I love to bake bread.
Maybe one day I will get caught up in the gluten free mania (actually, I did it for a few months once) but I will always come back to baking bread. Why? Because baking a beautiful loaf of whole grain bread is an art form and it is truly euphoric when it works out perfectly.
Now days you can buy bread machines and mixes in a little packet and throw everything into a bucket and have bread a few hours later. That is how I first started making bread, years ago. But the loaves often turned out funny or fell or had holes and you couldn't do anything to fix it- because you weren't really MAKING the bread. The machine was. Then there was the purchasing of mixes....
Bread machines really just take the beauty out of an art form and strip it down to a few buttons and mix. Yuck.
I started making my own fresh ground wheat bread a few years ago when we were too broke to buy our own good bread and I had boxes of food storage wheat berries in my garage. What started from necessity became a joy.
Of course there were errors. Loaves like bricks. Loaves that fell apart. Burnt loaves and split loaves and over proofed loaves.
I finally found the perfect bread book- "The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book" written by Laurel Robertson and her friends (some die hard vegetarian hippies). Oh, but Laurel really appreciates food and the pleasure of making it.
I can't say I am as hardcore as she is (she delights in the 30+ minutes of hand kneading required for a whole wheat loaf while I now chicken out and use my Kitchen Aid for the heavy lifting). But as time has gone by I have discovered the joy of baking a beautiful loaf of bread.
My son told me once that he loves our house because I make bread. That is a beautiful thing.
Each recipe in Laurel's book is a story about a different kind of loaf and the art of making it just right. My very favorite recipe is on page 174- "Fresh Milk Bread", made with two cups of raw cow milk and whole wheat. (Below is my recipe, based on hers but adapted a little so that now it is "perfect"!)
As I baked the other day I thought about how bread is so much like birth. (Of course I did. I'm nuts. Doesn't everybody think that while they bake?)
You can get "whole grain bread" at the grocery store. Light as a feather and stacked neatly in plastic bags that last for weeks. It has gluten added (to make it fluffier) and corn syrup (sugar is too expensive, honey even more so) and even brown stuff to make it look healthy.
Or you can make your own.
But when you make your own bread there are so many factors. The heat of your house. The temperature of your water, your flour, even your butter. The altitude of your house will impact your recipe as will how long you knead it and how much fat you add. Even how coarsely or finely ground your grains are will impact the loaf. How long do you let it rise? Do you grease the bread board or use flour to keep the loaf from sticking? How sticky is your dough?
The beauty of making your own bread is that each loaf is different. There really isn't one "recipe" that makes it perfect every time. There are literally hundreds of tiny factors that will change the process from one time to the next. In the end you have to get a "feel" for the dough and the kneading and the process. Some of it can't be taught- it just has to be learned, trusted, enjoyed.
Birth can be assembly line and mass produced. We can expect women to all be the same- 40 weeks, 25 pounds of weight gain, 12 hour labors, 2 hours of pushing, placenta delivered in five minutes. We CAN treat birth like it is a store bought, neatly stacked loaf of bread.
Or we can let birth be beautiful. We can honor each woman and each birth for what it is- unique, amazing, beautiful. We can recognize that birth is different every time, that millions of factors align to make each birth day unique and special. We can let birth be the art form that it is, rather than expecting it to be convenient and quick.
It is up to us.
And here is my favorite bread recipe! I love it! But don't get mad if it doesn't work out just right. Try and try again until it is perfect for you too.
Molasses Spelt Whole Grain Bread
(Adapted from Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book, pg 174, Fresh Milk Bread.
Spelt is an ancient grain, similar to wheat but with a lower gluten content. Because it has less gluten it can be slightly harder to work with. The gluten in bread holds it together and a lower gluten bread can be more crumbly. But because this recipe has milk and thus fat added to it is really not that hard to do well.)
2 cups fresh whole milk
1/3 cup molasses
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 warm water
6 cups stone ground whole ground spelt flour
1/3 cup fresh ground flax (the flax will help the bread be nice and moist)
1/3 cup fresh ground flax (the flax will help the bread be nice and moist)
2 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/2 cup more water
2 tablespoons cool butter
Heat the milk on the stove in a pan until it is hot but not boiling. When warm, turn off heat and add the molasses and stir. Allow to cool (but not totally get cold.)
In your mixing bowl mix the six cups spelt flour and the salt until blended.
In a glass measuring cup put warm (as hot as my tap will get it but not scalding) water and add the yeast and allow it to develop for a minute.
Add the milk/molasses mix to the flour and begin to mix on low (with the dough hook). Once incorporated add the yeast/water mix.
When mixed you can add more water as needed (the loaf will come out lighter if you make it a little stickier) and lastly the butter pats.
Let the mixer knead the bread for 5 or so minutes until the dough is fully mixed. If the dough is really firm it will ball and roll in the mixer. If stickier then it won't.
Dump the dough onto a butter greased bread board to hand kneed into a round. (You can use flour to stop it from sticking but I find the loaf gets a little heavier if I keep adding flour and it stays a little lighter if I use butter.) If the loaf is sticky you can wet your fingers to work it and use a bread scraper to lift it from the bread board.
Shape into a nice round. Clean the mixing bowl and grease it with butter. Add your round back into the bowl and cover with towel to let rise. Place somewhere out of the way (higher will be warmer) for an hour or more until the dough has doubled.
Touch it to see how it feels when it has risen. It should come back some to your touch.
Dump out the dough onto your bread board, knead again but don't tear the dough. It is sensitive! Knead out the air bubbles, and shape again into a round. Place dough round back into the greased bowl to rise a second time. This rise won't take as long but you want the dough to about double again in size.
When doubled a second time dump the dough back out onto your bread board and cut in two pieces to shape into individual loaves. (Or you can cut into rolls.)
You can make rounds, braids, or regular loaf shaped loaves. Shape and place your bread into greased pans. Let rise again (about 1/2 an hour but you need to watch it. If it rises too high it will over-proof and you will get holes in the bread) until the loaves have grown, rounded, and are arching at the top of your pans.
Bake in a 350 degree oven for about 40 minutes. (I like to rise my loaves in the oven, then turn it on to heat up with my loaves in there and they will continue to rise a little more as the oven comes to temp. But I think you aren't supposed to do that.)
Place on a rack for cooling-