Sunday, November 11, 2012

Goin' With the Grain

Living as far as we do from town, freezer space is at a premium, so I make all our bread from scratch as it’s easier to keep the ingredients around and besides nothing is more delicious than fresh homemade bread.

There are a few things in my kitchen that in my mind, make life a LOT easier. A stand mixer, several sizes of glass measuring cups for liquids, (multiple 1 cup, 2 cup, 4 cup and 11 cup)several sets of stainless steel measuring cups for dry measure, a danish dough whisk for stirring dough and a couple sets of measuring spoons. These all get used frequently and are kept out within reach, either on my open shelf, in a crock or hanging from the cabinet. A grain mill is a handy thing to have as well, as I have recently begun to mill my own flour and keep 3 kinds of wheat berries in large food safe buckets with  a bay leaf inside and gamma lids. They will store this way indefinitely and I mill flour as I need it. The bay leaf keeps weevils at bay. If I am going to do a lot of baking, I will mill a week’s worth of flour and keep it in the fridge, but let it warm to room temp before using. I also have on hand, loaf pans,  various sizes of baking stones, a clay baker and a couple of different brotforms (dough basket) and a pastry cloth.

For some of the bread I make, I will need to feed my sourdough starter. I keep a pretty good sized jar of it, so I will just put 1/2-1 cup of flour in with 1/2-1 cup of warm water to feed it. I’ll cover it back up with the cloth I keep on it (you don’t want to cover sourdough with a non permeable lid as it needs to draw yeast from the air). I use a widemouth canning jar with a square of cloth and a canning ring or rubber band. This keeps everything out of it, but allows a free exchange of air. Most of the time, I have my starter in the refrigerator. I take it out and feed it several hours before I need to use it and let it warm up to room temperature. I don’t keep it out all the time as I would then have to feed it everyday, and it would also interfere with cheesemaking. Never make bread and cheese the same day, as the yeast in the air will cause problems with your cheese.
Sometimes you might have to pour out some of the starter to make room for more flour and water. Anytime you use your starter you are going to get some build up on the side of your jar and inside the rim. Every now and then I take this buildup, set it aside to dry completely then put it in a baggie in the freezer. I've also been known to spread some thinly on wax paper and set it out to dry. This way if something should ever happen to my original starter which is now several years old, I can rehydrate this and continue on as before. I can also ship it to friends who would like to start making some sourdough of their own. There are tons of horror stories about someone cleaning out a refrigerator and dumping out the starter thinking it was something old. Some starters may have come West in wagon trains and it would be a shame for them to go out of existence this way. Mine was started about 10 years ago in my kitchen, but it improves with age and I have no desire to begin all over. *note Keep starter in a non metallic crock & use non metallic spoons, etc to stir it.

While the starter gets happy and starts to party, I mill some Hard WHITE or Hard RED Wheat flour. I am currently still learning to work with 100% whole wheat breads so I have been using 50% whole wheat flour and 50% commercial bread flour in order to get a nice rise out of my bread without dough conditioners or added gluten. I experiment with those as I have extra time.

Real home milled whole wheat flour has the bran, the germ and the endosperm. With commercial flour, even commercial flour that claims to be whole wheat, the wheat germ is removed. This is to prevent the flour from going rancid so quickly. The truth is, that hours after milling, the nutrients in wheat begin to dissipate. If you have ever bought whole wheat flour and found it smelled like cardboard, it’s gone bad. Typically, commercial flour has had all the beneficial nutrients removed in order to enhance shelf life. The bread you buy today isn’t much more than filler, without much nutritional benefit at all. All manner of things have been added to it from wood pulp to a product derived from human hair, to make it more cost efficient.
By milling your own flour, you save money, have a fresher healthier product with lots of fiber and vitamins. The first thing we noticed when using our own flour was that we don’t eat as much. The real whole grain bread products are so filling we consume only about 1/2 as much as we do with stuff I used to make with commercial flour. The flavor is superior. Instead of the bitterness found in commercial whole wheat flour, there is a sweetness. There just is no comparison.

Hard Red Wheat makes a darker and more deeply wheat flavored bread. I like it best, but Randy likes the Hard White Wheat, which is a bit lighter. Soft White Wheat is low in gluten and is considered Pastry Flour, used for cookies, cakes and things of that nature. My grain mill doesn’t grind as fine as what you might buy in the store and my flour absorbs more liquid so I sometimes have to make adjustments for it. My pastry flour I actually grind twice and sometimes I will sift the pieces of wheat germ out of it to be used in something like cereal.

One recipe we like is adapted from a King Arthur Sourdough recipe online. It calls for 5 cups of flour, so I will mill about 2 cups of wheat berries. 
The 2 cups of wheat berries, once milled, gives me about 3 3/4 to 4 cups of flour. I put 2 1/2 cups of the flour into a quart glass measuring cup and add 1 cup of plain yogurt. Yogurt helps keep bread moist and soft. I almost always have yogurt on hand because I use it for different things and having the cow and goats around, I usually have a good supply of milk. The yogurt mixed with the fresh milled wheat will help to break down the phytic acid, making nutrients more available to us. It will also help to soften the wheat germ which tends to break the gluten strands when bread rises, leaving it flat and heavy. If I don’t have yogurt on hand, I can use buttermilk, milk, whey, or water with a little apple cider vinegar in it. I just like the results with the yogurt the best.

I mix the yogurt and flour with the dough whisk, cover it with plastic wrap and set it aside for a few hours, or overnight.

