Monday, August 13, 2012

Everyday Wheat Bread

Bread is one of those things we take for granted, especially if you’re a big toast or sandwich eater.  But have you noticed lately that a lot of the bread is costing up to $5 per loaf?  That is a LOT of money for something that really isn’t that hard to make.

You’ll need about 3 hours really for this.  Most of that time is sitting around and waiting, the actual time you’ve got your hands on it is about 20-30 minutes.  I’m doing this by hand, not using any machinery that you may not have.  I have cut the recipe in half and just made one loaf, and it works just fine.

So you’ll need 2 loaf pans, measuring cups, microwave, a sturdy spoon, a nice big bowl, and the ingredients listed below.

2 cups of water
¼ cup of melted butter
¼ honey
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons salt
2 envelopes active dry yeast
4 to 4 ½ cups whole wheat flour

(the following are optional)
½ cup raw sunflower seeds
½ cup wheat germ


Put the water, butter, and honey in the microwave for about 30-45 seconds on high.  You want it warm but not steaming.  If you can put your finger in it comfortably and it feels warm, you’re good.  If it is uncomfortable, let it cool off for 2 minutes before proceeding.

In a large bowl, mix the warm liquid, all-purpose flour, salt and yeast with a whisk until there are no lumps, about 3 minutes.  Stir in the seeds and wheat germ if you’re using them.  Now add the wheat flour one cup at a time until you’ve got all 4 cups in.  If it’s not really sticky, you’re ready to move forward, otherwise add a tablespoon or two more of wheat flour.  Use the remaining wheat flour to dust a large cutting board so you can knead the dough.  Wipe out the bowl after you put the dough on the floured board, and then grease the bowl with soft butter.

If you’ve never done any bread dough kneading, what you need to do is push the big lump a little flattish and then fold it over towards you and push it away from you with the heel of your hand.  Do this for about 5 minutes, rotating the dough so it turns into a smoother shape.  By the time the dough is ready, it will be smooth and elastic – trust yourself, you’ll recognize it when it happens.  Put the dough into the greased bowl, and turn it over so it’s got a greasy side facing up.  Cover with a cloth and let it rest in a warm place for an hour.  Wash your hands, clean things up and go relax.

At the end of the hour, grease 2 loaf pans with soft butter.  Punch the dough down (put your fist in it, you don’t have to use the same force you’d punch your ex with).  This will release some of the air.  Divide the dough into 2 equal portions, shape into vaguely loaf-like shapes and put in the greased loaf pans.  Cover and let rise another hour, wash your hands and clean the bowl out, and get back to your relaxing.

Preheat the oven to 350, and when it’s ready uncover the loaf pans and put the pans in the oven.  Set your timer for 35 minutes, and come back to look at it when the timer goes off.  Because it’s wheat bread, it may be hard to tell when the loaves have achieved a “golden” state.  Open the oven and pull the rack out so you can tap the top of the loaf.  If it feels sort of hollow when you tap them, they’re ready.  If not ready, check again after 5 minutes, keep doing that until you feel they are ready.  Take them out, close the oven, turn it off, and turn the loaves out to cool. 

I know, I know, you’re tempted to cut into it immediately.  Don’t do that, give it at least 10-15 minutes before you cut it, it’s still coming down from 350 degrees and finishing the last of the baking inside and firming up its structure.  Because this bread is more dense, it’s not as full of fillers as what you buy and less likely to have the same spongy texture as store-bought bread.  You’ll have to slice it thinner as a result, but hey if it turned out right then it’s going to be crazy good and that just means you get more of it, right?  Try the end piece with just some soft butter spread on it to see how it is.  You'll notice that less of it fills you up more than store-bought bread does.

And there you have it – homemade bread good for sandwiches and toast.  I may throw some oats into it next time for even more fiber and texture, but even if you don’t add any of the extras I’m sure you’ll enjoy it.

If everything went right and you’re feeling great about your bread making experience, you may also want to try this recipe - Honey Oatmeal Bread

Sunday, August 5, 2012

Scottish Oatcakes - Attempt #1

Part of my ethnic heritage is Scottish, and lately I've been thinking about what folks eat in the countries my ancestors came from.  The oatcake comes to mind, and there are various different versions of them.

The thicker, dense variety are also called bannocks.  I've tried those in the past and just didn't care for them, but there's a version that's similar to a crepe so I went looking for recipes.  I found this charming video on YouTube about them:

Well, after watching THAT and the gentleman talking about eating them with bacon grease dribbling down his chin, I was totally wanting some right away.  I probably shouldn't have watched it without having eaten first, but que sera sera.

I experimented with my own version of a recipe since I didn't have any oat flour on hand and didn't want to try making my own oat flour in the food processor this time.  Here's what I did....

1 cup water and 1 cup milk, warmed in the microwave.

1/2 teaspoon yeast dissolved in the liquid and stir in 1/2 tablespoon sugar.

In a large bowl, mix together 3/4 cup wheat flour, 3/4 cup white flour, 1/2 cup rolled oats, 1/4 teaspoon salt.

Pour the liquid and yeast mix into the dry ingredients and whisk together.

Cover, and let sit in a warm place for an hour.

Now mind you, I was looking at 3-4 different recipes at the same time, trying to come up with something that would work.  At this point, you were supposed to stir in a tablespoon of melted butter and start cooking them.  It was supposed to be thin like crepe batter (or a very thin pancake batter) but something went a little wild... it was thick as oatmeal and bubbling.  I added a tablespoon of vegetable oil, and drizzled water in while stirring to get it thin again.  It wound up taking another 1/2 cup of water to get it right.

At this point, I heated up a large nonstick pan, threw a little butter in and used a big soup ladle to pour batter in the pan.   Cook til the bubbles firm and flip, brown lightly on that side and it's done.

I made a stack of about 12 of these babies up.  Fortunately, one of them broke on me so I could nibble at a few fragments while I continued cooking the rest of the batter.  After one bite, I grabbed a little strawberry jam and tried that too.  Then some butter with the jam.  It was awesome.  I was sad that I'd only had 1/3 of an oatcake, and I still had 5 more to cook before I could stop.

I had cooked some breakfast sausage up, so the other 2/3 of the broken one wound up with a bit of maple syrup on it and wrapped around the sausage while I continued to cook.

It was *very* satisfying.   I had a really full day of housework ahead of me, so after they'd cooled I wrapped all but 2 up and put in the freezer.  I figured that if I couldn't freeze and reheat them, they were useless to me for something quick on the go.  To be honest, I can't remember how I ate the 2 I'd held out, but I remember being happy with it.

The next day, I cooked some bacon, 2 eggs (over medium) and sliced a little cheese while 2 oatcakes thawed out in the microwave, with my fingers crossed.   The texture held up to it, and they were slightly warm after about a minute on high.  So I put some bacon and cheese on half of each, egg on top and folded over to pick up and eat sandwich-style.  One would have been sufficient, I wound up skipping lunch that day because I was so full.  And the texture plus flavor made me blissfully happy.  I also tried them with some apples I'd sauteed with a little cinnamon, topped with ricotta cheese and a very thin drizzle of maple syrup over the top.  Again, pure bliss.

The rest - well, my roommate never got to try any.  I was completely selfish and didn't even tell him about them.  I'm calling my first attempt a huge success, but next time I will try with some oat flour and see how they come out.

If you decide to try these gems, do let me know how it works for you, or feel free to ask me any questions.  Bon appetit!