Making Bread Like Wilma and Fred

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Picture it: the year is 5,000 B.C., and domesticated wheat and barley have been introduced to your neighborhood.  You’re hanging out around the fire with your buddies one night, chewing the fat, making some stone tools, and getting ready to make some bread.

Stop for a second and take a look around.  What do you see?

Mud huts?  Yes.  Dogs and sheep?  Yes.  Pottery?  Yes.  Bread maker?  Uhhhh….no.  Not a bread maker in sight.

And there you have it: historical proof that you don’t need a bread machine to make bread. Now, you don’t need dogs or sheep or pottery to make bread either, but you definitely don’t need a bread machine.  In fact the only “bread machine” you need looks a little something like this:

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If you have a pair of these, along with some simple ingredients, you’re all set to make bread Stone Age style.

Now … a few caveats.  You’re going to need a couple things that our Stone Age buddies didn’t have.  Like a stove, for instance, unless you want to build a fire.  And yeast, too, which didn’t show up on the scene until maybe the 12th century B.C.  So there’s that.  But other than that, the main thing you’re going to need is something the Neos DID have, which maybe you have not so much of: time.

Which is not to say that surviving in the Stone Age was a 9-to-5 job, of course.  It likely wasn’t. But in addition to surviving and making bread, you’ve probably got a lot of other things to do, like getting to work, driving the kids around, cleaning the hut — that sort of thing.  So in recognition of that, we’re going to break it down like so:

We’ve included a simple, basic bread recipe below.  The first iteration is for “Weekend Bread,” because it’s a longer process, and you’re going to need to come back to it a few times.  It’s a great recipe when you’re hanging around the hut anyway, and you’ve got a day to cook.  The second iteration is for “Weekday Bread.”  Same recipe, but the process is truncated so you can start it in the morning, leave for the entire day, come back home, and put it in the oven.  It makes a denser bread, but it’s still delicious, and it’s one less thing you have to think about when you’re out there hunting and gathering.

WEEKEND OAT BREAD

3 cups water

1 cup rolled oats

4 cups unbleached white flour (You can play around with this a bit and substitute some whole wheat, rye, or spelt flour for some of the white flour.  However, we generally substitute no more than one cup because this ratio helps to maintain the bread’s lighter texture)

1 tsp salt

1 tsp yeast

olive oil

1. Boil 2 cups of water, add oats, reduce heat, and stir occasionally for 2-3 minutes.  Once the oats are cooked, cover and let sit for about 5 minutes more.  Remove the cover and allow oats to cool.

2. Once the oats are cool, transfer the oats into a bowl, and mix in 1 cup of cold water.

3. To the oats and water, add yeast, flour, add salt, and stir with a wooden spoon until well combined.

4. Knead the dough into a ball (this doesn’t take much–only about a dozen or so turns).

5. Coat the dough lightly in olive oil.  It should look something like this:

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6. Cover the dough with a dish towel or cloth, and allow to sit until it has doubled in volume. How long this takes is going to depend on a number of things, including how warm the room is, the amount of moisture in the air, the peppiness of the yeast, etc.  But it should look noticeably softer, puffier and bigger.  After it has doubled in size, the dough shown above looked like this:

See how it’s all puffed up?

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7. Take the risen dough, and fold it over onto itself maybe a dozen times.  Then gather it back into a ball, and it should look something like this:

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8.  Cover and let it rise again until it has doubled in size.  You know what that looks like:

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8. Fold it over maybe a dozen times, then gather the dough into a ball and cut the ball in half.

9.  Shape the balls into two baguette-shaped loaves, roll them in flour, and place them in a lightly oiled loaf pan or on a baking sheet.  A baking sheet will work just fine here, but if you plan on making bread more than occasionally, pick up an Italian loaf pan the next time you’re in a kitchen store, or ask someone to buy it for you for your birthday!  It’s a neat tool, easy to clean, and it helps the loaves maintain their shape.  This helps the bread to cook more evenly.

10. Score the loaves across the top gently with a sharp knife if you like.  This makes the bread looks very official.

11.  Let the loaves rise. How much? Well, let’s say double in volume, but at this point, depending on the mood your bread is in, the loaves may not rise as much as they did last time, or as much as you expect, and they may not double in size.  That’s totally fine.  Just give it a chance to rise a bit, and then call it. It should look something like this:

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12. Preheat the oven to 500 degrees.  Once it hits 500, turn it down to 450 and put the bread in.  Cook the bread at 450 for 10 minutes, and then turn the oven down to 400 degrees and bake the bread for 20-25 minutes more.

And that’s it!  Fresh baked bread made with your very own hands!  Now for the shortened version:

WEEKDAY OAT BREAD

– Follow Steps 1 – 5 as written above.  However, for this version you want to make the oats as cold as you can, so when you toss in that cup of cold water in Step 2, throw a couple ice cubes in the cup that you’re measuring the water in.  (Don’t add them after you add the water, or once they melt, you will have more than a cup of total liquid). When you’re stirring all the ingredients together in Step 3, just make sure the ice has melted before adding the flour.

– Skip steps 6 and 7.  Instead, oil the dough, the cover the bowl with plastic wrap or the lid from a large stock pot that will entirely cover the bowl, and just walk away! That’s right — walk away.  Take all day, if you like.  You want to go shopping?  Cool.  Catch a movie?  Fine with us.  Take a nap?  You deserve it.  Head over to the bakery?  No, no — you’ve got bread doing its thing at home.  And whenever you’re ready to return to it…

– Follow Steps 9 – 11 above.  You can let the loaves rise in the pan while you’re making dinner or watching TV or going through the mail.  It doesn’t need your attention, and it will only take 30-35 minutes to cook.  And when it’s done, you’ll have some delicious homemade bread to snack on.  Rock on!

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