Making bread is a part of every week for me, and has been for many years now, during that time I’ve made some good bread, and I’ve made some terrible bread, some loaves hard as rock, some with giant holes in the middle, tasteless, and overly salty. It’s disappointing to have something you’ve spent a couple of hours on go to waste, so I thought I would pass along a few tips I’ve learned the hard way.
One of the most important aspects to making bread, or pizza, or cookies, really anything that involves flour is producing the flour itself. I grind all of our flour right before I plan to use it. And lately I’ve been using Palouse Brand hard red wheat berries. These berries are non-GMO, and they can trace the bag of berries back to an exact field because they do everything from the growing, harvesting to the cleaning and shipping. You can learn more about them here.
I remember when a friend first introduced me to grinding my own flour by lending me her old electric grain mill. We were hooked immediately on this idea – it was essential to our hope of being as self-sufficient and self-sustaining as possible.
We initially purchased a GrainMaker grain mill from Montana, opting for the non-electric version with the option of adding a motor. (You can find them at grainmaker.com) For a few years I hand ground all of our flour, which was a bit of an upper body workout. Then one Christmas my husband surprised me with the motor and I’m not ashamed to say that I was relieved to no longer have to hand grind all of our flour. If you are interested in a grain mill, I highly recommend the GrainMaker because of its adaptability to both non-electric and electric situations, as well as it’s ability to grind both grains and nuts, including coffee beans! We have made flours, nut butters, and grind our coffee with our mill.
I also use a Bosch mixer at the recommendation of a friend who is a professional baker. The Bosch equipped with a metal dough hook has the power to knead enough dough to make four large loaves of bread for our family at a time. I previously had a kitchen aid, but soon burnt up the motor in it making dough.
You will need to experiment with bread recipes to find something that works for you and your family. My personal recipe is fairly simple.
I start with 4 cups of warm water, 1/4 cup of yeast, and 1/4 cup of maple syrup. I let this stand for at least five minutes, or until there is a nice foam top.
While the yeast is busy doing it’s thing. I add up to 8 cups of flour to my mixer bowl, 2 Tbsp salt, and 1/4 cup oil. I prefer a saltier bread, so if you are trying this recipe for yourself you may want to adjust the salt amount to your personal tastes. Also, the grain you use for your flour will impact the taste of your bread. I recently ordered my wheat berries from a small farm that mills it’s own grain. The grain is organic and non-gmo, and each bag comes with a tracking number that can be used to identify the field it came from. This wheat has a great nutty flavor and rich color. Ok, back to the recipe. I then add my yeast/water/maple syrup mix to the dry ingredients in my mixer, and turn it on. I let that mix for a while and then beginning adding flour slowly until I think the dough is the right consistency. As a general rule of thumb I watch for the dough to pull clean from the sides of the bowl. I then let the dough “knead” for about five minutes. Now, I’ve been using the proof function on my new gas range. I add a small bowl of water to the bottom rack, and then after turning my bread dough into a bowl with a light coating of oil, I add the bowl to the oven and set the proof setting on with a timer of 30 minutes.
When the thirty minutes is up I take the dough out, punch it down and shape it into four loaves by rolling it out with my rolling pin and then tightly rolling it up into a loaf shape. I then return these pans to the oven, set my proof for another thirty minutes, and wait. After the second rising, I take the loaves from the oven, preheat it to 350 and then add my loaves back for 30 minutes.
I’m certainly not a bread making expert, but this recipe has worked for our family to make sandwich loaf bread, and I hope it will work for yours too.
This year we are going to plant our own grains for harvesting and use. I’m very excited, and a little scared. I know that the harvesting, threshing, hulling, etc of grain will take time and labor on our part. Because we are just doing a small amount most of the work will need to be done by hand instead of by machine. I picked up a great book at Lehman’s hardware though to help us Home Grown Whole Grains by Sara Pitzer. And we have been looking on craigslist at seed cleaners and old farming equipment to help us on this new venture. I’m sure that I’ll have more to write about that later.