Yeast scares the balls out of me. Both the kind that makes fluffy, fragrant dough as well as the kind that gives us infections in our lady parts. One word: Ouch.
…Or at least, it did. Until I tried an amazing super soft homemade bread recipe. Of course, I mean the fluffy fragrant dough kind of yeast. Not the kind that gives us infections. That kind still scares me.
To be honest, I don’t know what I found so intimidating about yeast to begin with. There are just some things that seem so big or technical or extravagant to make that they meander around my culinary bucket list for way longer than they should.
And let me be straight here: Bread is the least extravagant thing on that list. In fact, it’s the most simple, humble item on there. But it just seemed so tricky. What if the yeast didn’t rise? What if the “warm spot” wasn’t warm enough? Have I used enough liquid? Too much flour? A simple bread recipe, for such an innocent and dietary staple, is awfully intimidating.
So what pushed me over the scratch bread recipe edge? Michael Pollan. He got me all riled up and excited (as his books so often do) to explore the world of bread. As he said in his newest book – and I’m paraphrasing here – there is something innately beautiful and inspiring about a loaf of bread. Something so nostalgic and fundamental about it that’s tied deeply to the quiet moments of a kitchen and the lineage it’s grown from. Whether that be the historical domesticity of our grandmothers, rights and access to land, or even just the simple smell of bread baking in an easy bake oven – bread is important.
And as I gingerly mixed the water with the flour in the bowl, I felt that connection to history. To politics. To the fundamental nature of bread – to nourishment.
Then came the kneading. Hey – any excuse to smack, bang and punch something, I’m into. Totes McGoats. I like to punch things!
And yet, as I espouse the greatness that is bread, I feel like the gluten allergy epidemic merits note. Granted, I’m no doctor. Or nutritionist. Or scientist. But I don’t think we as a society have developed a mass allergy to wheat. Wheat itself can’t be blamed for the thousands of people who are suddenly suffering from horrible cases of “wheat belly”. Rather, I believe it’s the evolution and global proliferation of GMO grains that’s entered our diets in recent years that’s to blame. Never before in the history of humanity have we seen so many allergies and food sensitivities – and not just to wheat. What else can be concluded except that franken-foods and food-like substances are causing them? Please, if I’m wrong, I want to hear from you. I don’t mean to downplay people’s experiences or reactions to certain foods! As someone who has an alcohol sensitivity (and no, I won’t stop drinking), I know full well that the symptoms one experiences are very real, and very painful indeed. However, I’d be curious to know if those who have sensitives to wheat have tried heritage grains like Red Fife and what their reaction to them have been. Has it made a difference? Have you found your way back to wheat? Did it make things worse?
And in the meantime, I’ll keep kneading and needing my bread. Because let’s face it – I like my carbs. And there isn’t anything much better than smell of fresh baked loaves wafting through the house on a chilly, snowy and dark afternoon. Now, if you ask me, that’s a good day.
- 3¾ C Unbleached All-purpose Flour, plus more for dusting
- 2 Tsp Salt
- 1 C Warm Whole Milk
- 1/3 C Very Warm Water
- 2 Tbsp Unsalted Butter, melted
- 3 Tbsp Organic Local Honey
- 1 Envelope (approx 2¼ Tsp) Yeast
- Adjust your oven rack to the lowest position in the oven possible and pre-heat the oven to 200 degrees. Once the oven temperature reaches 200 degrees, maintain the heat for 10 minutes, then turn off the oven.
- As that heats, put the yeast, very warm water and honey in a bowl. Cover and set atop the warming oven. After 10 minutes, continue to step 4.
- Mix 3½ C of the flour and the salt in a bowl. Set aside.
- Mix the milk, butter, and yeast mixture in a large bowl. Add the flour and gently mix together with your hand. When the dough starts to come together. Turn the dough onto a lightly floured work surface; knead to form a smooth, round ball, for about 8 - 12 minutes until elasticy. You may need to add a touch more flour or water, depending on the humidity levels in your house.
- Pour a dollop of oil into the large dirty bowl and place the dough in after, rubbing or shaking it lightly around the bowl to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and place in the warmed oven until the dough doubles in size, 40 to 50 minutes. Be sure you've turned the oven off at this point or you'll melt the plastic!
- Gently shape the dough into a rectangle no longer than 9 inches. If necessary, press the edges over to the bottom with your fingers to make sure the dough sticks to itself. Turn the dough seam-side up and pinch it closed. Place the dough seam-side down in a greased 9 X 5" loaf pan. Cover with plastic wrap or a tea towel; set aside in a warm spot until the dough almost doubles in size, 20 to 30 minutes. The top of the oven works well here too.
- Keep one oven rack at the lowest position and place the other at the middle position and heat the oven to 350 degrees F. Place an empty baking pan on the bottom rack. Bring 2 cups of water to a boil in a small saucepan or kettle. Pour the boiling water into the empty pan on the bottom rack and set the loaf onto the middle one. Bake 40 to 50 minutes or until an instant-read thermometer reads 195 degrees. OR if you don't have a thermometer, until the crust is golden and sounds hollow when you gently knock on the top. Remove the bread from the pan, transfer to a wire rack, and cool as long as you can stand it.
Do you have a love affair with bread? Does it hurt you? What do you think about the gluten-allergy phenomenon?