After I get the dough made, I knead it on my pastry cloth which I have sprinkled some flour on. It makes it a lot easier to clean up if I use the pastry cloth for kneading dough, cutting out cookies or making pie crust. All I need do is sprinkle it with flour, or in the case of cookies, powdered sugar, do what I have to, then shake it over the trash can to let the excess fall off, fold it, and put it in a freezer until I need it again. It’s a great little timesaver.

After rising it in a bowl, I put it in a well floured brotform to rise the second time. I use a piece of parchment paper to flip it from the brotform onto a baking stone and bake it. Once out of the oven, I butter the top because Randyman likes his crust soft. This makes a huge loaf of bread. I cut it in quarters and freeze 3 of them until we are done with the remaining one. 
I might throw together a sponge with my leftover flour and some more sourdough for making waffles in the morning. This is some seriously good stuff!

Sourdough Loaf

2 1/2 cups fresh milled WW flour
1 cup yogurt
1 cup sourdough starter
2 tsp yeast
1 TBL sugar
1/2 cup warm water
2 1/2 tsp salt
2 1/2 cups bread flour

Soak WW flour overnight in yogurt.
Put room temperature starter in mixer with sugar, water and yeast to proof yeast.
Add salt, yogurt mixture. Mix and slowly add bread flour until dough pulls away from bowl. Knead by hand or with dough hook.
Rise til double in warm place
Deflate, fold in thirds and stretch into a ball and place in well floured brotform, or shape into loaves and put in loaf pans.

Rise for second time then bake at 425 for 30-45  min.


  1. Mmmm sourdough bread, My all time favorite. Dad always had some starter in the fridge when I was growing up. It has been years since he last made any. I bet is always smells wonderful around you place. :) The photo at the top of this blog is so cool. Love those dogs of yours. Hugs...

    1. I love sourdough anything. Pancakes, waffles, bread, rolls...its such great stuff!

  2. You could write a book about your life. I'm sure that someone has already told you this. But your ability to be specific and clear, in your writing, is why we say this. The book could be all about what you do and how you do it. You are so good at this.
    The bread makes my mouth water. I need to put my fear of bread making on the back burner and TRY IT... TODAY.
    That dog of yours is quite a magnificent being. What a beautiful photo.

    1. Thanks :) Bread making is definitely a learning curve but once you understand a little about the process, its pretty easy. I love the smell of bread in the oven almost as much as slathering homemade butter on a hot piece that just came out!

  3. Where do you get the wheat berries from? "wood pulp to a product derived from human hair"....yuck. I don't eat a lot of big brand commercial bread anymore as it tends to not agree with me. The bread I get from a local bakery is fine though. I would buy your book! :)

  4. Surprisingly, I found a 50# bucket of Hard White wheat at Costco a few months ago, and I found the Soft White Wheat at a Walmart Superstore. NOt sure if they still carry it or not. Does Azure Standard deliver near you? They have great prices.

  5. I began baking bread at 18( and that was quite a long time ago! ) with my grandmas encouragement. But I have let it slide during the last decade due to assorted life changes. I do bake more often in the winter, but I've noticed that bitterness you mentioned, and now I understand why. Danged if I don't always learn something from your blogs! :) I remember my grandmas bread as always being the most delicious bread I ever had. I used to think it was because she lived far away and I only got to see her in the summer, and everything was always better at grandmas. The sky was even bluer. But I'm sure it was because she always ground her flour right before making a batch of bread. Thanks for explaining the whys of what your doing, as well as the process. I agree with Carol Dee, your house must always be so wonderfully fragrant.
    Grandma would approve.

    1. For sure, the complete whole grain bread has a sweet nutty taste to it. It's the most wonderful stuff!

  6. AW Petey! I can smell that fresh baked bread clear to Texas! I sure would love to have a slice of it fresh out of the oven. I used to make sourdough bread often when my kids were small. Lost the starter and have never got into it again. I need to do that after reading this. I loved the picture of your dog at the top of the blog, beautiful!

  7. If you want, you can send me your addy and I can mail you some dehydrated starter.

  8. I really enjoyed this post! :)
    I have been making all of our bread for several years and I now sell bread, rolls and other baked goods at one of our local Farmer's Markets. I do buy King Arthur flour instead of milling my own because of the amount of baking I do. I have found the King Arthur flours to be much, much better than the other major brands. If I ever get back to baking just for us, I would consider milling my own flour.

    1. That's awesome Candy. I love living way out here, but I do wish there was a Farmers Mkt closer than 4 hours away!

  9. There's nothing like hot home made bread with real butter and homemade jam. It makes a good breakfast or for a growing boy a good snack before breakfast. Sometimes bread is called the staff of life and wars have been fought to secure the best wheat fields. Jesus compared himself to bread, and in one occassion said, "This my body." I know I'm preaching again aren't I? We had a concert last night and I'm still floating. Love you Petey. Amy loved the recipes. I just got hungry. Dex

  10. haha! Good points all! I love the points u make. Wish I could have been there to hear you guys, Daniel said it was awesome. Glad amy liked them! Good to see you as always!

  11. I go back and forth between making my own and buying bread at the bakery. I finally got my recipe down and now I'm having problem with my bread having holes in the middle. When I fold the dough into thirds it's not sticking together. I've tried several things and it's still happening so for right now I've gone back to buying bread.

  12. Just a thought, but the holes could be either from over rising or not deflating enough after your second rise and shaping your loaf. Also, weather has a lot to do with affecting bread making. The flour amounts are really more of a guideline, as humid days will require a bit more and dry days may require a bit less. If the bread isn't "sticking" it might be too dry. Perhaps you are incorporating too much flour when you knead it? Using the pastry cloth helps as it takes less flour to dust it to keep the bread from sticking. Just some ideas that might help :)