Saturday, February 28, 2009

Vegetarian Epicure Wheat Bread

The first really successful bread I used to make was the whole wheat oatmeal bread from The Vegetarian Epicure, by Anna Thomas. I've made bread as long as I can remember, certainly since high school, but variations on this recipe were the first that I began to use as daily bread, rather than special occasion bread. The summer of 2002 was a good food summer in general--I was a beta in a house full of food and booze-loving alpha females, who taught me a lot about hospitality, about butter and artichokes and Scotch, about eating more pie, and about letting the kitchen console you for the hard work of the rest of the day.

The day I arrived, there was fake blood (a patent mixture of peanut butter, strawberry syrup, and laundry detergent--and probably something else) in a pot on the stove. The cabinet above the sink was soon labeled our 'nest of spicery' and the summer and fall were properly underway. Actually, they were properly underway months or years before I showed up, and I was happy just to be allowed to join.

I spent most of that summer running after small children, teaching them to fight with air broadswords, declaim Henry V, and other absolutely wonderful things to do with small children or absolutely anyone. Sometimes, when off duty, I made bread. Thick, seedy, honey-sweet, butter-soft, crumbly bread from the Vegetarian Epicure, which I toasted with cheddar cheese and tomato for nearly every lunch. Oh, the luxury of coming home for lunch, of living just a field away from where you work. It can't be overestimated. I'm homesick just thinking of apartment A, for all it was so many years ago. I miss the complete freedom of devoting myself to one organization and one organization only, the free evenings between the hard work, summer outside. Thank you everyone for that year, and you know who you are.

The other night, I came home to an empty house, tired, and made a nostalgia bread. I added a handful of wheat berries and a handful of brown rice, and came away with a damp thick bread perfect for cheese on toast. I can make better bread now, but I still haven't figured out how to make a better family to eat it. And there are no fields or mountains outside my door to eat it in, and I make toast in my fancy broiler, alone. I'm not complaining. Life is good to me. But I am missing something, and I don't know how to make it part of my life again. I'm missing day hikes and adventures, missing my car and berry picking and the sound of James Taylor at Tanglewood coming tangled over the hill. I'm missing friends who drop in, loud and raucous late night rambling, mosquitos and good language and insane brilliance and Carrie in the kitchen with the apple pancake pan, looking peeved at my waffle notions and telling me to sit down and eat what she gives me. But I have brown bread, and cheese to toast on it. That is not small. That is something..Whole Wheat Bread
adapted from The Vegetarian Epicure

2 cups milk
3 Tbs butter
1 Tbs salt
3 Tbs honey
2 Tbs (or less, it seemed like a lot) instant yeast
1/3 cup lukewarm water
1/2 cup oatmeal or wheat germ (I used leftover brown rice, which made the bread a little damp, but is good for whole grains)
5 1/2-6 1/2 cups flour mix (whole wheat and all-purpose, to your choice, the mixture will determine how heavy the bread is)

Heat the milk, butter salt and honey together. Cool to lukewarm.

If using dry yeast, proof for five minutes in warm water, then proceed. If using instant, just mix yeast, milk mixture, water, oats, and about 3 cups flour and stir. Add flour until the dough can be handled, then turn out on a floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic, adding flour as needed. You probably won't need all the recipe calls for. Knead in any nuts and seeds (wheat berries, steel-cut oats, etc...). Return dough to buttered bowl, cover, and let rise until doubled (about one hour). Punch down, cover and let rise again.

After the second rising, take the dough from the bowl and gently shape. If baking in loaf pans, butter the pans. Cover the shaped dough and let it proof until nearly doubled again, about 45 minutes. Meanwhile, preheat the oven to 375. Bake the bread for about 45 minutes at 375 degrees, it will be golden brown when done.

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