Wednesday, July 01, 2009

Staff of Life

I want to talk about something important today. I want to talk about bread.

When you're trying to eat healthy, mainstream thought tells us we should avoid bread. Bread is full of carbs! diet gurus shout at us. Don't eat bread--it'll make you fat!

I call bullshit.

The problem with bread is not bread itself. Humans have been eating bread since they started cultivating grain thousands of years ago. How can something that we've subsisted on for so long suddenly be the source of the obesity epidemic?

The answer is that commercially produced bread is...well, less than healthy. Or less than bread. It's an engineered product pumped full of sugar and chemicals to appeal to our desire for soft, ultra-palatable food. There's a reason why white bread is so popular and why really good wheat bread--if full of whole-grain goodness--is difficult to find outside of a natural food store. And commercially produced wheat bread is nothing but brown white bread with a deceptive "made with whole grains" label slapped on it.

Now, I haven't bought that kind of bread in a very long time. I normally go for a sprouted grain bread made by Ozark Natural Breads that is dense and well made. In my opinion, it has a good texture and can in no way be confused with the soft, cakey bread that many folks identify as "bread".

Remember yesterday when I said something about eating peas on a piece of toasted homemade bread? Well, recently I made a 100% whole wheat bread (with Lance's assistance and guidance). And while time consuming, it was reasonably easy. I'd never really made bread before, and my loaves turned out perfectly--and I knew what was in them.

The secret to a good, airy whole wheat bread--many people don't like whole wheat bread because it's so dense or dry--is to first make a sponge and to include a bit of sweetener. You mix together warm water, yeast, some flour, and honey and let it sit for an hour. The sugars give the yeast something to get it going, and it digests the whole wheat flour a little faster than it might without it. I ended up using part agave syrup because I didn't have quite enough honey, and the yeast really liked it.

After the sponge ferments for a bit, you mix in the rest of the ingredients: salt, oil (also key for a moister loaf) and more whole wheat flour. Knead until elastic, which gets the gluten forming--you have to knead and knead, but it's kind of fun and totally pays off.

A 1.5-2 hour rising, and then the loaves are ready to be shaped and let sit for another 45 minutes for the final rising. Here they are with their tops slashed, ready for the oven. If you don't want to make traditional loaves, you can also shape them into other formats, such as Lance's happy little boule:

The point is that bread does take time to make, but it's totally worth it. And most of that time is just waiting for the yeast to do its work! You get the satisfaction of knowing you aren't supporting companies that offer up little more than bread-flavored swill, and it's far more satisfying to slice into your own loaf then to pull pre-sliced bread from a bag.

Spread it with a little jam (homemade strawberry-rhubarb preserves are pretty good on it, which you see in the picture), slice it up for sandwiches, or eat a chunk with a fresh garden salad, and you'll understand why bread is considered vital to human meals throughout history.

1 comment:

Kathryn said...

Oh, I LOVE bread! Especially since we got a panini maker as a wedding gift. Yum! Have to really watch my bread/baked-goods intake in order to stay light enough to work on my jumpbacks. This sure has gotten hard though, since I married the carb-King. :)

If you ever have extra homemade loaves and don't know what to do with them, you can always drop some off at my house. Hehehe.