Whole-Grain Artisan Loaf

Sometimes, the best way to spend a weekend is by doing absolutely nothing. Okay, so maybe we did go to the Diamondbacks and Giants game but the other two days were pleasantly lazy – especially Sunday. One of my favorite and most relaxing things to do is to make bread. There really is nothing better than that fresh bread smell blanketing every room and that first bite into crusty goodness J.

One of my new favorite snacks is a slice of homemade wheat bread, toasted with a dollop of ricotta and a smear of agave nectar/apple butter. YUM.

Other than running errands and pretending to watch football with the boy, this is what my Sunday amounted to.  Recipe below:

Whole-Grain Artisan Loaf:

The Ingredients:

  • 5 1/2 cups whole wheat flour
  • 2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
  • 1 1/2 tbsp (2 packets) granulated yeast
  • 1 tbsp kosher salt (or to taste)
  • 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
  • 4 cups lukewarm water

The Method:

1. Use dry-ingredient measuring cups (avoid 2 cup measures, which compress the flour) to gently scoop up flour, then sweep the top level with a knife or spatula. Whisk together the flours, yeast, salt and vital wheat gluten in a 5-quart bowl, or, preferably, in a resealable, lidded (not airtight) plastic food container or food-grade bucket. Lidded (or even vented) plastic buckets designed for dough storage are readily available.

2. Heat the water to slightly warmer than body temperature (about 100 degrees Fahrenheit). Add to the dry ingredients and mix without kneading, using a spoon, food processor (with dough attachment), or heavy-duty stand mixer (with paddle). You may need to get your hands wet to get the flour to incorporate if you’re not using a machine. Don’t knead! It isn’t necessary.

You’re finished when everything is uniformly moist, without dry patches. This step is done in a matter of minutes, and yields a wet dough that remains loose enough to conform to the shape of its container.

3. Cover with a lid (not airtight) or cover loosely with plastic wrap. Allow the mixture to rise at room temperature until it begins to collapse (or at least flatten on top), which will take about 2 hours. Longer rising times — even overnight — will not change the result. Fully refrigerated wet dough is less sticky and is easier to work with than dough at room temperature. So, the first time you try our method, it’s best to refrigerate the dough overnight (or at least 3 hours) before shaping a loaf.

After it’s been refrigerated, the dough will seem to have shrunk back upon itself. It will never rise again in the bucket, which is normal for our dough. Whatever you do, do not punch down this dough! With our method, you’re trying to retain as much gas in the dough as possible, and punching it down knocks gas out and will make your loaves denser.

On Baking Day

4. First, prepare a pizza peel by sprinkling it liberally with cornmeal (or lining it with parchment paper or a silicone mat) to prevent your loaf from sticking to it when you slide it into the oven. Dust the surface of your refrigerated dough with flour. Pull up and cut off a 1-pound (grapefruit-size) piece of dough, using a serrated knife or kitchen shears. Hold the mass of dough in your hands and add a little more flour as needed so it won’t stick to your hands. Gently stretch the surface of the dough around to the bottom on all four sides, rotating a quarter-turn as you go to form a ball. Most of the dusting flour will fall off; it’s not intended to be incorporated into the dough. The bottom of the ball may appear to be a collection of bunched ends, but it will flatten out during resting and baking. The correctly shaped final product will be smooth and cohesive. The entire process should take no more than 20 to 40 seconds. If you work the dough longer than this, it may make your loaf too dense.

5. Stretch the ball gently to elongate it, and taper the ends by rolling them between your palms and pinching them.

6. Allow the loaf to rest — covered loosely with plastic wrap — on the pizza peel for 90 minutes (40 minutes if you’re using fresh, unrefrigerated dough).

Alternatively, you can allow the loaf to rest on a silicone mat or greased cookie sheet. Depending on the age of the dough, you may not see much rise during this period. More rising will occur during baking.

7. Thirty minutes before baking, preheat the oven to 450 degrees, with a baking stone placed on the middle rack. Place an empty broiler tray for holding water on any other rack that won’t interfere with the rising bread.

8. Just before baking, use a pastry brush to paint the top of the loaf with a little water. Sprinkle with the seed and nut mixture. Slash the loaf with quarter-inch-deep parallel cuts across the top, using a serrated bread knife.

