Over the years our family has tinkered with breadmaking and came to the quick conclusion that breadmaking is more than a recipe or science; it is an art. The best breads are produced by those that learn the feel of the dough, can sense the perfect rising time, and knows at just the right moment that the loaf if fully cooked, yet not overbaked. I was always skeptical of the ravings of those that grind their own grain. Does it really make such a difference? I can now say that I have joined their throngs. Freshly ground flour adds a definite difference to any loaf of bread.
Our family decided several years ago to purchase a Nutrimill grain mill. At the time that we made this purchase, many of the mills on the market were known for the loud noise that was produced when in use. The Nutrimill had a special housing unit that helped to reduce the volume while it was in use. The picture above shows wheat berries on the left and the freshly ground flour on the right. The flour is very light and holds a larger amount of air from being freshly ground. It is also a much softer flour from the natural oils of the grain being released when it is ground. We have also used our Nutrimill to grind corn meal from organic whole corn kernels. In addition to wheat berries, it is always fun to experiment with other grains for their differences in texture and flavor. Spelt is an artisan grain that tends to be much lighter. Many families use Spelt when they are first transitioning from store bought breads. Our family has also enjoyed the nutty flavor of buckwheat, especially in pancake recipes.
The grain is simply placed in the top of the mill and will be ground and dispensed into the flour reservoir in the bottom. There is very little cleaning or maintenance needed. The mill does have some settings to adjust depending on the size and hardness of the grain that is being processed. In addition to the grains mentioned above, we have ground rice flour and corn meal in our Nutrimill. It is not recommended to grind nuts in a grain mill to produce nut flours.
Depending on the the busyness of our day, we will sometimes do all of our breadmaking in a bread machine. On other days, we will knead the dough, allow it to rise and then bake it in the oven. Yesterday, we did a combination. I made the dough and allowed it to rise in our bread machine and then baked it in the oven. There are times that I specifically do this because of a desired size of the bread. Our bread machine produced magnificent bread, but the final loaf when sliced does not fit neatly in sandwich bags for days when we will be away running errands or attending balls games; while bread baked in normal loaf pans in the oven will.
Having extra gadgets around the house may seem really expensive. I completely understand. We did not have a bread machine until about 3 months ago and then it was very unintentional. The girls and I happened to be in our local Good Will store and came across this Oster breadmachine priced at only $5.50. I asked the manager if there was an outlet that I could plug it into to see if it worked. Everything seemed to be in order so we left with a $5.50 bread machine that was an unexpected expense, but has already paid for itself tenfold.
A little miscellaneous fact we learned was that bread machines do have their “little things”. I was rushing around early in the morning trying to get us out of the house one day and could not get the bread machine to work. Each time I plugged it in and then hit the start button, it read an error message. After a little internet research, I discovered that it was a matter of temperature. We were heating our home with our wood stove at the time. The mornings could be a bit chilly if everyone slept soundly the night before and didn’t get up to put woodon the fire. That particular morning it was 58 degrees when I was trying to start that first loaf of bread. When I realized this and we got the stove stoked up, I moved my little bread machine into the family room right next to the stove and it worked like a charm.
A post about breadmaking would feel thoroughly incomplete without a recipe. This recipe is for the brown bread we made yesterday and is from The Amish Country Cookbook Volume III. Sometimes the kids like to call it our “half breed bread” as their uncle fondly likes to tease them about being “half breeds” in combining my northern heritage with Gary’s fine Southern upbringing. Half breed or Brown bread is simply a recipe that allows for a mixture of half whole wheat flour and half white flour. This is also a great transition bread for those families that are not used to the denseness of many whole wheat breads as it is much lighter. So here is the recipe.
Combine 1/2 c. white sugar, 3 t. salt, and 1/2 c. butter in a bowl. Then pour 1 1/2 c. hot water over it to melt the butter. When the sugar and salt are dissolved, add 1 1/2 c. cold water to make the mixture warm to the touch. Our 3 to 3 1/2 c. white flour over the water. On top of this sprinkle 1 1/2 T. yeast or 2 packages. Stir or beat with an egg beater until the lumps disappear. Add 3 c. whole wheat flour. Stir with a wooden spoon. Add 1 c. white flour. Knead until it does not stick to hands. Grease top and over with plastic lid/wrap and let rise. Punch down in half an hour and let it rise again until it reaches the top of the bowl. Punch down again and put in pans. Let rise again. Bake in 400 degree oven for 45 minutes.
In using a bread machine for baking, I cut this recipe in half and also layer the ingredients differently. I put the water, butter, salt, and sugar in first. I then add the flour alternating white and wheat as outlined in the recipe and then sprinkle the yeast on top. The benefits of using the bread machine is that once the ingredients are in and you select your setting, just hit start and come back in about 3 hours. It does the kneading, rising, and baking without your intervention.
Happy bread making!! Remember bread making is an art, so don’t give up if you don’t get the results you desire on the first go round. And don’t forget to check out consignment stores, GoodWill, the Salvation Army, or other discount centers for used machines at greatly reduced prices!