Homemade bread

I’ve been hearing from friends lately about the wonderful benefits of having a breadmaker. Until this past year, when K and I started buying loaves of bread from the farmer’s market instead of the preservative-laden bread at the supermarket (come on, there’s just something unnatural about bread that doesn’t get moldy even after 2 months!), the thought had never really occurred to me. But after seeing and tasting the dense honey wheat loaves of bread there, it recently occurred to me that there is no need to spend $5 per a loaf, even if it lasts for 2 weeks. (We cut a loaf in half and freeze it to use the following week after purchasing.)

So, gosh darn it, today I decided to try my hand at making my own whole wheat bread. So I took the whole wheat bread flour I bought at the co-op recently and got ready!

Along with many other wonderful items, and of course, attributes 🙂 K came into our marriage with this cookbook:

It has hundreds of recipes for different types of breads, but as I read through them to K, my ambitions getting higher and higher with each recipe name I read aloud, K kindly suggested I should try my hand at the Basic Whole Wheat Bread recipe first before trying anything seemingly more complicated like Vollkornbrot and Yeasted Sprout Bread. “Darn,” I thought to myself, but I knew he was right. Breadbaking entrepreneurship would come later.

The ingredients for basic whole wheat bread are, well, basic.

  • 2 tsp active dry yeast
  • 1/2 cup warm water (about 110 F)
  • 6 cups who wheat bread flour
  • 2 1/2 tsp salt
  • 2 1/4 cups lukewarm water
  • 2 Tbsp honey or other sweetener
  • 2 Tbsp oil or butter (optional)

Here are all the ingredients at hand, including my handy dandy Kitchen Aid mixer. Man, I love that thing. 1869 wasn’t good for everything (although imagine the biceps I would have!).

So I took out the whole wheat bread flour I had purchased and then compared it to the white whole wheat flour we had in the house. There was a noticeable difference, though I’m not sure you can tell as well in the picture below.

(Left: Whole Wheat Bread Flour, Right: White Whole Wheat Flour)

According to King Arthur Flours, this flour is “milled from white whole wheat, rather than red, unbleached King Arthur White Whole Wheat Flour has all the fiber and nutrition of traditional whole wheat, with milder flavor and lighter color.”

I don’t know which one overall is healthier for you, but I’ve learned that the more processed a whole grain is the less nutrients it keeps and the less it fills you. The whole wheat bread flour looks less fine-grained than the other, plus it was specifically called for in the recipe.

Because I didn’t have 6 cups of flour, nor 2 loaf pans, nor the need for two loaves of bread this week, I decided to only make half the recipe, or enough for one loaf. So I mixed together 3 cups of flour and the salt in a separate glass bowl before realizing I had mixed the entire amount of salt in the recipe into half the flour – yikes! Oh well, nothing I could do now except make salty bread.

I mixed everything together and poured it into the Kitchen Aid Mixing Bowl. Attached the dough hook – and voila! It kneaded my dough for a good 15 minutes until it was very elastic. The book called for 600 strokes – this is where huge biceps would come in handy.

After kneading, I gathered the dough and put it into a bowl to rise. I clearly had too ambitious thoughts on how much it would rise though, given the size of the bowl I chose. The dough was set to rise for 2 hours.

Before rising

After rising

After the first rise, I had to do it again, this time for about an hour. Afterwards I took it out of the bowl, deflated it and let it rest for another 10 min. Then I placed it into my big loaf pan and let it sit for a final rise of 45 min.

Sheesh, by this time the day was mostly over! And I still had no bread. But finally it was time to bake and I did. But because the loaf pan was so big, the bread didn’t get much bigger and it didn’t come out tall enough for “real” slices. I was disappointed
Alas, I do not see Vollkornbrot and Yeasted Sprout Bread in my future after all. Still, some warm, homemade bread is nothing to turn your nose up at, but after this process, I think we will continue to buy our bread from the farmer’s market – at least until we get a breadmaker!

Hmm, I just saw one on Craigslist for $15…

P.S. – Yes, the bread is salty.

The Chemical Revolution

Last year I took an Animal Law class at my local community college, and there I learned that before 50 years ago there were no such things as “factory farms” – farmers were small operations that couldn’t possibly take care of tens of thousands of cattle and bring them to market. Back then, farming was more humane to animals and the environment wasn’t as badly affected because tons of fertilizer and pesticides and antibiotics were not needed to keep thousands of animals relatively healthy enough to get to market. Here’s a great link on the environmental effects of factory farming: Farm Sanctuary’s “Environmental Impact of Factory Farming.”

