bread


I recently started making breadsticks on a semi-regular basis. The reason for this is that the first time I made them, I took a couple of shortcuts with the recipe, and ended up with the easiest ever breadsticks that my family absolutely loves. These are easier than buying a tube of “biscuit” dough and popping it open. They’re more stick than bread, not like those fluffy, gross things you get at everyone’s favorite fake Italian restaurant. They’re long, crispy on the outside, and very slightly chewy on the inside. Depending on how fat you make them, of course. We like them about as big around as a toothbrush. I don’t roll them out, so they’re slightly uneven, but the rolling takes sooo much time. Trust me, this way is better. Also, this dough makes fantastic pizza crust.

(You will notice that some of the photos are taken from about 3 1/3 feet above the floor. This is where I could no longer do the one-handed photography, and my wonderful little Calvin came to my rescue.)

Here’s what you do:

3 cups of all-purpose flour
1 cup of whole wheat flour
1 1/2 teaspoons active dry yeast OR 1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 3/4 teaspoons salt
almost 2 cups cool water

In the bowl of an electric mixer, with the dough hook attached, measure flours, yeast*, and salt. Mix on low for a minute, to incorporate the salt and yeast. With the mixer running, add the water until it forms a ball on the hook. Mix on the second speed for about 4 minutes. If it’s too sticky, and there’s a lot of dough still on the side of the bowl, add flour a tablespoon at a time, until it pulls away. Stop the mixer and let the dough rest for 5 minutes. Mix again at the second speed for about 2 more minutes. Place the dough into an oiled bowl, cover, and let rise for a while.

I say a while, because the rising is not so crucial here. I’ve let this rise for 1 1/2 hours, and for 3 hours. Once it’s risen, you can put it in the fridge for later. Just take it out about 1/2 hour before you plan on baking. You can also put it in the fridge overnight, which will improve the flavor. If you want, you can punch the dough down and let it rise again, which will also improve the flavor, but it’s not necessary.

About an hour before dinner time, preheat the oven to 425 degrees. Grab a sheet pan and grease it with olive oil.
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Spread the oil until it all over. Set it aside.
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Flour your work surface. Yes, this is the entire work surface in my kitchen. Derek and I were talking last night about how, next time we buy a house, we won’t pick one with a mini kitchen.
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GENTLY loosen the dough from the bowl and dump it onto the floured surface. You don’t want to de-gas the dough, you want all the bubbles.
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With a knife or bench scraper, cut the dough roughly in half.
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Keep one half, and return the other half to the bowl and cover.
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If you are making a lot of breadsticks, you’ll use that other half. You won’t want to make extra for tomorrow, because these don’t keep especially well. The nice thing is that when you want more tomorrow, you can just pull the extra dough out of the fridge, cut it, and bake!

Cut that piece in half again.
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Move one half aside, take the other half, and gently pull the corners so you have a rough rectangle.
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Cut a piece from the long edge, about a finger’s width.
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Pick up the piece from both ends.
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Gently pull each end.
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It should stretch really easily, since you didn’t de-gas it or knead it after it came out of the bowl. When it’s about as long as your pan,
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lay it on the pan, the long way.
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Continue until your pan is full, then brush a little olive oil on each breadstick.
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I like to sprinkle Kosher salt on the breadsticks. Sesame and poppy seeds are also really good.
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Bake them for about 12 minutes, then check them. If they are not golden, bake for a few more minutes. If they are brown, they are maybe a little over done, but certainly not burned! These ones were crispy and yummy!
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You could experiment on how crispy you like them. I like them to be able to stand straight, so you could put them in a vase or something, and to crunch when bitten, but to have a chewy center. If they’re brown like the darker ones above, they will be crispy all through, like a long crouton, but still excellent.

One night when I made these, I realized I only had one cup of all-purpose flour. I substituted 2 cups of bread flour, and 1 tablespoon olive oil, to tenderize the dough, since bread flour has that extra gluten. I think you could also skip the whole wheat flour and use all white, but you might need less water. And if you’re in a high-altitude place, or a desert, you will need more water to make the dough soft enough.

*If you are using dry yeast and you like to proof it first, add it to 1 cup of the water, dissolve, and wait until it bubbles up a little. If you are using instant yeast, you just add it directly to the dry flour. If you’re like me, you use yeast often enough that you only proof it the first time you use it, just to make sure it’s alive, and then you pretty much use up the whole jar in a couple of months, before it has time to die. Also, you always keep it in the fridge or freezer.

