making bread with whole meal

Not followers of any school of food but our own — fresh and local — we nevertheless offer the following recipe to the fermented-foods people for a whole-meal loaf of exceptional quality which does not have the texture of particle board.

It is derived from a recipe we received from the Queen of Minnesota farm wives, Sandra Callens of Silofence Farm.  We have adapted it for use with levain, a stiff sourdough starter, but it can be used with granulated yeast alone by doubling the amount of that ingredient.  This recipe makes a loaf with a tender, resilent crumb, very suitable for sandwiches.  Note that the flour content is at least seventy-five percent whole meal; the potatoes are responsible for the fine crumb.

The amounts given here will make seven or eight two-pound (wt. before baking) loaves.

We hope you enjoy it.

The Sow’s Ear Whole-Meal / Potato Bread

The night before, refresh your starter, if you are using one.  (If you are asking, “what the heck’s a starter?, you don’t need one — go on to the next step.)

In the morning*, boil and mash enough potatoes to make three cups (we are told instant potato flakes can be used here, but we have never tried it).  Combine in a large bowl with six cups warm milk; if fresh whey is available, two cups of whey may be substituted for an equal amount of milk, as whey is an excellent dough conditioner.  Add to this one cup honey or other natural sweetener, six eggs, one-half cup melted butter, two teaspoons granulated yeast, one cup sourdough starter, if you are using it (if not, double the yeast), and sufficient freshly-ground whole wheat meal to make a stiff sponge.

You want to make a sponge that is stiff enough to stand a wooden spoon in for several seconds before it falls over, but not so stiff as to be dry.    It should mound up in the bowl and draw away from the sides when stirred.  All of your whole meal is added at this time in order that it should have time for the bran to absorb all the moisture it wants; if you were to skip this step, you would end up adding too much flour in the next step.  The sponge should be allowed to work for at least an hour; longer working is good so long as the sponge is stirred occaisionally to release carbon dioxide.  Our sponge sits for as long as three hours to overnight.

Now add two tablespoons of salt, and enough unbleached flour to make a workable dough.  Turn out on a table or countertop and knead, adding flour as necessary to make the dough elastic.  We usually knead our dough about fifteen minutes, all told.

Place dough in a floured bowl and cover with a damp towel.   After fifteen minutes or so, turn the dough out on the table and fold it in, one side at a time, north, south, east, west:  as though you were making an enchilada with no filling.  Invert and return to bowl.  Cover.  Wait another fifteen minutes and repeat.  (To be perfectly honest, this step may be hocus-pocus, since when we forget we still get a good loaf, but we do it when we remember.)

Now give the dough time for a good rising, until it rounds up nicely under its damp towel.

Turn risen dough onto a floured board and cut into two-pound pieces, rounding each and setting aside to rest for ten minutes, covered.

After the dough has rested, flatten each piece to about the size of a serving platter, dab with a wet hand, and fold in the sides to meet in the middle.  Dab again with a wet hand, and, starting with the edge nearest to you, roll the dough into a tight loaf, pinching the edge to seal, and place seam-side down in a greased loaf pan.

Allow to rise until it feels soft when poked lightly with a finger but does not hold the dent.

We bake in our brick and clay oven heated to about seven degrees cooler than the surface of the sun, and it bakes very fast; but when winter comes and no one wants to stand outside stoking in below-zero weather, we bake indoors at about three seventy-five for something less than an hour, and the results are still very good.  The loaves should sound hollow when tapped, but the only way we know of to be certain your bread is done is to cut into a loaf.

Then, of course, you should invite everyone in the house to come help you eat that loaf with plenty of farm butter and honey.

That’s how we make bread at the Sow’s Ear.

*if you prefer, make your sponge the night before and allow it to ferment overnight, making sure to mix it thin enough that the bubbles of carbon dioxide gas can escape from the sponge, so as to avoid killing the yeasts and ruining the dough.

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