The grey outside the casement windows is soporific. Thunder rolls, crashing in operatic waves, from one end of the sky to the other. Cracks of lightening etch themselves neatly into the rain, striking near. My limbs are heavy, mouth sour. I’ve just awoken from an afternoon nap and can hear the kettle whistle downstairs. He must be brewing maté. I blink and stretch out my limbs, pointing my toes. I’m not, as a general rule, the napping sort. In fact, I usually have a hard time sleeping at all. A thrum of lists, ideas, worries, and plans keeps me awake at all hours often leading me to, in exasperation, get up and write them down. My mind is difficult to quiet, and it seems to be forever tapping its foot. Naps, as such, make me anxious. I have a fluttering rabbit heart.
But this afternoon I was exhausted, the kind you feel in your marrow. I spent all morning and early afternoon at the market with a meager three hours of sleep, handing out, along with pie samples & recipe booklets, information on Slow Food’s Chattanooga chapter. Slow Food is an international grassroots organization that was founded to counter fast food, and in essence it’s about reclaiming the way people used to eat: “good, clean, and fair” food that is delicious, communal, and sustainable. What does pie have to do with Slow Food? The pies, made from scratch with local produce, serve as a catalyst to get people excited about the bounty of our region from apples to figs to peaches to peppers, and Slow Food will be having pie baking class on the 25th of August at Crabtree Farms. These tiny pies were a teaser. If you’d like more information, you can visit Slow Food Chattanooga.
Yesterday was spent on my feet baking nearly one hundred miniature two inch pies late into the night for the market today. The way I saw it, the later they came out of the oven, the fresher they’d be. And they were. Washed with egg and dusted with sanding sugar, they came out sparkling and brown, perfect little medallions in four summer flavors: figs, balsamic, honey, and rosemary; yellow peach, jalapeño, lime, and mint; apple, cinnamon, thyme, and cheddar; and white peach, honey, rosewater, and basil. I promise to share the recipes for the fillings soon, in the upcoming week or so. But now is time for rest, quiet, and bread.
Bread is one of those dangerous things to write about, not unlike love. It’s a proverbial metaphor rife with clichés, and innumerable people have gone on about the smell of fresh baked bread, how good it is for the soul, etc. But for good reason. Bread is an ancient food, seemingly braided into our DNA, and the baking of it is wild magic, like spinning straw to gold. The most basic breads, born of water and grain, are a miracle of biochemistry. The smell of fresh baked bread is a cliché comfort up there with babies’ skin and puppy fur for a reason, and for a girl with a jittery rabbit heart such as myself, baking bread is a meditative panacea for my time travelling mind. It plants my feet. Slows me down. The rhythm of bread is circadian, cycling with us through our days for thousands of years.
I’m grateful for bread, for rain, for rest, and for having someone I love to break it with. He loves bread as much as I do, never complaining about a meal consisting entirely of it in some form or another. He pats me on the head for bread well done. There is no higher praise. Warm, home baked bread is what slow food is about. It’s about reclaiming the spiritual and psychological territory that the unchecked commodification of food invaded. It’s rather radical in its temperate way, a taking back of something we sometimes lose sight of. So here I share with you one of my favorite every day loaves of bread, Julia Child’s honey wheat.
Honey Whole Wheat Loaves
adapted slightly from my much loved & highly recommended copy of Baking With Julia by Dorie Greenspan
yields two 1 3/4-pound loaves
This recipe has just enough honey to bring out the natural nutty sweetness of the wheat, and it’s easy enough for a novice baker yet yields a bread that will have you feeling like you needn’t ever buy it from the store again. If you mix this recipe up in the morning you can have fresh bread by lunch time. We usually eat one loaf fresh and freeze the other. With some local cheese (I used Sequatchie Cove’s Coppinger) this makes an enviable grilled cheese. Just ask my jilted other half who did not get a grilled cheese because I cruelly made it in his absence.
2 1/4 cup warm water (105° F – 115° F)
1 Tbsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup honey
3 1/2 to 3 2/3 cups bread flour or unbleached all-purpose flour
3 cups whole wheat flour
1 Tbsp canola oil
1 Tbsp barley malt syrup or malt extract
1 Tbsp kosher salt
In the bowl of a standing mixer whisk to blend 1/2 cup of the water with the yeast and honey. Allow the mixture to rest until the yeast is creamy, about 5 minutes.
Combine 3 1/2 cups of bread flour and all of the whole wheat flour in a bowl, set aside.
Fit the mixer with the dough hook attachment. Add the remaining 1 3/4 cup water, oil, barley malt, and about half of the flour to the yeast, and mix on low speed, add the rest of the flour mix, and increase the speed to medium mixing until the dough comes together, stopping to scrape down the hook and bowl as needed. If it doesn’t come together add up to 2 Tbsp more white flour. Add the salt and continue to beat at medium speed for 10 minutes, until the dough is smooth and elastic. The dough will still be sticky.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface and shape into a ball. Place it in a large lightly oiled bowl. Rotate the dough to coat lightly in oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap and let rest at rom temperature until doubled in bulk, about 1 1/2 hours.
Oil or butter two 8 1/2 by 4 1/2 inch loaf pans.
Deflate the dough by lightly punching it and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide in half. Roll each half into a 9″ by 12″ rectangle, with the short side facing you. Fold the top of the dough 2/3’s of the way down then fold again so that the top meets the bottom edge. Seal the seam by pinching. It takes me a bit of vigorous pinching to seal it. Turn each roll so that the seam is centered, facing up. Tuck the ends of the roll in just so that the loaf will fit in the pan. Pinch to seal these seams.
Turn the rolls over, plump and shape with your hands, and place seam side down in the loaf pans. Cover with oiled plastic wrap and allow to rise at room temperature until doubled in size again, about 1 hour. While they rise center a rack in the oven and heat to 375° F.
When risen (a finger should leave an impression when the dough is poked) bake for 35 minutes or until golden brown and an instant read thermometer inserted into the bottom of the loaf reads 200° F. Remove from pans and let cool on racks.
Once cooled the bread can be wrapped and stored at room temperature or tightly wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to a month. To thaw let sit, still wrapped, at room temperature.