9. After a 30-minute preheat, you’re ready to bake. With a quick forward jerking motion of the wrist, slide the loaf off the pizza peel and onto the preheated baking stone. If you used parchment paper instead of cornmeal, it will slide onto the stone with the loaf. If you used a silicone mat or cookie sheet, just place it on the stone. Quickly but carefully pour about a cup of hot water into the broiler tray and close the door to trap the steam. Bake for about 30 minutes, or until the crust is richly browned and firm to the touch (smaller or larger loaves will require adjustments in resting and baking time).

If you used parchment paper, a silicone mat, or a cookie sheet under the loaf, carefully remove it and bake the loaf directly on the stone or an oven rack when the loaf is about two-thirds of the way through baking.When you remove the loaf from the oven, it may audibly crackle, or “sing,” when initially exposed to room-temperature air. Allow the bread to cool completely, preferably on a wire cooling rack. The perfect crust may initially soften, but will firm up again when cooled.

10. Store the remaining dough in your container in the refrigerator and use it over the next couple of weeks. You’ll find that even one day’s storage im¬proves the flavor and texture of your bread. The dough ferments and takes on sourdough characteristics. When your bucket is empty, don’t wash it! Mix another batch in the same container. The aged dough stuck to the sides will give you a head start on sourdough flavor. To take it even further, incorporate up to 2 cups of your old dough.

 

What is Oil Pulling?

 

Some of you may know, that I’m a writer for an online dental review known as The Spear Review. I wrote an article not too long ago on the dental benefits of oil pulling and figured it definitely had a place on this blog. Not sure what oil pulling is? Read on:

An ancient Ayurvedic method, commonly known as oil pulling, may help prevent enamel erosion and gum disease among other things such as headaches, chronic illnesses, insomnia and even cancerous tumors. Oil pulling has even been said to cure those ailments and more. This is a fun dental curiosity and in no way represents a statement of scientific fact.

 

Can you imagine that one of the keys to preventing oral disease and dental erosion could be sitting in everyone’s pantry right now? The ancient concept of oil pulling is to swish a small amount of sunflower or sesame oil in your mouth on a daily basis to form a protective coating against harmful ingredients that we may ingest throughout the day.

 

The reasoning behind why oil pulling could be effective lies in the stimulation of the body’s eliminatory system. The constant swishing not only kills germs in the mouth, but it also aids in cleansing the fluids that flow through microscopic tubules in teeth. This allows the teeth to bypass toxins and allow necessary minerals into the tubules. According to an article published last year by the Baseline of Health Foundation, at any given time, there are over 500 different types of bacteria loitering in our mouths – oil pulling could decrease that number by not only neutralizing our saliva, but by aiding in the removal of particles stuck between the teeth.

 

Tutorial: Heavy Cream Substitute

As a person who doesn’t really drink milk or use it for anything other than baking – I rarely have heavy cream or half and half in the house. When I did drink coffee (I’ve been off the stuff for 8 days and counting!) I drank it black and my roommates usually buy flavored creamers (mmmm hazelnut)  for their java – making it inevitable for an extra grocery trip just to buy some cream.

Since I’m kinda lazy and I like to save money, I’ve become particularly fond of substitutes when a recipe calls for the not-so-common ingredient. I introduce to you, a recipe to substitute heavy cream. I hope your ready for this – you may want to take notes…

What you’ll need: 

  • 3/4 cup milk
  • 1/3 cup butter

What to do:

  1. Melt the butter.
  2. Pour melted butter into milk and stir.
  3. Use in place of one cup heavy cream.

See? Now isn’t that a hell of a lot easier and convenient than making an EXTRA grocery trip? Try it out and let me know what you think!

Tutorial: How To Drain Tofu

I can understand the difficulties people have with Tofu. I mostly hear: It’s too spongey, it’s watery, it’s bland. This doesn’t always have to be the case. In fact, I’m going to give you my secret tricks on how to drain your Tofu to perfection. So, say goodbye, to watery tofu – this tutorial will result in Tofu that is perfect in texture and can absorb a lot of flavor. Brace yourselves, it’s simpler than you think.

 

The process**:

1) Pour off all excess water.

2) Wrap the tofu in two paper towels.

3) Wrap the paper towel-wrapped tofu in a  kitchen towel.

4) Fill a tea kettle half way and set on top on the tofu (or anything that adds a little pressure and has a flat bottom)and let sit for 20 minutes or longer.

5) After 20 minutes, the towel should be soaked through and the tofu nice and firm.

**If you buy tofu in bulk, freeze it. After you defrost your tofu, you can literally just squeeze out the water with your bare hands. Freezing tofu changes the texture and will allow you rid the water without crumbling the block. Any questions? Comment and I’ll answer!