Our daily bread

(Tangential? Perhaps. Important? Yes. So here is a heartfelt goodbye to MCA – and some Beastie tracks that Brian assures us are not on YouTube … )

Our first CSA box is coming tomorrow. My guys have both had fevers of 104 + this week. I’m pretty sure I saw an albino deer fawn. Fully half of the parents in my three year old’s class referenced Eddie Vedder in their comments about him for his year-end portfolio. Point being – there is lots I could have chosen to write about tonight. But over and above all, there is this. I am on my way to Oregon this weekend – because my brother Gabe is graduating! 

It is hard to know what food story about Gabe to share. I am eleven years older than him, so I can remember a lot he’d probably rather I kept to myself. There was his favorite food group (“salt and grease”), the milk-and-vinegar incident (don’t want to know), the birthday sombrero (and accompanying enchiladas) that he still hasn’t forgiven us for … Through it all, Gabe has always appreciated good food. And bad food. And anything in between. He is my very favorite person to try new recipes on, mostly because if I make chicken that is terrible and am totally crying inside, a few days later I usually get an email from my sister-in-law Kate that says “Gabe says you have an amazing new chicken recipe! You have to share it!”

He is an enthusiastic person, and an enthusiastic eater, and he is the type of guy who can discover (while out with my brother Dan of course) that a Gordo Super Burrito can be grilled after it is made … and how the heck did everyone I know go thirty years without realizing that?!

But if there is one “Gabe recipe” that I think of when I think of my funny, loving, easy going, charming, handsome, and horrible-at-keeping-in-touch brother (yes, you are right, that could be any of the three – they have a lot in common) – if there is one Gabe recipe, then it must be – bread with honey. 

Don’t give me that “bread with honey is not a recipe” line. I’m not buying it. Because the right bread, with the right honey, is indeed a recipe. And my brother Gabe will indeed eat the entire freaking loaf of bread in one night, in the middle of the night, when he is visiting you … thereby leaving you toastless in the morning. And then he will be so sweet and earnest in his explanation – “it just tasted so good!” – and he will grin so beseechingly, that you will forgive him on the spot, and make more bread immediately … even though you know that it will not last through the night.

These are two breads I love – one is yeasted, soft crumbed and slightly decadent with a hint of butter, perfect with a drizzle of honey or your favorite jam. Kids love it. The other is a soda bread, that takes all of three minutes to put together and thirty to bake – crusty, dense, hearty and soup-ready. But also perfect toasted, with a drizzle of honey.

Just make sure to make extra if Gabe is visiting you. Seriously. He will leave not a crumb.

A note on honey – I am possibly addicted to a very local creamed “summer honey” that has hints of fennel and is ridiculously good – I recommend seeking out something similar in your own neighborhood. This random beekeeper guy lives down the street from us, and I stalk email him regularly to see if he has anything ready. Small-batch honey has flavor nuances that even the best store brands can’t imitate. If you’re Bay Area, you can start here – those local bee keeping clubs have member lists, and most of those members happily sell their backyard gold. I like the naturally-creamed varieties best of all: my neighbor told me that he discovered this process accidentally by leaving some jars of new honey in his garage for a while, ages ago when he lived in Pacifica. He said, “Turns out that a Pacifica garage is the exact right temperature to make honey cream.” No additives here :)

Gabe, I think Uncle Lance said it best*: Look out! The family is coming! We love you, and are so proud of you, and cannot wait to celebrate!

(* Uncle Lance also said “I want to look my best as Gabe receives his diploma and I’m hanging from the nearest flag pole screaming “I love you MAAAAN!!!” at the the top of my lungs, loaded beer cozy in hand” – and if that doesn’t get you excited about his grilled oyster recipe soon to come, well, then you don’t know for food!)

