I re-read the article in the Post looking for inspiration on how to produce more food in-yard for the family. I read the part about the woman who has chickens in the backyard and bees on the roof (in Brooklyn, of all places) and was getting discouraged. Our lifestyle is just not conducive to backyard chickens and bees and a milk cow is just plain out of the question. We travel too much to have livestock, the kids would scare the chickens to death and we can’t get the bees far enough away from houses for me to feel okay about it. The one spot in the yard I would even consider currently has our composter stationed there.
I started thinking about what I’m bringing into the house that I could just do myself. I wasn’t coming up with much. I make all my own desserts, pie crusts, and we cook a lot of meals at home.
And then it hit me. BREAD.
I made a lot of our own bread, but it’s considered a treat. I make a mean focaccia and a really good filoncino (thanks to one of my all-time favorite bosses) that accompany special meals, but I don’t make sandwich bread. Mostly because the homemade white bread that I grew up making doesn’t seem to hold up to sandwich fillings. The crumb is too soft and tears really easily. But I buy one and, even sometimes, two loves of whole wheat sandwich bread every week! There has to be a better way! What to do, what to do?
Google it, of course.
And Google took me to The Smitten Kitchen. (Is there any recipe this site doesn’t have?) Her first words in the post were like she had written it right to me.
I don’t think it is a big deal if other people buy sandwich bread pre-sliced in a soft plastic bag from some factory bakery that specializes in long shelf lives. But I do think it’s a shame that someone like me who: a) enjoys, nay, loves baking bread, b) always remarks that if something has no flavor, it’s probably not worth the calories, c) works from home, meaning that the 15 minutes of labor and four hours of idle time that goes into making a delicious loaf of light whole wheat bread is more than doable, and d) owns two of the best bread-baking books out there still buys that pre-sliced stuff all of the time.
I only have one of the best bread-baking books out there, but this could have come right out of my head. So I decided to take the recipe she provided in her post and test out making my own sandwich bread.
I had to go out and buy some different flour since the recipe called for whole wheat and a high-gluten bread flour.
One of the things I like about this recipe is that I can use my mixer. It’s one of those heavy-duty Kitchen Aid works of art that Mom gave to me 10 years ago and I abuse on a regular basis. And I finally get to use the dough hook that came with it!
I cannot emphasize enough how wonderful the dough hook is. Not only did it save my shoulders and arms from 10 minutes of hardcore wear and tear, but it actually cut the time to knead the dough from 10 minutes to 6. The whole purpose of kneading the bread is to activate the gluten in the flour. The more you abuse the dough the more the gluten will active and you’ll get a better rise. The dough hook set on a medium speed did a right proper job of knocking that dough around.
Here’s what it looked like in the bowl before the rise.
I was going to take a picture of it after the rise, but because I am impatient and totally forget myself I whipped it out of the bowl and onto the board before I knew what I was doing. But I can tell you that I gave it 90 minutes to rise and was to the top of this 4-quart bowl. But here is what I had on the board during shaping…
And then I had to let it rise again. That’s one thing about breads; they make you wait and wait as they take their sweet time rising and developing flavor. At this point, 2 hours in, I was chanting that this had better be worth it. (It happened to be 65 degrees outside and I really wanted to get the car washed to get some of the winter detritus off of the undercarriage of my new car before I had to pick the kids up from school and timing was everything that day.)
And then 45 minutes later it was no longer dough, but BREAD! Delicious, aromatheraputic bread. I took it out and let it cool. And to make sure it actually cooled and that I wasn’t tempted to cut into it right then and there I took the car for the aforementioned wash.
Mark and I decided to sample the heel of the loaf. The crust was just right. Crisp and hardy without giving your jaw a workout. And the crumb of the bread was just dense enough to hold up to sandwich fixings and had a good chewiness to it. But what did the kids think? After all, I made this to put into their lunches…
Well, I call this a win. E definitely knew this wasn’t his regular sandwich bread and he was a tad disappointed it wasn’t focaccia, but he ate the PB&J with no complaints. Mark and H definitely loved it.
I guess I’m adding bread making to my list of household duties for awhile. It makes me feel good that I can make this for them and that they like it. Plus my economist husband will, I’m sure, break down the numbers for me and tell me if it’s saving us money in the long run. (Yet another variable to track in this experiment. Good thing economists love variables.)
Next time: Either sewing or experimenting with an awesome caramel recipe I found.