpful to forget which kind of flour you're actually out of, and buy a bag of both unbleached white and whole wheat. This creates a more even balance of weight in your grocery bags, making it a bit safer on the icy spots of the water walk back home.
Now that you are home again, you've had a good warm-up, and can safely stretch to reach the bread bowl on the just-slightly-too-high shelf in the pantry. No, not the bread machine, put that back, you cheater. And leave the step stool. This is a workout, and a little stretch isn't gonna kill you. As you lift the bread bowl down, noticing the weight is heavier than expected, do not tip it, as you may actually have discovered where you stashed the cast iron dutch oven, and if you didn't grab the step stool, I'm guessing you don't have a spotter there either, to grab the extra weight you are now holding precariously over your head. Lower veeeerrrrry carefully, and breeeeeeathe...whew!
Bread is pretty simple stuff. While your heart rate returns to normal, and the twinge in your back subsides, slow the pace and create the "sponge", which is the first step:
Add a scant teaspoon of sugar to two cups of warm water, then sprinkle two packages of active dry yeast on top. Let this sit for five minutes, then stir in 1 cup of unbleached white flour, and 1 cup of whole wheat flour. Let this sit someplace about body temperature, or just slightly warmer, for about an hour, to rise, while you walk down the street to the chiropractor, to be sure you didn't do anything serious in the dutch oven incident. belleplainechiro.com
By the time you have been checked out and given a delightful mini-massage, and a not so delightful spine-aligning hug, your sponge will be ready to be fed, so jog back home, enjoying the extra resistance six inches of water on the sidewalks adds to this. Back in the kitchen, add two beaten eggs, a teaspoon or two of salt, and 1/2 cup melted-but-not-hot butter to the bowl, and beat it all together. Next, add 2 cups of whole wheat flour, and about 1 cup of unbleached white flour, about 1/2 cup at a time, first stirring, then using your hand, until the dough is stiff. Put about a cup of flour toward the back of the counter, and dust a bit of it out over the whole counter, then dump the dough ball onto this.
Now, put on some music with a good energetic beat ( I used a Celtic compilation for today's workout), and note where on the c.d. marks about 20-25 minutes. Push up your sleeves, face up to your dough, and start kneading. This means you push the heels of your hands into the dough, then lift the dough with your fingertips, rotating it a quarter turn, folding it toward you, then pushing back in with the heels of your hands again. Pull in a little flour from the pile when the dough starts to stick to you or the counter.
It becomes a very rhythmic thing. Push-turn-fold-push-turn-fold...This is actually fairly physical, and should be done at a good tempo, using your whole body. Use your back and shoulders, rise up on your toes with each push, if your feet start to feel jammed into the floor, and don't skimp on the time, unless you want to eat a doorstop with your dinner tonight.
After twenty minutes, shake out your arms, scrub out the sticky bits in the bowl that would have rinsed easily twenty minutes ago, if you had remembered you would need the bowl again, dry the bowl, and put in about 2 tablespoons of cooking oil. Flop the dough ball, which now resembles a smooth soft baby's bottom, in this, swirl it around, and flip it over, so that the surface is nicely slicked. Set it back in that same warm place for about an hour, covered again with the clean dishtowel.
This is very imprecise stuff, baking bread without a machine. You can't just dump an exact list of ingredients in the top, turn it on and walk away. Baking real bread, the real way, means that variables like humidity, room temperature, and the moods of the kitchen sprites all come into play, but that's what makes it such good sport. Just be glad you don't have to grind the wheat by hand, or try to bake it in the oven of a wood stove, for which you have to chop the wood...my mom thought the pioneering lifestyle, in the middle of town, would be educational for us kids. Our friends thought we were good entertainment, when Little House on the Prairie wasn't on t.v. Some days I'm more grateful for this than others.
|Bread dough rises perfectly on the antique radiator in the dining room.|
When the dough ball has about doubled, after selecting another twenty minutes of music, punch your fist into the center of it to deflate it, and knead again for twenty minutes. You won't need flour this time. Divide this dough into halves. Roll out one of the balls into a nice rectangle, about nine inches wide, by twelve inches long, then starting on a nine-inch side, roll it up very tightly, jelly-roll fashion, pinch the ends and the seam firmly, and plunk it (seam side down) into a well greased bread pan. Repeat with the other dough ball. Haul these back to the warm spot, cover with the towel, and let rise about 45 minutes, until double.
|Loaves ready for the oven.|
Pop them into a preheated 375 degree oven for about 45 minutes. I brushed the top of the bread with milk to make a darker crust, about ten minutes before I took it out of the oven. The bread is done when it sounds hollow when tapping on it. Pull it from the oven, and tip the loaves out immediately onto a wire rack. You will need to let it rest for at least ten minutes before slicing it, but this will give you time to dance around the house, telephone in hand, bragging to all your friends that you have just made homemade bread from scratch. This is good, because it also gives those friends time to beat a path to your front door, saving you from eating the whole first loaf yourself, which would of course negate all the aerobic effort you just expended.
|Serve with a hot creamy cup of coffee|
Happy New Year, all you kind souls who read my ramblings, witness my bumblings, and still say nice things about me anyway. May your New Year begin with either a really good toast, or really good toast. Salud! Slainte! Ziveli! Cheers!...and pass the butter, please.