In the early 1900s, most packaged bread being sold was white bread, nutrition-less and high in sugar. White bread was made with bleached flour, which got rid of mold and fungus and gave it a more desirable look, but the bleaching process stripped away nutrients. During WWII when food was being rationed, getting proper nutrition was difficult, so the government mandated that companies add vitamins and minerals back into bread. Rather than returning to the process of using unrefined flour, companies started enriching the bleached flour. Did this trade one problem for another?
In episode 3 of the Netflix series Cooked, Michael Pollan visits with Nathan Myhrvold, chef and author of Modernist Cuisine, a six-volume guide through the history and science of modern cooking. Myhrvold bakes bread the old-school way: he uses unmodified, whole wheat flour and a slow-fermentation process that breaks down the gluten in bread, making it easier to digest. Most packaged bread doesn’t bake this way anymore. Pollan ventures a guess that if most people who say they have a sensitivity to gluten ate Myhrvold’s bread, they would be fine.
I’d never made bread before, and watching this episode inspired me to learn. I was super intrigued by Myhrvold’s bread, but I was too intimidated by the recipe to do it on my own. The Boston Public Market Kitchen hosted a bread making class last week taught by Chef Cleo, a baker at Somerville Bread Company. Perfect timing. We made a honey whole wheat bread that was light, filling, and only took two messy but fun hours.
There are tips and tricks unique to bread making that I’ve never come across in other forms of cooking and baking. Did you know that when you cut raw dough with a pastry knife and form into loaves, that you must cut it straight and not pull it apart because that will break the gluten strands? The longer the gluten strand, the chewier your bread will be. Did you know that when you pull bread hot out of the oven and hold it up to your ear you should hope for a crackling sound? And if you try to cut it while it’s hot, it will fall apart? So glad that I went to a class instead of trying to make bread on my own. First bread making hurdle out of the way, now I’m one step closer to making bread the old fashioned way, just like Nathan Myhrvold.
Honey Whole Wheat Bread
Makes 3 small loaves
Total time: 2 hours
5 cups bread flour
3 1/2 cup whole wheat flour
1/3 cup honey
3 cups warm water
1 tbsp yeast
1 tbsp salt
2 tbsp metled butter
- In a large bowl, combine warm water, yeast, honey, and bread flour. Let sit for 30 minutes until bubbles have formed on the top.
- Add 1 tbsp of melted butter and the whole wheat flour. Knead by hand on a lightly floured surface until the dough has formed a cohesive, smooth ball, about 5-7 minutes.
- Place dough into a lightly greased bowl, cover with a towel or plastic wrap, and set in a warm place until dough has doubled in size.
- Using a knife or pastry cutter, divide the dough into thirds. Shape to form a loaf, place in greased bread pan. Cover and let rise until doubled.
- While the bread rises, preheat the oven to 350°. If baking free form instead of using a bread pan, score the top of the bread in a X shape to let the steam out, otherwise the steam could explode from one of the sides making the bread loose its shape. Bake 25-30 minutes or until crust is brown. Tapping on the bottom of the bread should have a hollow sound.
- Remove from oven and brush with the remaining melted butter. Let cool at least 20 minutes before cutting into the loaf.
This bread will freeze easily for up to 1 month. Serve with soft cheeses, jam, or dip in an infused olive oil. Enjoy!
Alice Kathryn Richardson is a new media photojournalist and creator of The Clean Food Club. She previously spent two years working on Deserts in the District, a series of short-form documentaries exploring food access and hunger in Washington, DC. She is committed to supporting local and sustainable food businesses by telling their stories with photo and video. Follow her on Twitter @AKR_Pictures.