by Anna Herman
It is hard to improve upon the fresh bread available from so many excellent local bakeries. But you can come close, and few things are as magical as transforming flour, water and salt into fragrant loaves—so it is worth your time to try. Whether turning out unleavened, hand-rolled flatbreads, or creating a crusty sourdough boule through the loving tending of natural sourdough microbes, home bread baking is easily accomplished and offers many satisfactions.
Quality flour is key. There are several local mills, and many sources for the ground grains whose flour features in bread recipes. Patience can be helpful, but not essential. Cornbread or Irish soda bread—batter leavened with baking soda or powder—can be on the table within 45 minutes.
Requiring a bit more planning ahead are raised yeast breads, which get their texture—and much of their flavor—from the life of yeast, and the yeast’s interactions with the main components of the flour.
All flours have yeast food in their carbohydrates, and wheat flours in particular have a significant protein (gluten), which creates structure. Yeasts digest these carbohydrates, multiplying and creating carbon dioxide gas, which makes the dough bubble and rise. The gluten can be encouraged to form a matrix to enrobe and hold this gas within the body of the bread. The physical action of kneading was a traditional—and still widely used—method to develop these gluten strands.
A modern look at the science behind the process has created a new no-need-to-knead tradition. No-knead bread recipes feature moist doughs, and allow yeast and enzymes in the flour to do the job of forming gluten structure with much less fuss. Purists will debate techniques, rising times, flour combinations and oven temperatures. Many good books, blogs and videos can expand your understanding of the options. A hot loaf of bread out of the oven is always good; so don’t let perfection be the enemy of the delicious.
The practical art of bread baking has been evolving for over 30,000 years. Add this homesteading skill to your repertoire, and you can continue a body-and-soul-nourishing human endeavor with a few simple ingredients and a little time.
Quick No-Knead Multi-Grain Bread
1 ½ cups whole-wheat flour
½ cup all-purpose white or bread flour
½ cup whole rye or oat flour
½ cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon instant yeast
1 ½ teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon balsamic vinegar
Sesame or poppy seeds for top of bread
Oil as needed
Mix all ingredients in a large bowl. Add 1 ½ cups very warm water and stir well with a strong wooden spoon until blended. Dough will be sticky and rough.
Cover bowl with a dish cloth. Let dough rise about 4 to 6 hours until doubled in bulk—time will depend on the ambient room temperature.
Oil an 8- or 9-inch loaf pan very well, as dough tends to be sticky. Lightly oil your hands and form dough into a rectangle to fit in the pan neatly. Sprinkle with seeds if desired.
Lightly oil top of loaf and cover with waxed paper. Let dough rise in the pan for about one hour until it has clearly puffed and just risen over the top edge.
Preheat oven to 350 F. Bake bread for 40-45 minutes. To ensure bread is done, you can check the internal temperature with an instant-read thermometer (every cook should have one!) of 195-205 degrees. Remove bread from pan and cool on a rack.