February 29, 2012

Bread for the Family

This year I am trying to make all the bread we eat at home, as indicated by the 2012 New Year's resolutions. Our family eats a fair bit of bread. For breakfast I eat a slice or two, topped with a big pile of sprouts, Becky has a slice or two, and Millie and Violet each have a slice. Sometimes sandwiches get made for lunchtime. So all in we usually had eaten about 2+ loaves a week of store bread, plus some homemade bread.

Based on consumption in the year so far, we go through two 1.4kg homemade loaves a week, which will be in the 100-120 loaves range for the year, which would total around 140+ kg of bread range (over 300 lbs). This will represent around 85kg (187lbs) of flour. At typical yields, this would require around 4300 ft^2 area planted with wheat. Not that much actually. Hmm... should we plant wheat in the back yard??

I've been making bread on a regular basis for a few years now. Years ago, I was excited to make crusty breads at home, so I tried some recipes out of Peter Reinhardt's Bread Baker's Apprentice. I never had much success with these breads, and shattered my oven lightbulb by spraying water into the oven when it was at maximum temp. Probably I lack breadmaking skill.

I came back to bread when the internet caught on fire with the no-knead bread craze, instigated by Mark Bittman's piece on Jim Lahey's super low effort bread. I cooked this bread in a cast iron dutch oven and it turned out great. After a while though I started feeling like it lacked dimension and didn't keep more than a day or so.

Looking to branch out, I eagerly bought Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day when it came out. I like this system because it is indeed very quick (I don't know about five minutes, particularly with little helpers!) and makes pretty good bread. I like the idea of storing the risen dough in the fridge and taking it out to bake as needed. Even the hour or so lead time needed to go from fridge to bread was too long for weeknight dinners though, so usually I would bake the whole load on the weekend and mix up dough to use the next weekend. I tried a number of the recipes in the book, and enjoyed most of them. The sticky rolls were great, as was the basic recipe and a few others. I made the buttermilk bread quite a few times. A friend of mine from 1366, Andrew Gabor, has been baking from this book a lot lately and also thinks it is excellent. Andrew reports the Challah is phenomenal.

Last year, we decided to go mostly whole food and vegan, most especially at home. So I had to find a new bread recipe which didn't use dairy and was 100% whole wheat. I got the Peter Reinhardt whole grain bread book and the follow up book to Artisan Bread in Five, which is Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. After some fooling around, I ended up making a bread like this most of the time:

1/2c buckwheat flour
1/2c rye flour
1/2c vital wheat gluten
1c flour I'm trying to get rid of, like too coarse whole wheat or brown rice flour or whatever
1.5c white flour
6c whole grain wheat
1/4c honey
1/4c olive oil
1.5 tbs salt
1 tsp instant yeast
~3c water

I mix it up by hand in a big tupperware without kneading much and let it rise for a few hours on the counter, then stick it in the fridge until the next weekend. For baking I divide it into four, shape three into baguette things and put them on the baguette pan to rise for an hour, while the girls usually do stuff with the last quarter like make snakes or letter shapes or rolls.

After baking at like 450 for 20 minutes and cooling I cut each long loaf into quarters and freeze them. Then for a sandwich I take a piece like this, defrost in the microwave for 30 seconds, slice in half and toast, then sandwich it. I  actually was eating most of that bread as breakfast with some vegan butter and maybe some homemade apricot preserves if I have them.

Millie occasionally likes this bread for a second breakfast (for first breakfast she must have an enormous bowl of oatmeal or cream of wheat with homemade applesauce immediately after waking up at 5 or 5:30). Otherwise my family is not that into it. Becky finds it too "pungent". Violet finds it too hard.

So for the new year I needed to make something like sandwich bread, and a lot of it. I never had much luck baking the old bread in a 1lb loaf pan, so I started cruising the internet for sandwich bread recipes. This quickly brought me to the recipes section of King Arthur Flour. I also bought a pain de mie pan from them, since the cute pictures of perfectly square bread appealed to me. It is a very fine pan by the way, if a bit pricey.

Based on the long list of good reviews and the confidence expressed in the recipe, I wanted to try the 100% whole wheat sandwich bread recipe. I wasn't completely happy with the list of ingredients for this bread, but I figured I would find something that could meet the bar on performance first, then modify that recipe to suit us. No sense monkeying around with a recipe that won't pass the test even when made according to the letter of the recipe. This bread turned out well and everyone liked it. I also tried the 100% whole wheat sandwich bread from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, and another KAF whole wheat sandwich bread recipe.

Of course when you get down to it these breads are pretty similar, especially if you are trying to make them vegan and simplify on the number of ingredients. I've come to the following thoughts on what I want in my sandwich bread:

- Whole grain white wheat flour
I've been baking the past couple years with the mind blowing all purpose whole soft white winter wheat all purpose flour made by the micro mill Wild Hive Farm in upstate New York using Hudson River valley grain. I buy it in 20lb sacks, which can be delivered UPS or US Mail. While it is great flour, contemplating baking all our bread with it was an expensive proposition. So I've moved to the locally available and (relatively) cheap King Arthur whole hard spring white wheat. I feel the white wheat tends to rise better (for me) and has a more subtle wheat flavor.

- Vital wheat gluten
Some of this really helps 100% whole wheat bread rise better. This is one of the main points in the Healthy Bread in Five book, and is also a key ingredient in some of the other recipes mentioned above.

- Local Honey
Instead of sugar or molasses or other sweeteners. A bit of sweetness is nice in whole grain bread, and of course is popular with the kids. Hardcore vegans don't eat honey, but I'm ok with it. Really it is mostly concentrated nectar from flowers, right? The bees are kind of just working to gather and process it for us. I'm not that concerned with exploitation of insects I guess. Boiled cider might also be nice, but I think it might be weird to have the apple flavor in the bread. Plus I have to order the boiled cider instead of buying it as needed at the farmer's market.

- Olive oil
Instead of butter or other fats. Adds a nice taste and makes the bread softer, especially the crust.

- Instant yeast
No proofing or guessing, just use it as it. Currently using SAF

- Kosher salt

I had to adjust the quantities too in order to get the bread to fill the pain de mie pan to make a square loaf. I'm still working on that. I ended up taking out potato and almond milk recently since Becky felt the crumb was too soft.

Lately I've started doing this in a double batch and using the Kitchen Aid. Kind of a cop out, but it does save some time. I purchased a second pain de mie pan so now I make two loaves at once. These loaves are about 1400g or 3lbs each. Here is the latest recipe:

- 1450g KAF white wheat flour
- 1/4c vital wheat gluten
-  1 tbs instant yeast
- 1.5 tbs kosher salt
- 1/4c olive oil
- 1/4c honey
- 4+ cups warm water

Knead in kitchen aid for a while, let rise in bowl to 2x volume, divide into loaves, shape, proof in pan until almost at the top, cover and bake at 350 for 25 minutes with top on, then remove top for another 10-15 minutes (87C internal temp).

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