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.