Baking Adventures, Part 1

I have recently started to try to make some changes in the way we eat in our house. Both John and I have started to read labels more, and we are dismayed to find how many of the things we normally buy contain ingredients we’d rather not eat. In an attempt to be a little more natural in our meals, I have started to try to make some of the things we’d normally buy. Bread has been one thing I have been “trying” to do for awhile. Though I know it is possible to make absolutely beautiful bread at home, the art of it has often escaped me. Sure, I have things that turn out almost every time, but they are not the healthiest of creations. I know how to make cinnamon rolls, banana bread, butterhorn rolls, etc. These all use white flour, lots of sugar, and a decent amount of butter. I can try to switch out some of the white flour for whole wheat flour, but this doesn’t always produce the best results. Whole wheat sandwich bread, wheat rolls, and even things like french bread I have never been able to do very well.
I was shopping for books online several weeks ago, searching for cookbooks and other helpful resources that I could use to make more natural healthy food from whole ingredients (something I am planning on spending a whole month learning to do in June, but more on that later). I came across a book called Healthy Bread in Five Minutes a Day. The authors of this book, Jeff Hertzberg and Zoe Francois, wrote this book in response to their many fans asking for more healthy recipes after the great success of their book: Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. I bought this book and very quickly read through the introductory chapters. The basic method is to mix up a huge batch of dough, which rises and then is placed in the refrigerator. The dough can be used over two weeks, so all you have to do is take out the amount you need each day, shape it, and let it rest before putting into the oven. The 5 minutes a day, is the time it takes to shape and ready the loaf. All the rest of the time, the bread is doing its own work with no effort from you. Glancing through the recipes, I was excited to see that there were instructions and recipes for almost every type of bread I would need to make – sandwich bread, bagels, crackers, pita bread, and even some healthier versions of sweet breads. All the recipes are made with whole grains, and many have other healthy additions, like nuts, seeds, and fruits.
Last night I mixed up my first batch of dough, let it sit for two hours and then put it away in the refrigerator. This morning, I pulled out the dough and attempted not only my first loaf of bread, but also the cinnamon raisin bagels. The bagels obviously take longer than 5 minutes of active time, but they were well worth the effort. The kids and I couldn’t resist splitting one while they were still warm.

The loaf of bread was definitely the easiest bread I’ve ever made, and had the best results for a whole grain bread that I’ve ever had. I pulled out my chunk of dough, shaped it according to the instructions and set the sorry looking little lump on a pizza peel sprinkled with cornmeal. There it sat while I filled, shaped, boiled, and baked my bagels. It did get a little bit bigger and smoother and looked more promising as the morning went on. All that I needed to do to prepare it for baking was brush it with water, sprinkle on some seeds, cut some slits and slide it onto a preheated stone. They recommend also pouring some water into a preheated metal pan below the stone and then quickly closing your oven door to trap some steam. I don’t think I produced much steam, but regardless the bread baked beautifully. I discovered two things in this process that most likely contributed to my prior failures. The first is how I gauged my bread was done. The book said it would take about 30 minutes to bake this bread. About 15 minutes into the baking time I pulled the bread out because it was a beautiful golden brown. I didn’t want to overcook it. But I looked carefully at the loaf, then at the instructions that said it should be a very dark brown, and then at the picture on the front of the book. My loaf was too light colored, so I slipped it back in and ended up baking it for almost the entire 30 minutes. It did not burn, as I had feared, and came out looking just like the picture. The second thing that I changed in my bread making process, was not to give in to temptation and cut the loaf as soon as it came out. I used to time my bread so that I was pulling out a warm loaf from the oven just before suppertime. I love warm bread and it smells so delightful right when you pull it out. But when making french bread, I could never figure out why I couldn’t cut my bread without squashing the whole loaf. And there was not a good crumb (the texture of the inside of the bread, a term I learned from this book). The book instructs to never ever cut your loaf fresh out of the oven, no matter how tempting it is, unless you are having rolls or a very small loaf. Bread is best two hours after pulling it from the oven. So I waited. Two hours later, I cut into my bread and was rewarded with a perfect crumb. The bread tastes good too, though since I was just doing the plain recipe, it will be better as toast or in sandwiches. I look forward to the more doctored up versions if I can get these good results every time.

5 thoughts on “Baking Adventures, Part 1

  1. You have inspired me! I may have to get the recipe from you and try this out. Maybe this is how I can reduce my grocery bill!


  2. Thanks Wendy! I wish I were reducing my grocery bill, but I have only succeeded in making it bigger this month. 🙂 We are doing a healthy eating plan with lots of fruits and veggies and unfortunately, these cost lots of money. Then buying all the new flours to use in the bread added some too. But supposedly, it is supposed to come out cheaper per loaf, so perhaps it is just the initial investment that is causing this increase. We’ll see how long my flour lasts.


  3. I appreciated the pictures. They made my mouth water. You are very ambitious with your already full schedule.


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