Easter Bread

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Easter Bread is a rich, dark, hearty bread just perfect served with an exuberant Easter dinner.  Bold flavors of rye and whole wheat are tempered with a bit of milk and the soothing, subtle sweetness of molasses.  Including rye flour means this bread will take a bit longer to rise, but the flavors are worth the wait.  Let’s play with flour!

Ingredients (makes one large loaf)

2 1/2 teaspoons yeast

1 cup lukewarm water

2 tablespoons sugar

1/4 cup dry milk

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 cup blackstrap molasses

1 1/2 tablespoons butter, softened

1 cup rye flour

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 cup white flour

1 egg yolk

Directions

picture392Step 1) Combine yeast, warm water, and sugar in a large bowl.  Stir and let the yeast bloom for 1 or 2 minutes, until the surface looks creamy.

Step 2) Add dry milk, salt, molasses, and butter.  Mix well.  A small electric mixer (on low speed) works well for incorporating the butter.  If you mix with a spoon, as I did, just make sure to mix long enough so that all ingredients are thoroughly blended (no butter clumps!).

picture393Step 3) Gently stir in all three flours, one cup at a time.

Step 4) Remove dough from bowl and place on a well oiled* countertop.  Knead bread dough with your hands for 8 minutes, rubbing a bit of oil on your hands as needed to prevent sticking.

*Note:  We are using an oiled countertop instead of the more common floured countertop because we don’t want to work extra flour into this recipe while kneading.  More flour will give this bread a tough texture, and who wants that?

Step 5) Shape kneaded dough into a ball and let rise in a large greased bowl for 90 minutes.  It helps to place the bowl in a warm (not hot) location, and to cover the picture394bowl with a thin towel.  (Bread enthusiasts call this a “proofing towel.”)

Step 6) Grease a baking pan and sprinkle it lightly with cornmeal.

Step 7) After 90 minutes, gently lift your dough from the bowl… do NOT punch down the dough or handle it roughly.  We need to be gentle with this dough.  There are teeny tiny air bubbles trapped inside this dough, and we want to keep as many of them as possible!

Step 8) Shape your dough into a nice, rounded loaf.  The way to do this is to start at picture407the top in the center, and smooth the dough down and underneath.  Think of petting a dog, as goofy as that sounds.  It’s OK to apply some pressure and “pull” dough down the sides and tuck it underneath – just don’t rip the dough in half or anything tragic like that.  When you are happy with the shape of your loaf, place it on the prepared baking pan.

Step 9) Brush the top and sides of your dough with a lightly beaten egg yolk.  If you don’t have a pastry brush, just blot the egg yolk onto the dough with a napkin.  If you wish, you may now sprinkle the dough lightly with a “garnish.”  Ideas include quinoa, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, or even a bit of cinnamon.  I’ve sprinkled a few poppy seeds on the loaf pictured here.  Also if you wish, you may gently score the top of the loaf with a serrated knife.  This will make your loaf look all fancy schmancy, but don’t get carried away – I don’t recommend more than 2 or 3 knife marks, and don’t cut any deeper than 1/2 inch.

Step 10) Let your prepared loaf rise for another 60 minutes.  No need to cover the loaf this time.

Step 11) Bake your loaf in a preheated, 375 degree oven for 30 minutes.  Let cool, and enjoy!

Simple Bread

picture346Simple Bread is a Crowded Earth Kitchen favorite.  As the name implies, baking this bread is simple.  It is also economical, costing far, far less to prepare than any nutritionally equivalent bread available at your local market.  Simple Bread freezes well, as does the dough itself.  Over the next few days, we will use Simple Bread dough as the foundation for several healthy, low cost meals.  Let’s go play with flour!

Ingredients (makes 2 standard sized loaves, approximately 9×5 inches each)

2 cups lukewarm (not boiling) water

1/2 cup white sugar

1 1/2 tablespoons yeast

1/4 cup dry milk

1 1/2 teaspoons salt

1/4 cup canola oil

2 cups whole wheat flour

4 cups white flour

picture330Directions

Step 1)  Combine sugar and lukewarm water in a large mixing bowl.  Stir in yeast, and allow to sit for a minute or two until the surface of the water appears a bit creamy.

Step 2) Add dry milk, salt, and oil to the picture331yeast mixture.  Stir in flours, one cup at a time, and transfer dough to a floured tabletop.

Step 3) Knead dough for a few minutes until a smooth ball forms.  Add a bit more flour as needed, to prevent sticking.  Transfer dough to a large bowl which has been greased with canola oil.

picture334Step 4) Cover bowl with a damp cloth and allow dough to rise until it doubles in size.  This will take about an hour in a warm location, such as an oven that has been warmed to 100 degrees and then turned off.

Step 5) Punch the bowl of risen dough a few times to release air bubbles (this is picture332fun!).   Knead on a floured tabletop for a few minutes.  Divide dough in half, and shape into loaves.