Our Daily Bread Recipes

Whole Wheat Butter Bread
This loaf was inspired by Michael Ruhlman‘s book Ratio. One of the best things about that book is that you get the ratio and then – you’re off. He gives you a list of ideas, most of them sounding really good (cherries and chocolate in sourdough? Heck yeah!) but really you’re on your own to figure out where you want to take it. I, predictably, took it in the direction of butter. So, you could omit that, but you would lose what makes this special – the almost cakey crumb, the softness that is vaguely brioche-like, but with more whole grain heft. A lot more nutrition than your average brioche … and a tad less butter.  :) 

1 teaspoon yeast
1 1/2 cups water, body temperature
1 tablespoon molasses
1 tablespoon brown sugar
2 cups whole wheat flour (not whole wheat pastry flour, but real stone ground wheat)
2 cups bread flour
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
3 tablespoons butter, each cut into four cubes (twelve cubes total)

Dissolve the yeast in the water. Mix in the molasses and sugar. Let sit for a minute or two so that they dissolve. Meanwhile, in the bowl of your stand mixer*, mix the whole wheat flour with almost all of the bread flour (reserve about 1/4 cup) and the salt.

Add the water-yeast-etc mixture to the flour in the mixer bowl, and stir together until somewhat incorporated. Then put the bread hook on your mixer and mix everything for 1-2 minutes, until it is well combined. Then, with the mixer still running, start adding the butter. Don’t worry that you can still see it, it will eventually knead in. Just keep adding it, one piece at a time, putting in a piece every ten seconds or so. Let the dough keep kneading for about five more minutes. If it is not cleaning the sides of the bowl and still looks sticky, add the additional bread flour as needed.

Once the dough is smooth and elastic, remove from the mixer (you can leave it in that bowl, one of the many benefits of using butter – bowl is already greased!). Cover with a damp dish towel (old school) or lightly oiled plastic wrap (waste school) … let rise for 2 hours or until doubled. Oil a bread pan while it is rising.

[Because of the way my days go, I often refrigerate the dough at this point for about two hours and then take it out – if you do that, let it sit for fifteen-twenty minutes before shaping the loaf.]

When the first rise is done, punch the dough down and knead it again to get any bubbles out. Shape the loaf, and put it in the pan. Cover again with towel/wrap. Turn oven on to 350 F – my oven runs true, but it takes a long time to heat up. It is relatively new and relatively nice and still – according to my TWO oven thermometers – takes close to thirty minutes to get all the way to 350. (An oven thermometer, by the way, is not totally critical to baking but is really super helpful … and once you have one, it seems critical).

Once dough has 3/4ed in size again, it is ready to bake. Cut a slash across the top with a sharp knife (just a shallow one, to keep it from ballooning in the oven).

One of the secrets of this bread is that I very slightly under-bake it. 45 minutes is usually good to get just barely a crust all the way around and a nice soft bite. My kids devour this – and their Uncle Gabe well, he’s unstoppable :)

* I have not made this without the mixer, but I guarantee you can. You just will need to work and knead the dough instead of being lazy and letting the mixer do it.

Whole Wheat Soda Bread 
This is based on the Rye Soda Bread in Super Natural Every Day by Heidi Swanson. I use whole wheat instead of rye flour, and cut the recipe basically in half – this smaller sized loaf cooks more quickly (usually less than thirty minutes if I remember to pre-heat the oven!) and is the perfect size for a weeknight dinner for our little family. This is also great leftover for lunch, with a bowl of soup … or of course, for breakfast (or a midnight snack), toasted and drizzled with honey.

1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup unbleached all-purpose flour (plus more for kneading)
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon fine-grain salt
1 cup milk

Preheat the oven to 400 F with a rack in the middle of the oven.

Mix together flours, soda and salt. Make a well in the center and pour in the milk. Mix together until it turns into a dough (less than a minute). Knead in the bowl just long enough for it to be cohesive (again, less than a minute).

