The dance of the unclogged artery

I’ve always been a kind of purist/hippie at heart. I’ve dreamed of living back in the pioneer days, cooking with milk from my own cow, baking my own bread, churning my own butter. . .then I wake up and realize that I really, really love me some indoor plumbing.

Regardless, however, I am trying to move more in the direction of living holistically. And the beauty of a word like “holistic” is that no one can really hammer down a definition to it, so I’m doin’ this thang exactly the way I’d like to.

My first step: bake my own bread. I like the convenience of store-bought bread, but ever since it turned the same shade of death as my own complexion, I’ve stopped trusting it. And while you can get some good stuff out there, it’s generally more expensive and less fulfilling than making your own (so say I less than a week into this whole bread-making experiment. Give me a month, folks, and I’ll be dancing down the bread aisle with loaf in each hand).

Last week I made my first ever all-wheat bread, and it turned out really well, if the fact that I ate half the loaf in its first hour of existence is any indication. It’s pretty easy to make, and it tastes like longevity and low cholesterol. . .um, in a good way.

Here goes (recipe adapted from Mark Bittman’s How To Cook Everything Vegetarian):

To begin, you need milk, whole wheat flour, salt, vital wheat gluten, and instant yeast. It kills me that I used instant yeast, since I’m an innate pioneer type, and all, but until I learn to read more carefully when I’m in the grocery aisle, instant yeast it is. You also need sugar, which I didn’t put in the photo because I like things that come in fives. Why, yes, I do have obsessive-compulsive personality traits. Thank you for your concern.

Here, I realize that I am not the Pioneer Woman, and it breaks my little heart. Ree Drummond would have put in all the ingredients in such a way that she could then go back and label each one. The yeast, the sugar, the salt, would all have been neatly compartmentalized. I’m making this more interactive. . .3 points to the person who can differentiate the salt from the sugar (points redeemable at exactly zero locations across the US).

Here, my friends, is where the rubber hits the road. Vital wheat gluten, aka fluffiness in a bag. I have to restrain myself from dumping in the whole darn thing. Ignore the poor photo quality, and instead imagine what the photo is meant to represent–the lightest whole wheat bread you ever did partake of. I just ended a sentence with a preposition. Deal.

Add milk to the dry ingredients, and stir that sucker into a glutinous mass. Glutinous? That word makes me cringe a little.

Mmm. . .glutinous. Massimus. Haha! Wow. Sorry.

Then begin adding more flour, a little at a time, until ol’ Massimus there stops soaking it in. Now the real fun starts.

Knead the heck out of it, baby. It helps to imagine a frustrating situation, an ex-boyfriend, or in my case, the kid who asked me to walk down the beach with him when we were on our senior trip to Rome, and after 30 minutes of flirtatious conversation, asked me to set him up with my best friend. The moment of “Seriously? Am I on a bad sitcom?” was totally worth it for the kneading moves I have been bustin’ ever since.

Shape the dough into a ball, put in a greased bowl, and turn once. (You know you over-greased the bowl when your dough has the same sheen as an adolescent’s face.) Cover that sucker, put in a cool, dark place, and skip off to do whatever it is you do to add zest to your life. Me? I went to class for four hours. Zest is relative.

Let it rise until approximately doubled.

Then, after it has had all that time to rise and hope and dream, punch that sucker right back down. Then give it 15 minutes or so to rest (and grieve).

Shape it into a rectangle. Do this by your pool for extra flavor (unless you happen to have many windows in your kitchen and a sweet camera that can pick up light).

Fold the lengthwise ends of the dough toward the middle of the rectangle. I know it’s tempting, but avoid judging my poor little loaf just yet.

Turn the loaf over and OOO LALA!!!!!! Congratulations, my friend, you have created something of beauty!

Toss your sweet little loaf into the greased loaf pan that just happens to be sitting on your lawn. Then let it rest, once again. Making bread is kind of like raising children. You sweat and pray and grunt and strain to bring this thing into an active, healthful existence and at the end of the day it gets to take a nap while you do your homework.

Heat the oven to 350 degrees (Fahrenheit variety). Mark Bittman lets his white sandwich bread rise until it is level with the top of the bread pan, but this here be whole wheat bread, honey pie. It ain’t gonna swell up like a cinnamon bun. Or one’s thighs post cinnamon bun. So I content myself with letting it get a little puffy around the gills, as below:

Use a pastry brush to water down the top a little bit (and be generous here, people), then prepare the oven for the baking process. You have several options here. You can heat up some baking stones in a container on the bottom of the oven, then pour water over them, creating a ton of steam just before putting in the bread. You can spritz down the sides of the hot oven with water for the same effect. Or you can do as I do, think “Life’s too short and I have a client to diagnose” and just bung the thing in.

Bake it for about 40 or so minutes, or until it sounds hollow when you thunk it. Alternatively, you could wait until a thermometer tells you that the bread has reached 210 degrees. But Laura Ingalls Wilder didn’t have a thermometer, did she?

Behold: Bread.That weird little quiver you’re feeling is your arteries shaking with joy at the thought of all that wholesome goodness.

Slap some butter on there (and feel free to go a little crazy here, because you’re eating homemade whole wheat bread. . .you’ve paid your health dues), serve with a fresh spinach salad or a thick soup, and you’ve got yourself a perfect little meal.

Whole Wheat Bread

3   1/2 cups wheat flour

2 tsp. salt

1 tablespoon sugar

1   1/2 tsp. instant yeast

2 TB vital wheat gluten

1   1/3 cups milk

Mix half the flour with the rest of the dry ingredients. Pour in the milk and stir until smooth. Use a wooden spoon. Please. It’s the principle of the thing. Add the remaining flour gradually until the mixture is too thick to stir, then begin kneading, adding only enough flour to keep the dough from being super sticky (I’ve never used the full amount of flour in my whole two times of baking this bread). Knead until dough is smooth and easy to handle, then smoosh (a technical baking term) into a ball and place in a greased bowl. Cover and let rest for at least two hours, until doubled in size. Punch down and let rest 15 minutes. Shape into a rectangle, then fold the lengthwise sides into the center to shape the dough into a loaf. Flip it over and rejoice at the bread-like look of what a few moments before was just a lump of dough. Put in a greased bread pan, cover, and let rest at least another hour. Preheat the oven to 350 and bake the bread for about 40-45 minutes, until it sounds hollow when thunked.





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