The Sow’s Ear Home-Ground Wheat Meal Bread
about five or six cups wheat meal, 2 cups sifted;
coarse meal added to bulk of meal, finer meal reserved
2 cups warm milk
½ cup warm water
½ cup levain
½ cup mashed potatoes
½ tsp. dry yeast
2 T. sugar
1 – 2 eggs
¼ cup fat (butter, lard, oil)
2 T sugar
¼ cup honey, molasses
1 ½ tsp. salt
Combine water, yeast and sugar and allow yeast to proof. Combine with warm milk, mashed potatoes and levain; stir to dissolve levain. Add eggs, honey, salt and fat; then stir in sufficient wheat meal so you can stand a wooden spoon in the mixture. Allow this to sit on the counter (ferment/autolyse), stirring it down several times, for 1 – 6 hours, until you are ready to knead.
Stir down dough. Begin kneading in the bowl, first with the reserved fine meal, then with potato water, warm water, milk or cream. The dough will be very coarse, short and sticky at first; add flour alternating with liquid as necessary, kneading in a long, front-to-back and quarter turn stroke, until the dough is only slightly tacky and forms a smooth round lump, about fifteen minutes.
Place the dough in a floured bowl and cover with a damp towel. Allow to ferment for at least an hour and a half, turning the dough often, perhaps every thirty minutes or so. (“Turning” the dough is dumping the lump on the counter and folding it — north, west, south and east — to the middle of the mass, then replacing it, seam side down, in the floured bowl.) The turning process is important; it develops the gluten without breaking the gas bubbles in the dough, and is not to be confused with “punching” the dough down.
An hour or so before your oven is ready, prepare the loaves. For large loaf pans, divide the dough into two parts (about two pounds each) on a floured board, lightly round them and let them rest ten or fifteen minutes.
To shape the loaves, place a lump smooth side down on a floured board and press it out with your hand into an oval somewhat longer than your loaf pan. Lightly sprinkle this with water (we keep a bowl with a little water handy and just dip our fingers and dot the surface of the dough), fold the ends in to the middle, and press down. Dot again with water and, beginning at the near edge, firmly roll the dough up into a loaf shape, pinching the seam to seal. Place in a greased loaf pan, seam side down, press to fill the length of the pan, cover with a damp cloth and leave to rise until nearly doubled in bulk, or until a finger lightly pressed on the surface leaves a dent that springs back only slowly. Bake in a hot oven (four hundred in a conventional oven, or about three seconds with your hand in a clay or brick oven) until you like the color and the loaves sound hollow when tapped.