Put parchment on a baking sheet, then lightly flour the parchment. Put the dough on the floured parchment, and dust liberally with flour (a tablespoon or so). Slice four deep gashes across (but not through) the dough – like cutting pizza (see photos). (Those slashes mean that you get lots of nice crispy crust).

Bake for about thirty minutes, or until the crust is hard and the bread baked through.

This bread really does best with an accompaniment – butter is my favorite, followed closely by soup or stew for sopping it in. It is so quick and easy that it is almost shameful not to make it though – next time you are making soup for lunch, give it a try. :)

Congratulations Baby Gabe-o! Can’t wait to see you and celebrate. 

26 thoughts on “Our daily bread

  1. Hi,
    Love the pictures — and can just imagine Gabe putting down an entire loaf of bread with honey. I’ve met Gabe a handful of times — he’s a great guy and deserves the best in life. Hannah – will you send me an address where we can send him something for Graduation? I’m embarrased to say I forgot he was graduating this weekend – I do remember you mentioning it.
    Love,
    Sandy

  2. Hi Hannah,
    I wanted to let you know that Ida’s new favorite breakfast is your granola recipe from this site! She likes it with plain yogurt and a little honey. Thanks for all the wonderful recipes and stories here, and Congrats on getting such a great resource up and running! XO, Vanessa

    • Thanks Vanessa! Glad to hear Miss Ida is enjoying one of the recipes. I know you and Liam have some granola making history – will be curious to hear if you tweak the recipe at all! xo

  3. Good Morning, Hannah!
    I have been meaning to try Ruhlman’s bread and I think this holiday weekend might be the time to try it. I am a huge fan of Irish Soda bread and usually turn to Darina Allen’s recipe for my craving. I should post that one so you can try it too! I wil take your advice of slashing the bread deeper for bigger chunks of crust – yum!
    I hope the boys are feeling better and that your trip to OR is smooth. We missed you guys yesterday but will see you soon!
    XOXO, Eleanor
    *My favorite weekday breakfast is a small bowl of homemade granola (post to come) with almond milk or soaked oats sprinkled with granola. Weekends – definately my vegan buckwheat pancakes! We had them on Sunday and ate them throughout the day!

    • I have not seen Darina Allen’s recipe, so will eagerly await your posting! I am actually not a huge crust person, but I am the minority opinion on that in this house, so slash we do. It makes lots of crust, and also makes the bread break into handy wedges :)

      • I made two loaves of the whole wheat butter bread last Friday and was very pleased with the finished products! The family I gave loaf #1 to promptly asked for the recipe and I guided her to this site. We are still tackling loaf #2 at our house but I seem to be eating most of it which is the only negative thing about this bread.
        Gracie ate her turkey sandwiches on this bread all weekend and I slathered it with peanut butter every morning. Good stuff!

        • So glad you guys liked it! I often find myself eating a lot of it too … or, finishing the guys’ slices when they eat only part. I have toyed with the idea of using the original recipe to make two loaves (cutting the loaf-size in half) and then still baking in my standard loaf pans. I think that this would make a shorter loaf, and therefore smaller pieces … which might be a good thing (for you, and for my friend Gracie, too :) ) Thanks for letting me know that you made it! I love hearing when people actually use the recipes here (and even better, when they work!)

  4. Just read ratio! What a great resource! Kind of went a little nuts at the bookstore the other day- happens with that ol food habit we all have..have yet to put the book to use though. Figured i’d do a lot of playing around with it over the summer.

  5. The part about bread making that I dislike the most is the waiting game. I wait so impatiently for it to cool down so that I can eat it. When just cool enough I slather it with butter and ……………………….. yummmmmmmmy. Sometimes I throw in nuts and dried fruit – it’s a great way to use up what the kids don’t eat in trail mixes (they always have their favorite bits and then leave the rest). I love soda bread for breakfast with a cup of Barry’s Tea. And I love it for supper, just before bed, toasted with butter and a cup of Barry’s Tea.

