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Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Prepping From Scratch: Bread and Noodles

Putting bread on the table and noodles in your bowl is a pleasure. Doing it from scratch makes it even better. My kids (two, ages four and under) are always curious about what I'm doing when I'm baking bread. I grind the flour using the "Family Grain Mill" with the manual attachment. My son, who is four, likes to crank on it himself but he loses interest quickly. He seems to enjoy the ritual. My daughter just points at the bowl and smiles. She loves the bread when it's fresh out of the oven so seems to look forward to the results.

Of course, bread is more than flour, water, and yeast.

  • Salt. Try making it without salt. It won't be wasted. You can spread butter over it and shake salt on that. Or you can make french toast from it. It is of course rather flavorless. In general the ratio is 1/2 teaspoon per cup of flour. But you should experiment to see what you like. Taste the raw dough to get it right. Also note that some say to add the salt after the first rise to keep it from challenging the yeast. I don't bother with this, but it might be worth trying.
  • Sugar or Honey. I use about a third of a cup in wheat bread that has 6 cups of flour. Of course this is not necessary in every dough, but I recommend it. It's not just about flavor. Honey and molasses add aroma. But sugar also helps the bread brown. Molasses can be used as well.
  • Milk products. This includes milk and butter but can also include buttermilk and cream. Butter makes a loaf tender and less chewy. It will also help with the browning of the loaf. The same is true of milk. I keep powdered milk in the dry storage both to keep the kids happy and to substitute for raw milk in recipes. I haven't yet used it for cooking, but there will be time to try that later.
  • Oil. This can be used like butter. Though it will not have the same browning properties, it will make the bread more tender. Olive oil is a luxurious choice, but vegetable oil or rendered fat can work too and will add a nice savory touch to a bread roll.
  • Yeast. I buy bricks of dry active yeast. It's vacuum packed and has a long shelf life. Even so, it will be a good idea to get into the practice of using sour dough starters. If you don't have yeast (say you run out), create a starter by leaving a few cups of sticky flour and water mix (sponge) out for 3 days. Keep a towel over it most of the time or just make sure the top isn't drying out by mixing it.
  • Baking soda and powder. Powder is self-activating. Soda is not. Soda is activated by acids. So if you're going to make a soda bread, use buttermilk for acidity or even add some vinegar to activate it. I generally use powder for quick breads with some soda when there is something acidic in the bread, like bananas. I use soda for bannick which appears to be the same as cowboy bread. Bannick is traditional in the Metis reservations of Canada and I learned it from my native ancestors. Of course, don't call it a reservation! It's first nation in Canada.
  • Stuff to toss into the sponge include seeds either cooked or raw in the case of sunflower, dried fruits including raisins and others, nuts, cooked wheat berries, etc.
Again, I don't want to go into recipes. Get a good book. I prefer what I call hippie bread cookbooks. Do yourself a favor though and look at recipes as advice, not the law. For one, flour is fussy and will vary in moisture content from week to week, season to season. But ultimately you want to have command of breadmaking. You want to know the feel of a good dough so that when the recipe says one more cup, you know to second guess and stop where you need to stop. Take notes. Write all over the recipe that gave you the ideas. Play with substitution. Cook half the batch to try it. If it didn't work out so well, break it into small balls and serve it as rolls. Too little salt? Dip the roll in salt before baking. Not brown enough? Baste with butter or milk before baking.

Of course, with your command of bread you will know how much will feed your family. Now you can do the math to figure out what supplies you need. Figure out how much you need a week for X amount of people, calculate your portions, and project into monthly supplies. Keep track of how much wheat berry it takes to do the loaf if you're grinding.

Now for the noodles. I love noodles and so does my family. My son can eat a huge bowl and ask for more. My daughter thinks they're fun to eat. I just put stock on them and serve them up. I can toss some together in minutes, including mixing, rolling, and cutting. However, adding a bit of time to let the dough rest makes them even easier to make. The kids can help with the whole process.

The basic noodle is just flour and water. You can take a high protein flour like semolina and simply mix it to the right consistency, which is a hard but pliable dough, and roll it out. The same is true of any flour though the noodle will be very fragile with a lower protein flour. My preference is egg noodles: 1 per cup of flour. But eggs could become a luxury, so I am trying out more no-egg recipes. Of course when I'm feeding my kids a big bowl of noodles, I want the eggs to be there for protein and fat. As with bread, play with the salt content. Thin noodles might not need it at all since the preparation can add that (like brine water or stock, for example). But thicker noodles might be dull without some salt.

I tend to simply cut out noodles in 1/4 inch widths and add them to soup or simple stock. Of course, you can make any shape. You can even stuff as a ravioli and bake them. I also make perogies which I stuff with cheese and potato, boil, and fry in onions. Perogies require a softer dough. I use sour cream to make the dough even softer, but you could also use a small amount of oil or go with a low protein flour and add nothing extra.

I can't think of noodles without thinking about dumplings. I think of a dumpling as a fragile noodle that I don't have to roll. I always add rendered fat or butter to make them tender and flavorful. The easiest way to make them is in the oven basted with stock, but you can drop them into stock on the range top as well. Chives in the dough is a nice touch. You can put just about anything in them. This is worth working on since it's a real nice way to stretch meat supplies (or replace them).

For more information about planning quantities try the Mormon Food Storage Calculator. Also look for a good wheat grinder and start grinding. It's worth the extra fuss if anything just for the extra flavor and vitamins.

In the next post, I'll discuss what I've called bridge items. These are luxuries we can't expect to keep a lot of and should not expect to have on hand long-term. Again, these are to keep you alive and happy while you toil to adjust (in the not-a-hobby-anymore garden for example). They will also be useful for trade and should be thought of as stored wealth, especially while they're still cheap. Just think of a tuna can as a really thick coin and you'll know what I mean.


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