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The Essential Human Factor
by: padre art
"Bread is like dresses, hats and shoes - in other words, essential."
--- Emily Post
It has been bread making that has helped or even driven human civilization. This is especially true of pre-pottery cultures. You might even say bread has made us human.
Archeological digs that are almost 20,000 years old have yielded grains of wild ‘Emmer’ wheat used by our distant ancestors. Evidence shows that as far back as 10,000 BCE, at least, people were cultivating a species of Emmer.
This early cultivation appears to have occurred about the same time in what is now Turkey and India. The idea traveled quickly and Emmer wheat became a staple in ancient Egypt for both brewing and baking loaves.
The ancient Egyptians loved both beer and bread. In the Egypt of the pharaohs there were as many as 30 varieties of artisan loaves available for public consumption.
The recipe I use for our daily bread has been handed down for about 500 years. It is so basic (flour, water, yeast and salt) that it has probably been used in one form or another for thousands of years. What makes this recipe different from other recipes is the long beating of the pre-dough batter.
- 3 cups unbleached bread flour (divided)
- 1 1/2 cups warm water
- 1 package yeast
- 1 tsp. salt
Mix the yeast with the warm water. I find that it helps to mix the yeast with 1/2 tsp. brown sugar before blending in the water. This keeps the yeast from clumping, helps it mix evenly and feeds the yeast. Allow the yeast to develop for 10 minutes.
Pour the yeast and water into 2 cups of the flour reserving one cup of flour. Add water if necessary to make a pancake-like batter and beat vigorously for 10 minutes. This is the stage where you start to control the finished texture of the bread.
For a tight crumb suitable for sandwiches keep the batter as thick as possible. If you want an open cell structure with lots of bubbles keep the batter thin. Add the salt to the batter after beating for 8 minutes and then beat for the last two minutes to incorporate the salt.
Add the reserved cup of flour to the batter to make a rough ball of dough. This is the second and final opportunity you have to influence the texture of your daily bread.
The wetter the better if you are looking for an open cell structure in the finished loaf of bread. A dry yet tacky dough will result in a nice sandwich style bread. The wet dough is more difficult to handle but one that is moist and is tacky, not sticky, will give an excellent texture to the finished loaf.
Lightly coat a bowl with olive oil, place the dough in and coat with oil by rolling it around. Cover and let rise for 2 hours. It will just about double in size.
This dough is usually light and so instead of punching down I like to stretch the dough and roll it in on itself briefly. Return to the oiled bowl, roll it around to coat and cover to rise for another 90 minutes.
This bread recipe will make one 9x5 loaf and one smaller loaf, 4x8. Lightly oil the pans with olive oil and divide the dough by cutting of 1/3. Handling the dough gently, place each piece in its respective pan.
Allow another 45 minute rise time to let the dough just about double in size. Preheat oven to 500° F.
Place pans in hot oven and turn temperature to 450° F.
Bake for 20 minutes then rotate the pans 180° and bake for another 15 to 20 minutes depending on how you like the color of your crust. Cool on a rack for 1/2 an hour before slicing.
This is a versatile daily bread that can be made into a sandwich bread with a tightly knit cell structure or a Ciabatta-like crumb with large air spaces just by manipulating the amount of water in the batter and dough.
Wet batter and moist dough equals large bubbles in the finished loaf. A thick batter and a dry yet tacky dough gives a delicious sandwich bread.
Potential variations are almost endless for this versatile bread recipe and my favorite is to add about 1/2 cup wheat germ to the flour. This simple addition gives a richness to the color and enhances the flavor, aroma and nutritional value.
Daily Bread Recipe is good served with your recipes. Click here to find meal ideas!
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