Bread making is more of a spiritual experience than it is "cooking." A little yeast, water and flour can create something which is alive, creative and often delicious: a repeatable miracle. It is especially miraculous that one can add any kind of ingredient: rice, lavender blossoms, spinach, juices (there is no end to the possibilities - anything that strikes your fancy) and produce edible, wonderful bread. An additional pleasure for me in grinding my own grains, which offers a world of possible combinations - and the bread tastes fresher and more flavorful.
Bread is a little like the multitude of persons and personalities that make up the universe - unusual, different, experimental. God must have a lot of fun with that, too. Bread making is such a relaxing experience - a wonderful antidote to the stress of jobs, daily life and world affairs.
A rainy day is the most perfect bread making day: with lower atmospheric temperatures, dough rises faster and more lightly. If time is limited, (and mine always is) the process can be speeded up by using very hot water to activate the yeast - about 130 degrees, usually the hottest you can get from the tap. A little sugar added to the yeast and water helps the yeast activate. It takes about 3-4 minutes to foam up and be ready for use. And, because it is already activated, the dough rises more quickly. I use a sponge method to make bread, mixing the flour, yeast, salt, liquids, sweetener and oil together and letting it begin to rise (about 5 minutes), then pouring some of it into a bowl and beginning to add the second flour. This second flour will most likely be white flour, milled for bread making and of hard winter wheat, It gives strength and chewiness to the bread.
The most flavorful breads are those that are allowed to rise slowly - overnight or a whole day. If you have the time, you will be even happier with the results. Generally, the finished dough is placed in the fridge and allowed to rise very slowly over a long period of time. I like to use a heavy baking stone in the oven that covers the bottom rack. It makes a more crusty bread with a moist interior.
Breads are enhanced by the addition of gluten flour when you use whole grain flours. Whole grain flours have less free gluten to make the bread rise and it helps to add it. They will also stay fresher if you add a couple tablespoons of lethicin (soy) granules. Lecithin acts as a preservative and keeps breads moist.
All recipes I use are measured in "abouts" because one doesn't really have to worry much about amounts. As long as you use enough yeast, it will work. I estimate that one needs about a rounded tablespoon of yeast for 8-9 total cups of flour.
Sister Joan Holliday, CSJP repeats this miracle of breadmaking often to the delight of all the community.
4-5 cups of whole wheat flour (adding bran or cereal adds flavor and nutrition)
1 or so cups of rye flour
1/3 to 1/2 cup honey
2 tablespoons salt
2-3 tablespoons gluten flour (available at health food stores and some markets)
2-3 tablespoons lecithin (also available at health food stores)
one or two eggs, if desired milk or water
3 tablespoons yeast
1 teaspoon sugar
2 cups diced figs, apricots or other fruits or nuts
2-4 cups white bread flour (enough to make a somewhat stiff dough)
Mix in a large bowl the whole wheat, rye flour, honey, salt, gluten flour, lecithin, and eggs with enough milk or water to make a thick pancake-like batter.
Dissolve about 2 tablespoons yeast in about 3/4 cup water with a teaspoon sugar. Use hot water and let foam. Add to above mixture and let the batter sit until bubbly, for about 5 minutes.
Add whatever fruit or nuts you like. Cut Calymirna figs are wonderful.
Put about half the batter into a large bowl or Cuisinart. Add enough white flour to make a somewhat stiff dough. Dough should be kept as soft as possible to work-not sticky, but not stuff and dry either. Knead until glossy. Place in a warm greased bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside to rise until doubled. It won't take long. I put it on the stove burners and turn the oven to preheat.
When the dough has doubled, form into loaves (you can either place the bread in loaf pans or form it as round or oval as loaves on a floured board. Cover and let rise until doubled. Paint the dough with an egg wash (an egg substitute mixed with a little water). Slash cross top (if you don't let the steam escape in this manner, you will get an explosion someplace on the loaf and it doesn't look very good) and place on baking stone in an oven at 375 degrees. Bake for about 40 minutes.
Don't ever pound dough or slam it around. Handle it gently and respectfully. When you push down the dough after its first rising, do it by just pushing your fist to the bottom of the bowl and pulling the sides into the center. You do not want to squish all the oomph out of it. Just push it down so that it is manageable to be made into loaves.
"So Christ is our model and in order to imitate Him we have to do strange things – things that seem almost inexplicable, but at the last days, when our work is taken off the loom of life, we shall see the beauty that comes into our soul by this work."
Mother Evangelista (Honoria Gaffney)