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For the bread recipe, just be patient. Or scroll down, if you just cannot wait. First, I have to complain a little. A friend around the corner, who had a baby just 3 weeks before I did, is signed up and training for a half-marathon in April. That’s two months away. She ran 4 miles last Saturday, and I ran about 1 1/2. I am trying so hard to take it slow, even when I feel like I can keep going. This morning, I’m sure I could have kept going after my allotted 9 minutes, but I know recovery takes time. All the same, I’m so dang jealous that she’s doing a 1/2 marathon.

I think I will try for the Provo River half marathon in the middle of August, but I’m not even sure I’ll still be in Utah. We’re moving, and I think the target date is August 14th. (And we’re going to a place with no mountains. I’m not positive I will survive.) The only problem with the Provo River is those first three miles down South Fork Canyon. They’re so steep that last time I did it, my knees were trashed. I don’t usually get hurt running downhill at a normal pace, but racing…

So, although I’m jealous, I just don’t think it would be wise for me to try to get up to 13 miles by April. Maybe a 5k in April or May, and a 10k in June or July. Someday I’ll be like my crazy dad and do 50 milers all summer.

OK, here’s the bread. I love the recipe from The Bread Baker’s Apprentice for whole wheat bread. It takes 2 days, with a poolish overnight, and a soaking of some coarse ground flour. I tell ya, that is good bread. The overnight ferment makes it taste like real bread, it doesn’t dry out very fast, it has a great chewy texture, and it’s the best 100% whole wheat bread I’ve ever had. So if you want that recipe, it’s copywrited. Go buy the book. It will be worth it, plus you’ll learn all sorts of crazy chemistry that maybe you didn’t want to know.

I make another bread often that is also pretty darn good. It’s not in a cookbook, so I’m pretty sure I can share it without worrying about the bread-recipe-hit-men. I like my knees, and, as explained above, I need them in good condition.

Mine is not 100% whole grain, so it’s a little softer, but not squishy like white sandwich bread. (Does anyone else call them sammiches? I just got Vegan with a Vengeance, by Isa Chandra Moskowitz, and she has recipes for sammiches. I think that’s cute.) But I do like the texture and flavor of added wheat bran. Also, it has those little speckles. Here it is:

Speckled Brown Bread

3 cups warm water
1 1/4 t instant yeast, or 1 T active dry yeast, or 1 packet yeast
1 1/2 cups wheat bran
3 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten, optional

Mix this all together (if using instant yeast, just mix, if active dry, moisten yeast in water before adding flour and bran). Cover with plastic wrap and ferment for an hour or so, till pretty bubbly. You can put in the fridge for later, or continue now. If you refrigerate it, be sure to take it out about an hour before you plan to continue, so it won’t be cold.

Add:
3 T canola oil
3 T honey, or sugar if you’re vegan
1 T salt

mix well.

Add about 2 cups all-purpose flour, or bread flour if you didn’t add gluten, and mix. Turn the dough out onto a floured surface and knead for about 15 minutes, adding flour as necessary. Listen to some good music, and get the kids into the kitchen to dance with you. Give them a little piece of dough to knead, and I bet they’ll be occupied for half an hour, if they don’t eat it raw. If you have carpal tunnel syndrome, use the dang mixer. I think it should only take about 6 minutes in a Kitchen-Aid type thing.

Put the dough in a big, greased bowl, cover with the same piece of plastic wrap you already used (come on, try to save the planet with me) and let rise for about 2 hours, until it doubles in size.

When it’s done rising, punch it down. I like to weigh the lump and divide it exactly in two. Today, my two loaves were 835 g and 836 g, using this recipe. Knead the dough for just a minute, to get the big bubbles out, and shape into loaves. Put into greased loaf pans, cover with that same piece of plastic wrap (don’t worry, I’ll let you throw it away after this), and let rise about an hour, till the sides are peeking above the tops of the pans.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Put the loaves in for 30 minutes, rotate them, and bake about 15 minutes more, until they’re golden brown, sound hollow when tapped, and register 185 degrees in the middle. Just kidding, I never get out the thermometer either.

Don’t, but Do Not cut the bread until it is cool. That means at least an hour of heavenly I-made-my-own-bread aromas wafting through your house and driving your upstairs neighbors crazy before you get out that knife. If you cut it while it’s still warm, you mash up the still-denaturing proteins and get a gooey middle. Or a hole. You don’t want a sandwich bread with a hole in the middle. If you ever do get the hole, for any reason not necessarily relating to the cutting of your bread, email me and I will tell you why it happened. I’ve gotten holy bread enough times to be able to diagnose a host of problems in the bread triage.

Now, you can give one loaf to your neighbor and have a friend for life, or you can save it for toast tomorrow, because your family will eat one entire loaf for dinner tonight. Or, after it’s completely cool, you can freeze it. I don’t bother freezing anymore, since my boys always want toast for breakfast, lunch, dinner, and snacks.

