The Fabulous Baker Girl

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The History of a Happy Accident June 2, 2009

Let’s face it.  I can be pretty uptight at times.  I let myself get all stressed out about things over which I have no control.  I’m working on that.  However, there are things that just make me shudder and I feel perfectly justified in letting myself get all worked up over them and their horrible-ness.   Adam Lambert, for example.  Or when people drive sideways down parking lots instead of driving in the designated lane.  Or, whining children.

Or…the  Atkin’s Diet.  (Good grief…what was he thinking?)

Bread has a fascinating history and has been a part of the human experience since ancient times.  In fact, bread is one of the oldest foods known to man.  Yes, I know berries, seeds, and meat came first.  But bread was essentially the first food that man created.

Most likely, bread came about by accident.  Early Humans would gather wild grains,  toast them to get off the hard outer shell, and then pound them into a meal.  They would then mix the meal with water (ancient oatmeal?).  It was later discovered that when this paste was left by the fire, it turned into a type of flat bread.   Leavened bread came later when the paste was left to stand and collect wild yeast that caused the paste to ferment (again, all an accident).

Eventually, man learned to grow his own seeds and harvest his own yeast and the ancient baker was born.  For years bread was made only by master bakers and eaten by the elite because it was so expensive.  As technology developed, grains were more easily mass-milled and became more affordable to bakeries and for the first time, the home cook.  From there, it was an easy jump from complex, artisnal bread to mass-produced, squishy, flavorless bread that has found it’s way to most of our tables.  Mine included.

Few things have followed human history in quite the way bread has.  By looking at the development of bread from ancient times on, you can pretty much trace the path of human development, agriculture, technology, and sociology.  It has been a staple of our diets and the center of our social circles since ancient times.

I, for one, am glad diets like the Atkins are falling from favor.  While I agree that we should move away from mass-produced “wonder” bread and other high-carb bread products (if only my kids agreed), giving up well-made, fresh bread is just, well, it’s just plain wrong.

Wrong!

I won’t go into the reasons why bread should be a part of our balance diet, but I will say that eating a really good piece of bread, fresh from the oven and slathered with butter is soul-satisfying.  It fills up more than your stomach.

And if you agree with that — just think what actually baking a loaf can do for you!

One thing I love about baking is that you take a few basic ingredients and with some care, turn them into something special.  Bread is the epitome of this.  It basically consists of flour, yeast, and water but when you add a little salt, maybe a little honey and knead it all together it becomes something that engages your senses and draws people together.

If you’ve never baked your own bread, I urge you to give it a try.  The whole process is a lesson in patience, but it’s so very satisfying at the same time.  Be prepared to have to bake a few loaves before you get a feel for what to do.  Once you’ve got it, you won’t be sorry and there will be no going back.

You can find recipes all over the Internet.  I suggest trying to find one on a blog.  Those usually come with reviews so you’ll get a good idea whether or not the recipe is a good fit for you.  I also highly recommend getting a good bread baking book.  My current favorite is “Brother Juniper’s Bread Book”.  While this book offers much for the seasoned baker, it’s simple enough for the beginning baker as well.  I’ve made a few of the recipes with great success.

Bread does more than just nourish our bodies.  It feeds our souls, joins us together with a commonality, and gives us a link to our own human history.  What other food does this?  And how can you stay away from it?

Take it from me.  Don’t even try.

Wheat and Buttermilk Bread

Wheat and Buttermilk Bread

Wheat and Buttermilk Bread

from Brother Juniper’s Bread Book

Makes two 1 1/2 pound loaves

6 cups high-gluten bread flour

3 cups coarsely ground whole wheat flour (I just used regular whole wheat flour)

1/2 cup dark malt crystals or powder (or use equal amount of honey or 3/4 cup brown sugar)

2 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast

4 teaspoons salt, preferably sea salt

2 eggs

1/2 cup buttermilk

Approximately 2 cups water

Mixing and Kneading

Mix all of the dry ingredients in a bowl.  Add the eggs, buttermilk, and water, reserving a little water for later adjustments.  Turn the dough out onto a floured counter and knead for 10-12 minutes (yes, you must do this).  The dough should be soft and elastic.  It should be tacky but not sticky and easily pressed out.

Proofing

Place the kneaded dough in a clean bowl and cover with a damp wrap.  Put in a warm place and allow 45 minutes for rising.  Allow between 1  and 1 1/2 hours if you leave the dough at room temperature.  When the dough has doubled in volume, shape into 2 equal-sized loaves by flattening each half, folding it over itself, sealing the seam and then rolling it slightly, seam side down.  Place loaves in greased 9 x 4 1/2  x 3-inch pans.  This loaf can be baked naked on top or brushed with a mild egg wash (one egg mixed with 4 cups of water) and sprinkled with sesame seeds or rolled oat.  (I used poppy seeds and wheat germ.)  Cover and let rise another 45-60 minutes or until dough crests over the top of the pan top.

Baking

Bake loaves at 350 degrees for approximately 45 minutes or until bottom when thumped yields the famous thwack sound.

Note:  I usually take my bread’s temperature.  I look for at least 190 degrees internally.  Be sure to let your bread cool for at least 20-30 minutes before cutting or it will become doughy.   Yes…I understand that’s asking a lot of you.  Just be patient, Grasshopper, and you will be rewarded.

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