Emma Alter Photo
Emma Alter

Difficulty Level Easy

I've noticed that the price of bread is on the rise. When I buy it at the farmers' market, I expect to pay a premium. However, I can look the actual baker in the eye and ask for every ingredient in the bread and she'll tell me. But the cost of buying a half decent loaf of bread in the grocery store has increased significantly. I used to think that $3.50 was a lot for bread, but I bought a loaf the other day for $5.50. I could buy cheaper bread made by big corporations, but it's tasteless and I really don't want to ingest the chemicals, pesticides and preservatives that they use.

According to Andrew Whitley writing in The Guardian:

"...modern wheats are lower in important minerals and contain more of the proteins that some people find hard to digest, a problem exacerbated due to two key changes in the way that most bread is made in the U.K.

First, fermentation time has been reduced to zero. It is now known that only by allowing bread several hours to rise can the nutrients in the flour become fully available to our bodies and the dough become truly digestible.

Second, an array of specialised enzymes, not normally found in bread, has been deployed to make bread softer and keep it 'fresh' for weeks. One is suspected of being of being associated with the celiac response."

The answer might be to bake your own bread. Many people find bread baking a daunting proposition, but it really is very easy. The active time is usually very short, but the trick is in the timing. If you work outside of the home, it can be difficult to get the rising time organized. If you have a bread machine you can put in the ingredients in the evening and have a fresh loaf in the morning. I've never used a bread machine, because I actually love the whole process of proofing the yeast, letting it rise, kneading it and letting it rise again and then having the incredible smell that permeates the house as it bakes. Bread is a very satisfying thing to make.

My daughter suggested that we see if we can go a whole month without purchasing a loaf of bread and just making our own. So I'm going to take up the challenge and starting on May 1, I'll begin reporting on my progress. Each week, I will let you know what breads I baked and give you the recipe for the one we liked the best. I tried the recipe that accompanied Whitley's article and it turned out quite well. I made the loaves free form because my pans are too big, so they spread out a bit rather than rising higher. Other than the rising time, it took very little effort, and almost no time to bake. It was moist and had a nice crumb to it and it made good toast this morning. I have adjusted the recipe a bit to North American measurements. Don't let the two-part recipe scare you off. It takes literally five minutes to make the sponge, and then you leave it without touching it again until you are ready to make the dough. He says to knead without extra flour, but my dough was so wet that it was necessary to flour the board and my hands, but I didn't add any extra flour to the dough itself. I would certainly make this bread again, but first I'm going to invest in some small loaf pans.

INGREDIENTS

Overnight sponge
1 tsp fresh or dried yeast
1/2 cup lukewarm water
2/3 cup stoneground wholewheat flour
The final dough
overnight sponge
2 cups flour--I used a mix
1 tsp salt
1 tbsp butter
1 cup water
1 butter, melted or olive oil
(from above)(wholemeal or a mix of white and wholemeal)(warm to the hand)(optional, but makes it a bit softer)

PREPARATION:

  1. Dissolve the yeast in some of the water and add it to the flour with the rest of the water. Mix until the dough has "cleared," that is, all the ingredients are thoroughly combined. There is no need to knead the sponge, since time will develop the gluten sufficiently. Put the sponge in a bowl large enough to allow it to expand to at least three times its original size. Cover with a lid or plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature for 12-18 hours.
  2. Mix all the ingredients into a soft dough. Knead without adding extra flour until it is silky and slightly stretchy.
  3. Cover and leave to rise for 1 hour in a warm place. Divide into 2 for small loaves or 12 pieces if you want to make rolls. For rolls, dip pieces into wholemeal flour to get a good covering, and place on a baking tray with about 1 inch separating them. Cover with a clean, dry cloth. Let them rise in a warm place until they are just touching each other. For bread, place them on a baking several inches apart, cover them with a clean, dry cloth and let rise for an hour or so in a warm place. For rolls bake at 425 F (220 C) for 10-15 minutes. For loaves bake at 400 F (210 C) for 10 minutes, then reduce heat to 375 F (200 C) and bake for another fifteen minutes.

    ::Bitten

This recipe appears in: Basic Dough

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