In her book, “The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book”, Laurel Robertson writes, “the very best way to learn to bake bread is to bake often, alongside someone who is really good at it, with lots of leisure time for questions.” Sounds idyllic, and exactly the way I learned to bake bread.
Both my grandmothers and my mother were bread bakers, primarily because bread baking – as well as gardening, knitting, sewing, and raising chickens – was a subsistence skill; a craft that entailed endless labor while producing nutritional food and warm clothing for a large family.
Although we are fortunate to have many artisan bakers that market delicious loaves, baking your own bread is a good skill to acquire, and for many, is extremely therapeutic. The process provides creature comforts like a warm kitchen and delicious aromas, the end result is wholesome, nutritious and delicious, and with a regular weekly routine, baking bread can easily become a family activity.
Buttermilk Wheat Bread is a good place to start. Made with both whole wheat and bread flour, the bread tastes feather light and tender because the buttermilk conditions the dough. You can feel the silkiness when you shape the loaves. Be sure not to overwork the dough, and because cold buttermilk retards the rising process, be sure to bring the buttermilk to room temperature a couple of hours before. (Don’t try heating it on the stove. I did, and it curdled and become cheese!)
This recipe makes about 3 pounds of dough: enough for 2 traditional 8 inch by 4 inch loaves. Because our family unit is small, I use cast iron oval or rectangular pans sold at Reny’s; each bakes a beautiful one pound loaf. For dinner rolls, one half of the dough makes a dozen delicate rolls. Sesame seeds complement the flavor perfectly, but are not at all required.
Learning to bake your own bread is not a dreary science, but a joyful art. The more you bake, the better and more discriminating bread eater you will become, just increasing your pleasure and enjoyment. And remember, I have lots of leisure time to answer those questions!
BUTTERMILK WHEAT BREAD
For the bread:
- 2 cups buttermilk at room temperature
- ¼ cup honey
- ½ cup hot warm water
- 2 teaspoons active dry yeast
- 2 teaspoons salt
- 2 cups whole-wheat pastry flour
- 3 - 4 cups all purpose or bread flour
- 3 tablespoons butter at room temperature
Optional for topping:
- 1 egg beaten with 1-tablespoon warm water
- 2 tablespoons sesame seeds
- Add the buttermilk to the bowl of your electric mixer fitted with a dough hook.
- In a small bowl or one-cup measure, add the ¼ cup honey and ½ cup hot water. Stir well to dissolve the honey and add to the buttermilk.
- Add the yeast and sea salt. Let stand for 5 minutes.
- Add the whole-wheat pastry flour and mix. Add the bread flour and continue to mix until the dough starts to form a ball.
- Add the soft butter and continue to mix, adding more flour if necessary, until the dough has pulled away from the sides of the bowl and forms a smooth ball. (1424 grams dough)
- Turn out onto a well-floured surface, knead until smooth, cover with a damp towel and let rise until double in bulk, about 1-½ hours.
- Divide the dough into 2 or 3 pieces.
- Shape into 2 or 3 loaves and fit into greased pans.
- Slash the top of each loaf with a serrated knife.
- Brush the tops with egg wash.
- Sprinkle with sesame seeds. Let rise until double in bulk, about 35 minutes.
- Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven, rotating as needed, until nicely browned and the loaf sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom, about 45 minutes.