I just started a seed culture for some sour rye, so check back in a couple of weeks and I’ll tell you how it went.

For some people, breadmaking is a form of meditation. It is calming, and earthy. For me, I just really like fresh, home-made bread. I also like doing things that will in some way show my commitment to sustainability. By using my own steam, I am saving a microscopic amount of energy, keeping myself warm so I can feel better about having the thermostat low, and teaching my family that not everything has to come from a store. I like to make bread, but it is time consuming.

So, I like to listen to good music and get in a little dancing in the morning while I make my bread. My current favorite music for kneading is Close to the Bone, by Old Blind Dogs. They are a Scottish folk band with some modern influence. They are highly danceable. I especially like the ballad The Cruel Sister, and the instrumentals The Honeymoon reel/ Kings/ The Clayslaps reel, and The Universal Hall/ The Nuptial Knot/ The Barlinnie Highlander. The pipe tunes are so sweet, I can’t keep my feet still, and the rhythms are perfect for kneading, or for dancing with your baby. My kids also love this stuff. Calvin always sings along with the fa-la-las on The Cruel Sister. I’m sort of glad he can’t understand the words, though.

I also love Spanish Guitar Music, a collection by John Williams. He is so smooth, not at all distracting with crazy loose interpretation. Just the right kind of rhythmic. I hate listening to music where I can’t find the beat, or keep track of it. I listened to some Pablo Cassals the other day, and it nearly drove me crazy. He might be a master, but I like my Bach with a discernible beat. Not metronomic, just not so free that you can’t follow it. That’s how dear Pablo was. I couldn’t hang on to the melodies, I felt like I was in a small boat on the big ocean. Wave after wave was tossing me up and down. I might try that again someday, but definitely not for breadmaking.

Another good one is the soundtrack to Footloose. But that’s only if you’re really feeling hyper, and you have a jungle-gym to swing on in your kitchen.

I love The Bread Baker’s Apprentice, by Peter Reinhart. This book has changed the way I think of bread, from the making all the way to the cutting and eating. I love bread, and I always will. Apprentice gives general instructions for all breads, and specific formulas for individual, and fantastic breads. The scientific section is so readable that I sat down and read it all the day I got the book. I have been accused of reading cookbooks, but this one was like a novel. I loved learning about yeast, the properties of flours, different kinds of heat, ovens, crazy places in Paris that I’ll probably never get to go to, and what to expect from a perfect loaf of bread. Also, it has a formula for the most intense and fantastical corn bread I’ve ever had. I made it the day after Thanksgiving for a big group, and it was a smash hit. Bacon. Yes, bacon.

Rose Levy Beranbaum’s The Bread Bible is similar to Apprentice, but has many more formulas. She seems to really like sweet things, breads with chocolate in them, etc. She is not a meditator. I found her introduction slightly off-putting, just because she so vehemently denied any spirituality in breadmaking. I just can’t think how one woman can tell anyone else that they can’t feel spiritual about any one thing. And I had already read Apprentice, which, to me, is much more welcoming and personal. It’s more about love. The Bread Bible has pretty pictures, and is very comprehensive. It has the same scientific info as Apprentice, so it really has what you need, and it has formulas for all those rich things like brioche and biscuits and chocolate bread. I just don’t like the tone as much. I feel like she thinks she knows everything, and is merely blessing us with her literary offerings. Granted, she does know a heck of a lot.

Another favorite is The Secrets of Jesuit Breadmaking, by Rick Curry. If you want something spiritual, here it is. He give recipes for seasonal breads, feast breads, and everyday breads. He also throws in some prayers, thoughts on meditation, beautiful stories of his breadmaking journey, and the joy he gets from sharing his bread. He makes bread every day, always some to give away. I love that. And the guy only has one arm. He makes his bread by hand, with one arm. I haven’t tried any of the recipes, because I only borrowed the book and had to give it back. But I think I’m going to buy it.

Before I had The Bread Baker’s Apprentice and The Bread Bible, I started with Secrets of a Jewish Baker, by George Greenstein. This is a good starter book. It does not go into detail about the science of bread, and the recipes sometimes have to be adjusted for your location (recipes are given in English measurements, not metric. I live in a very dry place, so flour is dryer and needs more moisture per cup to hydrate it fully. It is easier to weigh the flour and the water, rather than using a cup measure), and I also found more success with lower oven temperatures than the ones recommended. But the recipes are good, and uncomplicated. He give instructions for sponge and straight-dough methods, with hand mixing, food-processor mixing, and stand-mixer mixing. I think that’s helpful, especially for a beginning breadmaker.

But if you’re only going to get one book about bread, get The Bread Baker’s Apprentice.