Step 6) If you are making freezer dough, stop here!  Simply wrap your dough in plastic wrap and freeze.  When you wish to bake fresh Simple Bread, thaw your dough in greased, floured pans, and let rise until picture336double (this will take several hours from frozen).  Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.

Step 7) If you are baking bread right now, place your loaves of dough in greased, floured pans, and let rise for one hour or until dough is slightly higher than the pans.

picture345Step 8) Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes.  Cool on a wire rack.  Enjoy your Simple Bread!

Whole Wheat Molasses Bread with Orange Walnut Spread

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My Grandpa loves this bread.  I should explain, Grandpa is as German as the day is long, and has sampled his fair share of homemade breads in his eighty-one years.  If Grandpa says this is good bread, you had best roll up your sleeves and get ready to play with flour!

This recipe offers just the right combination of whole wheat flour for nutritional wholesomeness, and white flour for fluffing things up a bit.  Also, the yeast is fed and the bread is sweetened entirely naturally, using blackstrap molasses and honey.  The end result is a bread that tastes rich, slightly sweet, and a little bit nutty (due to the addition of flax).  Bite into a slice and you’ll find its just firm enough to remind you that you aren’t eating something preservative-laden that came out of a plastic bag.  It pairs perfectly with a simple Orange Walnut Spread, below.

Ingredients (makes 2 loaves)

2 1/4 teaspoons (or one envelope) yeast

2 cups lukewarm (not boiling hot) water

1/4 cup soft (not melted) butter

3 tablespoons blackstrap molasses

3 tablespoons organic honey

1 teaspoon salt

3 cups whole wheat flour

2 cups white flour

2 tablespoons flax seed

Cornmeal (for dusting the baking pan, optional)

Directions

picture169Step 1)  In a large bowl, combine yeast and lukewarm water.  Stir, then let sit for a minute or so to allow the yeast to “bloom.”  The surface of the water will look a bit frothy.

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picture170Step 2) While the yeast is blooming, combine butter, molasses, honey, and salt in a separate bowl.  Hint:  If you grease the measuring tablespoon with just a drop or two of cooking oil, the molasses and honey will slide right off the spoon into the bowl!

Step 3) Add butter mixture to yeast and water.  Stir gently until well blended.

picture172Step 4) Add flours and flax seed.  Stir together and dump out the contents of the bowl onto a floured table or countertop.  Your dough will look like a mess at this point, and that’s OK!

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picture173Step 5) This is the fun part… knead your bread dough for five minutes.  Don’t just use your fingers, but really put some muscle into it by using the heels of your palms.  Turn the dough over a few times, sprinkling the table and the dough with flour if it becomes sticky.  After five minutes, your dough should look like this:

Step 6) Grease a large mixing bowl – rubbing the paper wrapper from a stick of butter along the inside of the bowl works well.  Place your kneaded dough in the bowl, and set aside in a warm place for 60 to 90 minutes or until the dough doubles in size.  Hint:  If you turn on your oven for one or two minutes (no longer), then turn it OFF, your oven will be just warm enough to provide a cozy place for your bowl of dough to rise.

Step 7) Need to work out an annoyance or two?  Once your bread dough has doubled in size, give it a few punches to smush it back down.  Then, divide your dough in half and shape it into loaves.

Step 8)  Prepare your baking pan(s).  You can use greased and floured bread pans if you’d like, but I prefer the rustic feel of round loaves baked on a flat pan.  I recommend greasing the largest flat pan that will fit in your oven, and sprinkling it with cornmeal.*  Then, place your rounded loaves on the pan, several inches apart.

*Cornmeal is optional, but it helps keep the bread from sticking to the pan and also helps create a hearty bottom crust.

picture175Step 9)  This step is optional, but will make your loaves look all fancy schmancy.  You’ll need a cookie cutter, a beaten egg, and one of the following: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, flax seeds, or quinoa.  With Valentine’s Day approaching, I’m using a heart shaped cookie cutter.  Simply place your cookie cutter on your loaf of bread and brush a bit of beaten egg on the bread dough that’s inside.  Holding the cookie cutter in place, sprinkle a bit of seeds or quinoa inside.  Carefully lift the cookie cutter away.  Look at that!

Step 10) Let your shaped loaves rise again, this time for one hour.

Step 11) Bake your loaves at 375 degrees for 35 minutes.  Let cool, and enjoy with Orange Walnut Spread.

Orange Walnut Spread

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This recipe takes all of two minutes to prepare, and is wonderful paired with a hearty bread such as the Whole Wheat Molasses Bread, above.  Children love this spread served with carrot sticks.

Ingredients (makes 1 generous cup)

8 ounces of low-fat cream cheese, softened

2 tablespoons powdered sugar

2 tablespoons orange marmalade

2 tablespoons finely chopped walnuts.

Directions

Step 1) Beat together cream cheese and powdered sugar really well.  I prefer using an electric mixer for this.

Step 2) Blend in orange marmalade and chopped walnuts.

Step 3) Serve in a pretty bowl!