  6. So, you found your way to my blog yesterday, which lead me back to yours. Then today you pop up again as the very deserving winner of the Dinner: A Love Story Guest Post Contest, to which I also submitted a piece. The world seems to be a very small place, indeed. Loved your piece about your mother. Just beautiful.

    • Small world indeed Tara! And your piece about your dad was great too – I loved the list of things he cooked for you and your sister. It is so nice to be able to remember our families through food.

  7. I absolutely love that picture of you kids with your mom! And I am so impressed with your blog! Wow Hannah…you are really on to something here. Love you and can’t wait to see everyone as we celebrate Gabe. XXOO

  8. As the youngest son in my family, your post about Gabe and the the disapperance of a loaf of bread in the night, conjures up thoughts of the summer of 1974. I can still smell the yeast and hear the opening of the oven door at my sister’s home in Hitchcock, Texas. Yes, Dr. Freud while “sometimes a cigar is just a cigar,” food is just about always something more.

  9. I am loving reading this, Hannah! First, your photos are awesome…what camera are you using?
    Second, the rye flour and orange pancakes sound so good. I love the taste of rye, but I hate the actual caraway seeds. Have you found a flour without the seeds? Third, I enjoyed hearing about Gabe and the bread because I am a recovering bread addict, and it’s important for me to hear that other people eat whole loaves in the middle of the night.

    • Hi Cara – well, sadly these days I am so scrambled with everything going on that most photos are from my iPhone! On better days I use my terribly old Nikon D40 I think it is. Per my friend Liz’s genius advice I set it on what I call the “flower” setting – it is a picture of a flower – it allows for a close-up focus and a relatively shallow depth of field, which (theoretically) blurs the background and makes the photos feel more like “real” food photography. However, I suspect that you are the *only* person who is impressed with these pics! If you want to see some gorgeous ones – try 101cookbooks.com or sevenspoons.net – Heidi and Tara are true artists. sweetamandine.com is another great one, Jess has a very good eye. As for bread addiction … on some level aren’t we all either in it or recovering from it? ;) Oh, and rye flour – it comes without caraway seeds! Those are just usually added to rye breads.

  10. Your blog is becoming a go-to spot for recipes for me. I have stared making bread again, and I made this one yesterday. So easy! So delicious! My kids like it better than the artisan bakery bread I normally buy. Plus, I learned a trick from my mother-in-law if your dough does not rise; I thought I had not used warm enough water with the yeast. She told me to put the bowl with dough in an unheated oven, and put a bowl with hot water in the oven along with the bowl of dough, and give it some time. It did the trick! Now my question; could I easily double this? If I do, I’m not sure my Kitchen Aid mixer will be big enough for a double recipe. And it seems like it would be difficult to mix in the bits of butter by hand. Any advice?

    • Heiki-Lara – first of all, that is a genius truck from your mother-in-law. Now that we are entering colder months I’m going to have to try it, since my kitchen is already pretty chilly!

      As for doubling this recipe … My Kitchen Aid (which is a pretty wimpy-spirited Artisan) cannot handle a double batch of this dough. It moans and groans and stays stuck at a very low speed. I have kneaded this bread by hand, and kneaded in the butter chunks – it is messy, as the dough stays quite sticky for a while, but the bread turned out just as well. I think if I wanted to double it though, what I would do is this: in my largest mixing bowl, mix together double quantities of yeast/water/flour/salt/molasses/sugar. Then, transfer half (probably best to do this by weight if possible) to the stand mixer bowl, and knead it, adding the usual quantity of butter. Do the same with the second half of the dough. Then knead them together for a moment on the counter (or, just let them rise separately in two different bowls and figure that they’re already divided evenly).

      I hope that helps! I’m very glad that you are enjoying the bread, and bread baking. If you like this one, I’ll bet you would also like either of the oatmeal breads (one made with cooked oatmeal, one with dry oats) that are on this blog. Similar spirits in the crumb, and excellent for toasting as well as sandwiches.

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