I regret even having this thought, but I fear there may be a good amount of truth in the adage that boys never actually grow up, their toys just get more and more expensive! While I don’t think of myself as one of those perennial adolescents -as I’m sure no others do either- I do save my mad money for an occasional “tool” to make my current obsession easier, better, or in this case, tastier. I am the new proud owner of a Wonder Mill (I bought mine here), which for all you uninitiated is a grain grinder. Yup, I now can grind my own flour – at least my own whole wheat flour.
Big Whoop you say! Well, OK – I admit it seems counter-productive to buy a grain mill for $220, and then go buy wheat berries for twice what ground flour costs – just so you can say you grind your own bread flour! But then you get to taste some bread that’s been made from freshly ground grain, and then you know!!! But my friends, there’s more – lot’s more.
Let’s talk about bread flour. Would anyone like to guess why white bread is America’s favorite bread, when it’s common knowledge that any other kind of bread is more nutritious (other than that we are a nation of fools)? Here’s my theory – bread has always been one of man’s major foods, and when everyone got their bread from the village bakery, the day after the flour was milled at the village flour mill, white bread WAS NOT the most popular bread – but breads that could be made from freshly ground whole grains were! In fact, white bread as we know it didn’t even exist, common, everyday bread was a light brown, and was probably called “wheat” bread. And everyone was happy.
The white bread battle took shape at the turn of the 20th Century – It was then that America’s titans of food were beginning to grow big – and strong – and commercial bakeries appeared in our urban areas, and they began to sell bread for less than the neighborhood bakeries – but they had one major problem – the shelf life of their bread was too short, and that cut into their profits. But then they discovered if they removed the bran and the germ of the wheat kernel before making flour, there was no oil left in the kernel and therefore no chance for it to go rancid – and a more stable product with a longer shelf life meant higher profits. And then they discovered that instead of aging the flour to make it completely white, they could short-cut the process by bleaching the flour chemically (time is money, you know). These two factors combined to create classic American White Bread, and almost overnight, our national bread eating habits changed. And when, in 1930, the Continental Baking Company introduced Wonder Bread, sliced and wrapped American White Bread that was soft and light as a cloud and sweet on the tongue; the battle was over.
Only some 50 years later did America wake to the fact that something had been sacrificed in their zeal for white bread, namely nutrition and taste! Now we know the extent of our culture’s sacrifice – along with the bran and the germ went nutrients like dietary fiber, iron, B vitamins and other micro-nutrients – but most of all went flavor. And as I took that first bite, it all came rushing back – and I knew!
Yeah, I’m preaching to the choir – you guys knew all that. But let’s get back to the question, Is my new toy worth the investment? In a way, that’s a dumb question, isn’t it? It all depends on one’s perspective at the moment – and it’s purely subjective! While I have convinced myself that my own investment is justified by the pleasure I get each time I bite into a new creation made with freshly ground flour, I am also amused by my neighbor friend’s fishing tales, and what it says about his buddy’s “boy toys”. Seems he goes out fishing with a guy who spent some $20,000 to buy a boat, but now he can’t afford the gas to go out, so he invites a few “friends” along, who always buy the gas. Sometimes they catch something, sometimes they don’t! In either case, I’m amused when I hear my friend talk about about how much “free” fish he’s putting in his freezer. Ha.
Yup – it’s all perspective, but I can’t help feel that my toy will soon repay my investment simply because I’m baking breads that I can’t even buy anywhere around here – and then you add the taste, and the health consideration, and probably most of all, the pure joy a baking nut gets out of playing with dough – and knowing that few others are able to have so much fun and then have even more pleasure in eating the fruits of their labor/fun!
Here’s the first bread I made with the first flour from my Wonder Mill – I wanted a very simple bread to show just how good it could be by using freshly ground flour. So I basically used the Bittman/Lahey No Knead formula, and added a little molasses (damn, I love molasses with whole wheat) to bring out even more flavor. I’m going to give you actual measurements, but of course you know that I don’t use measurements when I make bread like this – when you use a sourdough starter in a non sourdough formula, you’re really just winging it anyway – and I encourage you to get to know how dough “feels”, ’cause that’s the real beginning of knowledge as a baker. Feel your way to success!
Simple Whole Grain Bread
(with freshly ground flour)
* 2 cups of wheat berries (this will make 3 cups of flour)
* 100 grams or so of sourdough starter (if you’re using sourdough here, please just feel your way to a wet dough! – If you’re not using sourdough, just leave it out and follow the formula.)
* tiny pinch of instant yeast if you use sourdough – if not using sourdough, add 1/4 tsp of yeast.
* 1 5/8 cups water
* 2 tsp kosher salt
* 1/4 cup of molasses
* Grind the wheat berries (my machine has a “Bread Flour” setting – I used that.).
* Mix all the above ingredients just until all is wet.
* Spray/coat with oil and put dough in plastic bag and place in fridge overnight.
* Remove from fridge in morning and bring to room temp (maybe an hour or two).
* Stretch dough into a rectangle to fit a high edged pan (I have 12″x10″ basic restaurant pans that are perfect).
* Spray/coat with oil, cover, and put in a warm area to proof for about 3-4 hours.
* Bake at 375F for 35-40 minutes, or until interior reaches 205F degrees.
I do quite a bit of bread in pans like this, since it simplifies the process, and it’s practical for making into roll sized pieces for later freezing – you just remove from the pan and cut into whatever size you wish. Nice!
Damn, this was good bread! Even with this simplest of loaves, the taste was such that it’s hard to resist not having just one more piece! And that, my friends, is the only significant measurement one really needs – Right?