After World War II, it seems everything changed. Industrial farming became more and more the norm and something I’ve recently learned about, The Chemical Revolution, occurred. Take a look, 50 years ago, DuPont’s slogan was Better Things for Better Living…Through Chemistry.”

“The dawn of the chemical age followed quickly on the heels of World War II, instigated by war-related research and a host of ‘new and improved’ products like chemical cleaners, plastics, and disposable goods that quickly became symbols of American prosperity and modern luxury . . . Vinegar and soap were out, chlorine and synthetic, petroleum-based detergents were in. The modern marvel of petro-chemical wonders made domestic chores a breeze. Who needs elbow grease when chemicals will do the work for you?” — Easy Green Living by Renee Loux, p. 50

Now I’m not saying chemistry is bad, or rather, that all chemistry is bad. Hell no, I still use a lot of plastic, take medication everyday and live the life of a 21st century woman (despite my desire not to at times).

But the fact of the matter is that before the chemical revolution, household cleaners included ingredients like white vinegar, good old-fashioned plain baking soda, and the love of my life lately, pure castile soap. They couldn’t even have imagined things like Triethanolamine (TEA), Phenols, or tongue twisters like Alkyl dimethylbenzyl ammonium chloride (also known as quatenary ammonium compoound).

Don’t get me wrong, these chemicals are “modern miracles” – they clean and disinfect really well and leave being a scent that to us just screams “clean” – but almost all of them are absolutely toxic to both you and the environment. There’s a reason why many cleaners don’t list ingredients on their containers – who likes to read a huge list of multi-syllable names of things they’re putting on their kitchen counters or table?

The problem is, this stuff has only been around for the last 50 or so years. Vinegar and baking soda have been around for millenia. While we may think that we’ve been cleaning with these things for years and have never been affected, keep in mind, we don’t have more than one generation (really starting with the baby boomers) that has been in contact with these chemicals their entire lives. Who knows what this stuff is doing to us?

Have you ever been overcome by cleaning fumes, gotten a rash by coming into contact with some cleaning supply, or a bad headache from inhaling some chemical? All of that shows that that stuff is just not good for us.

So I set forth this challenge for you, to look for cleaning supplies at the store that contain ALL their ingredients ON the bottle. In the future I plan on posting my favorite green cleaning “recipes” – and all of them contain items we all know and can say in one breath:

  • soap
  • baking soda
  • salt
  • vinegar
  • washing soda
  • alcohol (yay vodka!)
  • and cornstarch.

You’ll be amazed at what you can clean.

Checking out the local co-op

My local co-op is one of my favorite places to shop. I find it strange that it’s located in the heart of Albany, practically right next to what one might consider the “projects,” yet it brings in such a wonderful, wide variety of people. It doesn’t sell only local or only organic items, so I don’t always succeed in my locavorism, but it’s still an awesome place. When K and I first started going here, each week was like a trip to another culture. You need to bring your own plastic bags for veggies, or containers to put things like rice or sugar in or you have pay for the ones you use. It’s a great incentive to bring your own and reuse items.

It’s a bit “hippie-ish” for some people – lots of dredlocks and homemade clothing. I love it. The bulk section is amazing. Just look! We found everything from pumpernickel rye flour to xylitol (hard to find where we live) to plain citric acid. But you can find nearly any kind of flour, dried fruit, syrup, wheat, rice or bean you could want.

Today we only needed a few things from the co-op. We do our food shopping at the farmer’s market and regular grocery store on Sundays usually. We picked up some local honey (as the beekeeper that is usually at our farmer’s market wasn’t there last week), some whole wheat bread flour (actually bread flour – is this different from regular whole wheat flour? I don’t know), some citric acid to try our hand at homemade dishwasher detergent, a couple of glass bottles of milk, and Dr. Bronner’s pure castile soap.

So, I love Dr. Bronner’s – it has 1001 uses, I swear. Nowadays it’s even Certified Fair Trade and the oils used are certified organic by the National Organic Standards Program. I’ve been using the peppermint soap for years for camping trips because it was the only kind I could get, and was biodegradable and didn’t have phosphates and all that jazz. While his peppermint soap is, uh….zingy…it’s very overpowering – and I’m not a huge fan of mint overall – even when it’s an antiseptic. However, it made my foyers smell minty fresh for over a week, I must admit. But I thought that Dr. Bronner’s must have an unscented one, and if anyone would have it, Honest Weight would. I mean, look at all the kinds of Dr. Bronner castile soap they have!

They did 🙂 I got 1 1/2 lbs (why pounds instead of liquid measurement, I have no idea) of Baby Mild Liquid Soap.

Hopefully I will putting many of these things to good use in a few days!