By Sherrie Cook, Contributing Writer
Confession: I am not so skilled in the kitchen.
Conflict: I need to write a blog post about a real food kitchen for Keeper of the Home.
Solution: Write about hope. Hope for those of us who feel clueless and overwhelmed at the thought of making better choices for our families. Hope that no matter how unskilled in the kitchen we are, we can still make a difference simply by trying. Hope that one day, with a little practice and good mentors, we can all serve our families by providing them with nutritious and delicious real food. I want to share with you a few of my trials and successes as I took a baby step toward a real food kitchen by making wheat bread.
How Healthy Is Whole Wheat Bread?
I remember well my disappointment when I found "enriched wheat flour" listed as the first ingredient in my store bought wheat bread. My thoughts were that if wheat was so good for us, why did the bread maker need to enrich it? I started searching and discovered that they strip out all the good stuff first and then have to add some good stuff back into the flour. What? I looked closer the next time I went to the store in order to find some bread that said "whole wheat flour" first on the ingredient list. It was a bit pricey, but I rationalized that the purchase was for the health of my family.
Wouldn't you know, my family didn't care for it. Thus started my research again for good-for-you, tasty whole wheat bread.
What I found surprised me. I learned that wheat starts to oxidize as soon as the berry is ground into powder (flour). This oxidation process immediately begins to "ruin" the nutrients in the wheat flour making it less and less usable by the human body. One of the easiest ways to stop this process is to bake the flour immediately into bread. Many bread bakers do not follow this practice, so the bread has already lost many of its nutrients. So why exactly am I subjecting my family to something they like if it isn't super nutritious for them?
Finding Fresh Milled Wheat Flour
After many hours of reading the research, I decided to begin milling my own wheat and baking it into bread for my family. I saved and scrimped until I could purchase a bread maker and a wheat mill. I know this option of owning your own machines (especially a wheat mill) can seem daunting because of the cost involved, so below I've included some ideas for getting your hands on affordable freshly milled wheat:
- Find other women in your area that are interested in baking whole wheat bread for their families and combine your funds to own "part" of a mill that you all can share. I was surprised at how many of my friends expressed a sincere interest in grinding their own wheat after I started talking about it with them.
- Some natural or health food stores have a mill in their store that you can use if you buy grain from them.
- Check out your local farmer's market to see if the grain vendors have a mill for their customers to use.
- Watch ebay or your local Craig's List for a used mill at a discounted price. (This option is last because in my experience, everyone falls in love with their mill and never considers parting with it!)
(Also, a bread machine is not a necessity, but I have found it to be an invaluable tool for my family's bread baking.)
The recipe I use is a combination of several different recipes, trial and error.
Simple Wheat Bread Recipe
Yields 2 loaves (3 to 3 1/2 lbs total)
Combining the ingredients:
- Stir 1 egg, 1/3 cup oil, 1/3 cup honey & 2 cups hot tap water into bread machine pan.
- Add 2 tsp. salt, 1 Tbsp lecithin & (optional) 2 tsp +/- gluten.
- Grind 1/4 cup flax seed in a coffee grinder & add to mixture. Stir well.
- Add 3 cups freshly milled wheat flour to top of mixture and make a "little well" in the middle of the flour with your finger. Put 3 1/2 tsp instant yeast into the "little well" then cover the yeast with another cup of flour.
Preparing the dough:
- Set your bread machine for the dough cycle & allow it to begin mixing your ingredients. (I make my bread machine do all the hard work of mixing the ingredients, however, this can also be done by hand or with a stand alone mixer.) Slowly add another 2 to 2 1/2 cups wheat flour to the dough. (Depending on the weather, you will need more or less flour every time you make your bread. The more humid the air, the more flour you will need.) Use a spatula to scrape the excess off the sides of the bread machine pan & close the lid to allow the dough to rise. (If you're not using a bread machine, be sure to put your dough in a bowl & cover it with a damp towel. Place the bowl somewhere still (no drafts) & warm. Let it rise until it doubles in size. The bread machine top with open slightly toward the end of the rise. There is no need for alarm if this happens.
- Just before the first rise is finished, clear off your counter top and wash and dry it well. (This is also a good time to remove any rings from your fingers & pull your hair back again.) Then put a bit of olive oil on the counter top and smooth it around. (I also get my bread pans ready at this time with a coat of olive oil.)
- Once the first rise is finished, run your hands across your oiled counter top to keep the dough from sticking to your fingers, then take the dough out of the machine and divide it into two equal sections. Using your hands, roll it around into a ball and then roll it out into a thick cylinder. Tuck both ends of the cylinder under and put the dough in the pan with the tucked side down. (Below you can see the loaf on the right is tucked.)
The next picture is a shot looking down on the dough once it is first placed into the bread pan. Note that you can see the bottom of the pan in places.
The 2nd rise:
- Next, you need to find another still (no drafts) area for the second rise. Some people choose to preheat their ovens to about 200°F, turn the oven off and then place the dough inside the oven. Some ovens have a special proofing option which is a wonderful blessing to any bread maker!
The second rise takes a bit of practice to get the timing just right, but when the dough is done rising, it should be about double the size it was when you started. The pictures below show the dough after the second rise is complete. Compare the fullness of these pictures with the ones above to get a good idea of what to expect from this step. You want to be careful not to leave the dough rising for too long or it will fall. (Yes, this happened to me.) It seems to make the bread a bit tougher which is obviously undesirable.
Baking the dough:
Finally, preheat your oven to 350°F and bake for 30 minutes. Let it cool for about 5 minutes in the pans then flip it out onto a cooling rack. Once cool (or not - I love warm bread), slice it as thick or thin as desired and enjoy!
Here are a couple of close up shots of my "masterpiece"! It was a fun experience and my family now enjoys fresh whole wheat bread on a regular basis! It is a healthier choice for us and would never have happened without taking those initial baby steps.