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Thursday, March 12, 2009

Self reliance includes using what you have at hand to make bread

Pure Whole Wheat Bread with Sunflower and Flax Seeds by sierravalleygirl on FlickrOften, a prominent aspect of self reliance is innovation—such as using what you have at hand to make bread, even if you are a little short of regular white flour. Or perhaps you would just like a bit of a change. If you have mastered the basic concept of bread baking as we covered last week you might see about changing up the recipe ingredients and baking procedure to get different sorts of bread suitable for different uses.

Perhaps the easiest way to change the basic receipt, as presented last Tuesday, would be to make a sweet egg dough. When you gather your tools and ingredients to start the bread, pull about a half a dozen eggs out of the fridge and set them on the counter to warm a bit. Proof your yeast; set your sponge, and when you get to the third step where you turn it into dough, first add all the eggs. Also add about a half a cup of sugar, honey…some sweetener. You might throw in a bit more ginger; a tablespoon wouldn’t be too much. Now, go ahead and mix in the fat and salt as directed before. You’ll want a little less water as the eggs count towards liquid. Mix it all up well with your hand, and start adding flour. Proceed as the original directions indicate. If you’ll be making small things, you can use the dough after the first rise; if you’ll be making things closer to the shape of a loaf then let it rise twice. Use this dough to make;

  • Cinnamon pull-apart. Pull small bits of dough off (smaller than a teaspoon), dip in melted butter then in a cinnamon and sugar mixture. Drop randomly into a well greased pan. Let rise in pan, bake. This is a messy procedure, but oh! so tasty!
  • Cinnamon rolls. Take a quantity of the dough (or, all of it if you want a lot of cinnamon rolls!) and roll it out on a clean, floured counter till it is about a quarter of an inch thick, evenly. Butter the whole thing with soft butter. Sprinkle heavily with half brown sugar and half white sugar. Overlay it with cinnamon to taste. Some folks like raisins in their cinnamon rolls. Now comes the fun; starting at one long edge, begin rolling it up. Try to sort of tuck it into itself as you roll, so you get it as tight as you can without stretching it; this helps keep all the goodies from falling to the bottom of the pan while they rise and bake. Now slice the roll as thick as you want your cinnamon rolls high—remember they will rise, too. Place cut sides up in a well greased pan with sides not quite touching each other. Let rise in pan, bake. Flip them out of the pan as soon as you can manage; if they cool in the pan, the sugars will solidify and you’ll have to prise them out in chunks. You may drizzle something like honey or corn syrup over them once they are dumped out of the pan if you like yours extra sticky.
  • Norwegian brown sugar rolls. At least, I think that’s what they’re called. My Dad always called the diapers, so we did too LOL! Roll out your dough as for cinnamon rolls; butter it well with soft butter. Cut the dough into approximately 4 inch by 4 inch square. Put a good scoop of brown sugar in the center of each one…a heaping tablespoon full or so. Works better if you pack it in some way, like squeezing it into a ball. Flip the corners of each square into the center, making sure they all over lap each other. Secure with a toothpick. Place in greased pan, let rise and bake. Butter the tops when they come out. You’ll see why Dad called them diapers when you eat them (I know, that’s fully horrible….LOL!)
  • Swedish tea ring. Roll the dough out as before; butter well with soft butter. Spread with half white sugar and half brown sugar, a bit less than you’d use for cinnamon rolls. Spread spices on it—cinnamon, mace, cloves, nutmeg…anything you find good. Now cover well with diced dried fruit…raisins, golden raisins, currants, diced dried apples, dried cranberries, dried apricots…whatever suites your fancy. Add a kind of sparse layer of sliced almonds—I prefer sliced as they cook soft, but you may use slivered I suppose. Lace with honey or corn syrup. Roll up as for cinnamon rolls. Now; cut the uneven ends off, and bring them together so you have a doughnut shape. Pinch the edges on the inside of the doughnut shape together and smooth as well as you can. Get the beast onto a greased flat baking pan; obviously, a pizza pan would work well here. With sharp kitchen shears or a very sharp knife, slice the doughnut shape every inch or so—but not all the way through; leave the center intact. Carefully turn or slightly twist each still connected slice so that it lays a bit flat, and shows the tasty goodness in beautiful swirls inside. Let rise and bake. Butter well when it comes out of the oven, and sprinkle with white sugar. Beautiful! This is a standard feature at our Yule feast every year.

You can also replace a portion of the regular white flour with almost any other flour. Until you are familiar with how the different flours react and interact with the bread baking process, I would recommend that you don’t replace more than half of the regular flour with some other flour. Try whole wheat flour first, as it’s very similar to the finely ground regular flour you’re using. Any time you use a different flour, add it when you make the sponge into dough. Spelt flour would be another good flour to experiment with. Spelt is a relative of wheat, but behaves differently in the dough.

One of my favorites is oatmeal bread. You may be able to find oatmeal flour, but you can also use quick oats or even Gerber Oatmeal baby cereal—a whole box for one batch of bread. Use nutmeg instead of ginger for a tasty twist. When you grease the pans, grease them extra well and shake regular rolls oats all over in the pan before you put the loaf in to rise. You can also add very finely minced hazelnuts for a marvelous tasting bread with a protein boost!

Check your local grocery’s baking aisle and see what flours they carry. In my local, Bob’s Red Mill is the hot tip and the small bags of interesting flours are just about right for making one batch of bread that is different from plain old white bread. Remember that gluten, the long chain protein molecule that gives your bread its texture, only comes from wheat. The farther you get from wheat, the less yeast-bread-like texture you’re going to have…so, if you use bean flour, for instance, you may want to add some straight gluten. You’re likely to find it in the same area of the baking aisle that you find different flours.

Humans have been baking bread in one form or another for millenia. You can bet that it didn’t turn out the same every time, so if you create a batch of bread that isn’t what you expected it to be, remember that animals have less educated palates than we do and your dog, chickens and goats will probably love it. If all else fails, take it down to a public park that has a pond and ducks and spend a contemplative half hour feeding it to them. Developing self reliance skills like baking your own bread is definitely a learning curve—don’t be afraid to experiment!


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