Monday, May 11, 2009

bread alone

You know what makes the whoooole house smell good?


My all time favorite homemade bread recipe is from Flavors of Greece by Rosemary Barron (that link is to the 2005 book… mine is from 1991, back when my dad was food editor for the paper- best job ever!- and we got free cookbooks. As far as I know it has the same recipes). Yay Greek recipes! I am finally going to my ancestral land for the first time this summer (we just began our one month countdown!) and I’m seriously stoked to do some eatin’!

The recipe I use is just called Country Bread (Khoriatiko Psomi). I’m sure the original is delicious, and still very healthy, but I have tweaked it a bit. The main thing I did was change from adding melted butter to ground flax- one because flax is a nutritional superstar and two because it also makes for texturally awesome baked goods. To go with that, there was a subsequent reduction in honey (because it adds a bit of sweetness on its own, IMO), and flour (because it’s a solid-ish, rather than the liquid of melted butter). I’ve made enough adaptations that I think… THINK I can share it without copyright infringement. So, here we go.

Ileana’s Favorite Whole Wheat Bread, adapted from Flavors of Greece

2 packets active dry yeast


I used this kind, which specifically said it was good for whole grains! And it was on sale!

1 cup tepid water*

1 tablespoon honey

2 tsp kosher salt (she calls for sea salt. I’m sure it’s great! We just never have it)

1 egg, lightly beaten

3/4 cup tepid milk* (I used 1%, just what we had)

1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon olive oil, divided

3 tablespoons ground flaxseed

4 to 4 1/2 cups whole wheat flour

*to get “tepid”, I find that 30 seconds in the microwave for every 1/2 cup of liquid is about right. You want slightly above body temperature (they say 110 degrees). If it’s too cool, microwave a bit longer, if it’s too warm, let it cool down. Don’t scald your poor yeast!

Sprinkle the yeast over 1/4 cup of the warm water and set it aside to prime in a warm, pleasant place. It should hang out for 10-20 minutes, and sport some nice foam, like so:

yeast primed

Combine honey, salt, egg, milk, remaining water, 1 tablespoon of water, and flaxseed in a bowl.

wet ings

Sift three cups of flour into a large mixing bowl, make a well in the center, and stir in yeast mixture and wet ingredients.

dumped in well

If you have never baked bread before, this is likely the point you become frightened and grossed out. Don’t panic!

dumped in well closeup

Give everything a stir, and first of all you’ll be greeted with the HEAVENLY, nostalgic, heart warming aroma of yeast and flour combining in their perfect harmony. And it’ll already start looking better:

pre kneading

However, this stuff is WICKED DAMP and WICKED MESSY. That’s just how it goes. You are going to make a huge mess. You need to FLOUR YOUR CUTTING BOARD in advance, and FLOUR YOUR HANDS.

Then knead for ten minutes or so, gradually adding the remaining flour, as needed, a few tablespoons at a time, until yeast is not sticking to the cutting board anymore and smooth and elastic. I ended up using about four cups total this particular time, not counting the flour I dusted on the cutting board.

Honesty, your hands are going to be covered in dough. It is a sticky, messy process turning the dough malleable and well behaved! Here are some techniques to help with that:

1. The knife technique (used by my grandmother): take a DULL knife (like the kind you’d use at the table) and use it to scrape the dough off of your hands from time to time. Then you can reincorporate it into the rest of the dough.

2. The loved one technique: get your spouse/partner/roommate/relative/hungry person who’s going to want a taste of your homemade bread and can go ahead and work for it. Have them add the flour, a few tablespoons at a time, at your command. It helps having them sprinkle it over the wet dough on your hands.

Here’s what my hands looked like, AFTER I was DONE kneading and had SCRAPED THEM OFF!


Obviously, hand washing is your friend.

Here’s the look of the finished dough:

post kneading

Now return the dough to your bowl, cover with a clean kitchen towel, and let it rise somewhere warm and peaceful, for one hour. I just put it in my turned-off oven.


dough prerise

and after:

dough postrise

Someday I will get good at zooming and have more consistent looking before and after photos. Someday. Suffice it to say it did get bigger, but the transformation is much less dramatic when you’re using heavy whole wheat flour.

Now grease a baking sheet (I just use cooking spray). Knead the dough for one minute. Form into two round loaves (if you have a cooking scale, you can weigh them to make sure they are equal). Today, just for kicks, I added some chopped up fennel leaves to one of my loaves. You could use various other mix ins- herbs, nuts, dried fruit, etc.- at this point.

Here are my loaves when I first made them:

loaves prerise 

Now cover them again with a kitchen towel, and let them rise for another hour.

At this point, you can pause for a catnap:


That on the left is my baby Smokeface, and his little sister Sheila. They are one of my favorite things about being home! She’s totally in love with him, so whenever he curls up in a certain position, she copies him. PRESH!

Okay, back to the bread.

after rising:

loaves postrise

With my hand, to show their size. They aren’t super big loaves.

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Brush the loaves with the remaining 1 tsp olive oil. Bake for 40 minutes or until lightly browned. Cookbooks always say “tap them on the bottom and they should sound hollow”, but Julia Child says that only real bakers can really use that effectively. I have found that if it looks like bread, it’s probably bread! This final product definitely looked like bread:


I waited in AGONY to eat lunch until this was done (although for homemade bread, it is not a long process- I was running out to the grocery store to buy yeast at 10:10 and chomping down at 2:45). It is important, though, to let the bread sit for at least ten minutes or so, or it turns to GLUE. Anyway, this bread was AWESOME as ever!


The bread has a really great crumb, and the flavor is hearty and yeasty but there’s still a certain delicacy to it because of the texture.


Close up! It also produces a really excellent crust. I loooooove real baguettes with real crusts when I go out to eat, and it’s really great to get something like that on a whole wheat bread. The fennel in there (you can see the little green streaks a little bit) made for a really nice flavor! I’ll definitely be doing that again!

Also, for those attuned to that sort of thing, this recipe made about 2 pounds (32 oz. of bread). With the ingredients, you’re looking at 65 calories per ounce. VERY reasonable. Furthermore, it’s 100% whole wheat and has GREAT healthy fats in it in the form of flaxseed and olive oil.

I had my bread with a nice refreshing salad:


The last of a bag of baby spinach combined with some mixed greens, mixed with my mom’s seriously awesome homemade dressing (I think it’s just oil, vinegar, mustard, and crazy amounts of parsley or whatever fresh herbs she has on hand. But like, CRAZY amounts. Like, a whole bunch of it). Along with some turkey, and some carrots- I had a CRAZY carrots craving!

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