Saturday, December 01, 2007

bread heaven

Sometime in the summer, I woke up thinking about this wheat grinder that my parents had when I was younger. In my morning haze, I was wrapped up in memories of the sound of wheat berries popping down into the grinding blades, warm flour piling up in the metal bread pan resting below. I told my mom about my musings and she informed me that they still had the grinder and I was welcome to use it.

I drove down to my parents' house and rescued the grinder from the basement (and a hand-crank wheat grinder that we used for cracked wheat--my favorite breakfast food). Because I had new wheat grinding tools, I had to get wheat so I purchased a 50-lb bag. I immediately cracked some wheat for breakfast and ground some beautiful fluffy, nutty flour. Then, I set about baking bread.

I rarely bake bread. Growing up, our whole wheat was mainly used for waffles and pancakes (which my be why I had such good memories of the wheat grinder). I am not a break baking expert. I made a couple of transitional loaves and they worked fine, but with 50 lbs of wheat in the house, I really want to work with whole wheat. I made a stab at an entirely whole wheat loaf. It tasted fine, but it was so dense. A brick of chewy, dark bread. Not really what I was looking for. I found recipe for pumpkin whole wheat bread and that worked beautifully--the pumpkin made the bread creamier, lighter. But, I don't want to be throwing pumpkin into every loaf of bread I make.

My search for whole wheat bread recipes online were unsatisfactory, so I went to the bookstore hoping to find something that would change my baking life. The first think I saw on the shelves was Peter Reinhart's new Whole Grain Breads. The book was beautiful, the directions were detialed, and the quotes on the back seemed enthusiastic (unlike those negative book blurbs!). It was a little pricey, but it was birthday month. I bought it and looked at it for a couple of weeks before actually giving it a try.

So far, I have made a basic sandwhich loaf and cinnamon rolls. OMG. This is bread perfection. Reinhart uses a delayed fermentation method which includes making a biga and a soaker the day before shaping and baking. You have to plan ahead with this bread, but it is perfect. Light, soft, flavorful. The steps are many and a first look at the book suggests a complicated process, but it's quite easy. Reinhart gives measurements, weights, and baker's proportions so you can approach the bread with simplicity or a little more finesse (I went for the easy measurements and things worked fine). I think my next attemps will be challah and bagels.

If you have any bread baking ambitions, I highly recommend checking out this book. If you don't want to use whole grains, you may want to get his Bread Baker's Apprentice. I actually haven't looked at it, but I can only imagine it's fabulous.

I may just get through that 50 pounds of wheat.

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Blogger Lisa B. said...

I am in deep, deep envy about the grinder. My first husband's folks had one, and we had it for a long time. I ground everything. My own corn meal. It was wonderful. Maybe I will come over sometime and bother you. And I will completely look up this book you're talking about. I taught myself how to bake whole wheat bread when I was a teenager (California, the 70s, all about the natural, etc.) using the Tassajara Bread Book, from those CA monks who went on to found Greens restaurant in San Francisco? Deborah Madison was among them? Anyway. I could probably upgrade my skillz. Definitely, I could upgrade my skills.

1:26 PM  
Blogger Sarah said...

How do you possibly find the time to do all this??? You're amazing!

7:58 PM  
Blogger lis said...

ha,ha--it's just my way of maintaining my sanity. you should see how messy my house is!!

and lisa, you can come over and grind wheat anytime you want. I'll even give you some wheat.

9:07 PM  
Blogger tara said...

Let me know how the challah goes. I'm looking for a good challah recipe!

9:01 AM  

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