On Baking Bread


I'm only three or so batches in, so I don't want to jinx it, but I think I've finally found my bread baking rhythm. Making our own bread has been on my sustainability to-do list from the very beginning. It seemed like such an easy change. Just mix, bake, repeat right? And the benefits are so many. It's so much cheaper, there's no packaging (everything comes from the bulk bins, more or less), and it's better for us, but there always seemed to be some little nagging detail that kept me from it. Whether it was finding the right recipe or being intimidated by not knowing how to properly knead, or just the mental hurdle of thinking that I didn't have the time, it was always something. 

There were several weeks that I just wouldn't buy bread at the store, thinking that would give me the push that I needed. Our grocery co-op also houses a bakery that makes delicious, organic bread fresh daily. I usually buy the pre-cut loaves in plastic (which makes me cringe), but I also have the option of some really beautiful and delicious artisinal loaves (which cost an arm and a leg). But not buying bread for a week just meant that we didn't have bread that week. Motivation fail.

The few loaves that I've made over the years have been fine, but not nearly delicious. Using only whole wheat flour, they were more often than not heavy bricks. I searched for recipes, but found more joy in reading bread books than in actually baking. And, oh, did I find joy! Like so many others I have been inspired by The Tassajara Bread Book. The idea of approaching bread baking as a meditative act is so beautiful to me. Mindfully nourishing our inner selves as we nourish our families.

So, I'm not sure what fell into alignment these past few weeks, but whatever it was, I'm grateful for it. I found myself with some leftover oatmeal in the 'fridge on the same day that I read a SouleMama post about making muffins from her leftover oatmeal and I decided that that was the day. I turned, as I usually do, to Feeding the Whole Family and decided to give her whole grain bread a try. It's really easy and she gives several variations to use based on what grain you have leftover. Basically, you make a starter dough by blending the grain with a liquid and then letting it sit on the counter overnight to ferment. Then into the 'fridge it goes where it can sit for up to a week. I think this part was key for me. I don't mind a lot of steps, as long as those steps can be easily interrupted and I can set the project aside for awhile while I do something else. This recipe is perfect for that. The rest is basic bread baking: add sweetener, flour, knead, and bake. The inclusion of the blended whole grain really helps to give the bread a spongy quality and makes it much lighter than other whole wheat loaves that I've made. Delicious for toast with jam, sandwiches, or French toast.

In my dream world, I'm with-it enough that I have a catalog of recipes stored in my memory that I can call from to create a week's worth of meals that use all local and seasonal ingredients, are easy to prepare, and are delicious. Right now, I'm just happy that I've gotten into the groove of making at least one big batch of grain each week to use for dinner as well as to make my starter dough. It's a good place to start.

9 comments:

  1. Thank you Courtney. I have been wanting to order both of these books and this was just the motivation I needed to move them to my cart. I love to work with bread dough, there is just something relaxing in the whole process.

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  2. I need to get into a better bread rhythm.... I have had some trials and tribulations upon baking the perfect (or at least good-enough) loaf, and usually just opt for something easier....
    thanks for the motivation!

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  3. I cheat....I have a bread machine. But even with that, there are times that I just can't seem to get into the rhythm of dumping the ingredients in...how sad is that? Hopefully soon though because it is so much better on so many levels.

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  4. not sad! i have a bread maker too and have even done what courtney did and didn't buy bread from the store so it would push me. and guess what? we would inevitable end up eating out. lol. we all get in a hurry sometimes and then the best laid plans fall apart. even using the bread maker takes 3-4 hours of planning ahead. lol great motivation courtney thanks!

    :)
    jen

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  5. Oh your bread looks lovely...just like my mum makes!

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  6. Mmm, your bread looks delicious! I have Amanda's book but haven't tried her bread recipe yet and I will have to check out your other bread book you mentioned :) I grind my own wheat so quite often I have heavier loaves like you mentioned *grin*. We grew up on dense chewy rye breads though so I don't mind but my husband isn't quite as keen on them as the kids and I. I have one recipe that makes a nice lighter loaf but depending on our humidity it to can flop on me once in a while to. I had to giggle about how you didn't buy any bread so you would have to bake some and I have done that in the past to :)

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  7. Thank you for the tip on the Feeding the Whole Family recipe--I haven't tried it yet, and it may be just the thing for us, right now, too. Sounds yummy! I've been feeling especially frustrated about the cost and packaging of store-bought bread these days, too...

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  8. So much of 'homesteading' is about being at peace with where you are at while also feeling motivated to learn something new and it's all an ongoing process. I have made all of our bread for the last two years and it feels so good every time the loaves come out of the oven. But there is still so much more I want to learn! This year I'm interested in buying a grain mill and soaking our grains before grinding them. I also want to start making sourdough and start using a wider variety of grains. Sometimes there is so much to learn that it all feels exciting and sometimes it all feels overwhelming. You are off to a great start!

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  9. I share your dream and doesn't baking your own bread just feel like a step in the right direction? Beautiful post.

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