On the Foundation of Any Serious Meal: Bread

Bread is the quintessential food item; The base of every civilization; The ultimate utilization and refinement of grains. It is the beginning and the end each meal. I know to much to tell, but imagine this world without bread. Bread through the history of the humanity has been the solely energy source. In ancient Egypt the slave working in the pyramids were fed on bread onions and garlic. In Greece there is a saying that describes friendship that goes like “We ate bread and salt together”. Bread and salt. Bread the basic food. The elemental food source. Salt the most precious commodity.
Bread is a simple item that is made with simple ingredients, flour, water, yeast and salt. It does, however, mind how we bring them together and what ingredients we use. We can go back to the cake post, the greek cake fanouropita. There we said that flour is the bricks that bring the cake together. The egg is the glue. And the butter is the cement that separates the bricks that have the tendency to stick together. Of course we have no butter and no eggs here. Do we need them though? Bread is supposed to be the basic food item. Strong enough to support meat, sauces, cheese or be robust all by itself. It has to be strong enough to be able withstand the abuse. So in this case we don’t need the butter. Eggs. Eggs would seem important especially after what we just described. But when it comes to eggs, there are two issues. From one side eggs where not as available as now, expensive and rare. Also the biggest problem is that they spoil easy and the bread would have only a few days of lifetime. And back then bread making was not an easy task. It was usually a task that was undertaken once a month in order to make the entire months bread. Or at least my grandmother used to. So eggs are not an option. But again do we need them? The truth again is no. We don ’t need no stinking eggs. The answer is just high protein (gluten) flour. The water interacts with the gluten and greats an very dense network of proteins that will provide all the support the bread requires. The more we mix the flour and the water the strongest the network. Oh and the yeast, which is just the leveling agent. You know gas to puff up the bread.

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So here are the ingredients. Some of them are optional, but we will get to that very soon. So here we go:

  • 1 lb of whole wheat flour (make sure it is the rated as bread flour or as high protein flour)
  • 1 lb of bread flour (high protein… yeah I use all purpose here just pretend you did not see this)
  • 5 cups of good quality water
  • Yeast 1 tbsp per lb of flour and 2 if it is whole wheat flour
  • 1 tbsp salt
  • Sugar/honey or another sweetener: We don’t necessary need this, but this will wake up the yeast much quicker. It will make the bread more interesting.
  • Optional: Spices, seasonings and flavorings. Here I used smoked paprika and smoked salt just to add to a rustic taste.

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Start by adding the whole wheat flour in a bowl.

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Follow that with the bread flour.

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And mix them well together.

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Take about two cups of the mix and place it in another ball.

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Add the yeast.

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And bring three cups of water to about 110 F or roughly where your finger feel comfortable.

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Measure roughly 2 tbsp of the sweetener in a cup.

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Add the water to dissolve it with a cup of hot water.

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And use a spoon to mix it.

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Add it to the flour and follow it with remaining two cups of water.

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Mix throughly.

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Cover it with a plastic wrap… loosely.

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and a towel to keep it warm.

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Leave it there until it doubles in volume. About 30 minutes based on the ambient temperature.

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Now make a whole in the rest of the flour.

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And add there the proofed yeast.

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Season with salt .

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Mix it roughly.

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And add the remaining water.

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Now is time for the extra seasoning if you want.

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If you think it is too sticky or too dry add more flour or water respectively.

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When everything is mixed you should have a silky dough that is very soft to the touch and springy.

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Again cover with plastic wrap…

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and a towel.

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Let this in a worm place to proof for at least tow hours or until it is doubled in volume. Like this. I put mine in the oven. I have a gas oven so there is a pilot light that is always on and keeps the temperature around 100 F (40 C) that is perfect for this job. And this is how it looks when it doubles in volume.

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Punch down the dough. Well this is not really punching down. What we try to do here is to redistribute the bubbles in the dough. The bubbles will be the nucleation point where the extra CO2 will go and expand when heated. That will give rise to the bread. So redistributing them will ensure even rise.

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Now prepare a sifter with a couple of tbsp of flour and a spoon. No need to use the spoon. Just shake it and the flower will shower everything you want.

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Remove the dough. A bit sticky but that’s fine. It should be like that.

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Use the sifter to cover the dough. It will make it easier to handle.

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Fold it repeatedly 10-15 times.

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Punch it well for 10 mins. You have definitely heard the expression “do not over mix the dough”. Well here is the only case that you need to do so. This will result in gluten that will result in the structure of the bread.

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Once done portion the dough in sizable portion.

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I made three. Two will become round loafs and the other one just rolls.

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Whatever you do, just make sure you lightly lube the pan and use some grits or oatmeal as sticking protection.

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That’s the grits ya all.

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Add the dough and flatten it a bit.

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To proof the bread we need hot water.

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Place in a pan in the oven.

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And add the loafs and let them proof, you guessed it, until they double in size.

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Here are the loafs proofed and ready to be baked.

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Before that happens however, make slits on the skin that it formed during the proofing. This will allow the bread to rise. Bake in 350 F until the internal temperature is about 210 F, or until they should hollow when you knock on them.

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Here are loafs baked and cooled. Not really cool. Warm.

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Warm and excellent with olive oil. Have a pick at this amazing structure. Soft interior, crusty crust (?)….

They say that man cannot leave on bread alone. Well it depends on the bread. When it is a homemade crusty rustic it is easy.

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