THE STAFF OF LIFE

(Originally featured in Arizona City Independent Edition, October 24, 2007)

In one of my earliest columns, I mentioned baking bread with my handy-dandy newfangled computerized bread-baking machine. Since that column appeared, other tasks interfered with that useful and satisfying task and my bread machine sat idle for several years.

Early this year I discovered that many foods that are fine for most people are poison for me because I’m allergic to many supplements that are added to processed foods to make them healthier. This isn’t the first time I’ve had to shorten my grocery list because of allergies to trace ingredients. For more than ten years, I haven’t been able to eat anything with chemical dyes, and I can’t even tolerate several natural products in that category.

I won’t go into detail about symptoms here, but the upshot is that my already limited diet suddenly shrunk to an extremely short list that took most of the fun out of eating. Despite this, I can still enjoy one fun food that is also pretty good for me. I still get to eat an ounce or two of dark chocolate each day. Thank goodness!

However, I can no longer have any commercial breads or tortillas, both of which I love eating with the few varieties of vegetarian burgers I can still have. For a couple of months I tried holding my sandwiches together with lettuce, but I really missed having bread with my burger. Finally, I decided to find the ingredients for my favorite machine bread that would be safe for me to eat.

Since most flours and margarines contain supplements, I studied package labels until I found at least one version of each item on my list that doesn’t contain any items I’m allergic to. Then I experimented with my favorite bread machine recipe to balance the wet and dry ingredients and make sure the end product tastes good. Along the way, I learned even more about making machine bread than I knew before. Now I turn out a loaf anytime I want, and I enjoy giving my homemade bread to friends.

Before I share my updated bread recipe, here’s the original recipe from my earlier bread-making days:

WHOLE WHEAT & OATMEAL MACHINE BREAD
(large 1 1/2# loaf)

2 tbsp softened butter or margarine
1 egg (or 1/4 cup egg substitute)
1 cup water
2 scant tbsp sugar (or use honey and adjust the amount of water to allow for the extra liquid)
3 slightly heaping tbsp milk powder
scant 1 1/4 tsp salt
1/4 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp pure vanilla extract (not artificial flavoring)
1 cup whole wheat bread machine flour
1 1/2 cups unbleached white bread machine flour
1/2 cup rolled oats
2 tsp yeast

Add ingredients to the machine according to manufacturer's directions. The order of ingredients above is arranged for a Magic Chef bread machine. I select full cycle (whole wheat or white) and light crust.

In my latest version of this recipe I no longer use flour formulated specifically for machine bread. Like all commercial brands, those products are enriched with supplements I can’t have. I discovered two products at Wal-Mart, a white and a whole wheat flour, that have no added supplements. The white flour is naturally white and unbleached and both are stone ground, so these are healthier than all the other flours on the shelf.

On the other hand, I found the taste of the stone-ground whole wheat flour to be much stronger than other wheat flours I’ve used, so I cut the amount of wheat flour down to 3/4 cup and raised the white flour to 1 3/4 cups. I also substitute honey for the sugar, so I lower the amount of water by 2 tablespoons to make up for the added liquid. All this gives the bread a nice sweet nutty flavor.

Jim and I don’t drink much milk anymore, so we prefer to use powdered milk and water instead of regular milk. Besides the fact that milk powder is easy to store and keeps well for an extended period of time, the powdered variety is actually healthier than liquid forms of milk. That’s why I use water and milk powder in my bread instead of milk that requires refrigeration and must be used quickly.

If you follow the order of ingredients listed above, the salt goes in before the flours and oats and the yeast is added last. It’s important to keep the yeast and salt separate early in the mixing process. Salt kills yeast before it can begin growing and making the bread rise. I add the flours and oats after the other ingredients, then make a small depression in the middle of the flour and pour the yeast in there. This way the yeast is separated from the salt and the bread rises beautifully over the two hours of kneading and rising before the baking cycle begins during the last hour of operation.

Two more tips I discovered online make my bread even better now than when I was baking several years ago. Adding wheat gluten to whole wheat bread makes it lighter and fluffier than it is without gluten. Reports on the amount of gluten to use range from one teaspoon to one tablespoon for each cup of whole wheat flour in the recipe. I realized that the amount doesn’t matter so much, except the more you use, the lighter the bread turns out to be. I add a scant tablespoon of gluten with the 3/4 cup of whole wheat flour, which seems to work very well.

The last tip solved a problem I had with any machine bread I used to make. Now I turn the hot loaf out from the baking pan, slip a plastic food storage bag over it and quickly seal it up. While the loaf cools on the counter, the plastic bag holds in moisture and keeps the loaf from drying out. In the past, though the bread tasted delicious, it tended to be rather dry and crumbly. Now I get nice soft moist bread, and it tastes great too.

 


Debbie Jordan