Friday, February 21, 2014

The Bread Diet & a Bun Recipe

I chuckled over a Facebook post about the number of loaves of bread to buy for a snow storm partly because though I think of going out for milk, toilet paper, and salt, I don’t think about buying bread. We make it at home because finding a decent loaf of bread in the States is difficult. The transition of where foods are prepared, from home to industrial food processors, means that the way food is valued, made, stored, and shipped has also changed.

Bread is about shelf life, not taste, in the States.

Despite having been the staff of life for thousands of years, bread's reputation has lost its luster in part due to the rise of gluten intolerance. Please note that the industrialization of bread baking with its reduced fermentation times has been noted to play a part in the increased prevalence of gluten intolerance. It’s therefore not merely the fault of gluten but also the quick fermentation and industrial processing that need to be avoided.

Last Thanksgiving while slicing up cheap white sandwich bread for stuffing, my husband noticed an odor emitting from the loaves. After seven years of making our own bread or buying sandwich bread from a baker in Japan, it was a revelation to then handle processed bread. It stinks.

On a recent morning, coming down the stairs, I spied the step ladder in front of open pantry doors. Flour coated the kitchen counter and floor. A bowl of barely mixed dough was sitting in front of my beaming child. Despite my frustration with the mess, I help him cover the dough and clean up while sharing in his delight for having just created something.

This child often rises with the sun in a cheerful manner and sometimes begins unsupervised projects like making bread dough. I’m not sure exactly what posses him, but his bread concoctions are amazingly good. He uses all-purpose flour with a high protein content and instant yeast because that is what is accessible in the pantry. (The long acting yeast is in our fridge and he’s yet to use it.) I tend to let the dough sit around all day, sometimes overnight, and then shape it right before he comes home from school because of course he wants to see if it turned into something. We bake it and voilà, it’s always tasty, moist, and somedays it even has lovely holes, think of the no knead bread method. I’ve decided that part of his bread’s success lies in the long fermentation process and the beauty of playing with food.

In these parts of Ohio, the vegan (CHIP) diet is heavily pushed. However, there are still plenty of us around who eat a few animal products and like our bread to contain gluten. I eat plenty of vegetarian fare, but I have an intense dislike of faux food or food that is vegan but is supposed to taste like meat or something else. I prefer eating foods that are what they are, and processed whatever food is usually not so good for you anyway.

When I worked as a cardiac nurse, I asked patients and their families about their diet. Americans eat too much processed food. It’s one of the reasons I learned to cook real food. It’s also the reason I eat butter, bread, full fat yogurt, and drink whole milk— it’s real food. I’ve also noted that people the world over who eat and cook what they like in reasonable amounts and that exercise to some degree are not always on a (calories restricted) diet. For the love of food, eat the real stuff and get it locally. If I was  dishing out diet advice, I would say consider this from Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, “Eat food. Not too much. Mostly plants.” I might add that wheat is a plant.

Do you remember the National Geographic article about longevity and diet that highlighted the blue zones where people lived for a long time which included the Sardinians, Okinawans, and the Seventh-day Adventists of Loma Linda, California? They ate diets that included bread, cheese, meat, and small amounts of alcohol along with the vegan and vegetarian fare. A National Geographic researcher, Dan Buettner, commented on blue zone diets in a later interview, saying, “Hanging out with unhappy people who drink and smoke is hazardous to your health.” My point here is that bread and cheese can be part of a healthy diet (and it helps to socialize and be part of a community).

Recently, I've been reading Pickled, Potted, and Canned: How the  Art and Science of Food Preserving Changed the World by Sue Shepard. I was shocked in the preface to read that in 1800 archaeologist in Egypt were eating honey thousands of years old until they found some hairs in it and then the perfectly preserved body of a small baby. Apparently honey keeps almost indefinitely and gives self-preserving new meaning.

The book is full of interesting bits on the competitive food chain— “if we don’t quickly take advantage of a food, something else will.” The history on the ways that this has been done is quite interesting. Think of travelers, refugees, soldiers, sailors, and long winters with no food and add to that the myriad locations around the world with varying conditions, food stuffs, and learning curves. The fermentation process and ingredients like vinegar, salt, honey, and sugar were found to transform perishable food stuff into storable and transportable foods like crackers, breads, cheeses, yogurts, and wines. It’s kind of interesting to realize that butter and yogurt weren’t about being healthy or unhealthy but about putting food by for another day.

Our industrious forebearers found that fermentation can make inedible foods edible. The Sudanese love of rotten meat evolved in a region plagued with food scarcity and benefits those that consume every last calorie available to them. Fermentation gives us cultural icons that are now eaten throughout the world— German saurkraut, Vietnamese fish sauce nuoc mam, katsuobushi and miso from Japan, thousand year old eggs from China, Korean kimchi, and even bread.  Allowing yeast to ferment is part of what makes gluten digestible.

If an eight year old boy can come downstairs and mix up a bowl of dough that turns into a delicious bread, so can you. Here's a recipe for buns that are delish. Put some jam on it. Live a little. Eat bread, but make it yourself.

Buns for Breakfast or Burgers
Make 8 to 12
These breakfast buns work with or without a burger. I adapted a recipe from the online The Bakers Circle hosted by King Arthur flour.

Whole Wheat flour, 2/3 cup
Bread flour 2 1/3 cup
Sugar, 1/4 cup
Salt, 1 1/4 tsp
Warm Water, 1 cup
Yeast (regular), 1 Tbsp
Egg, 1 large
Butter, 2 Tbsp melted & slightly cooled + 3 Tbsp for topping


  1. In a mixing bowl, whisk together whole wheat flour, bread flour, sugar, and salt.
  2. Melt 2 Tbsp of butter butter and set aside to cool slightly.
  3. In another mixing bowl, whisk together 1 cup of the flour mix, warm water, and yeast until smooth and shiny, about 1 minute.
  4. Add the egg and slightly cooled butter to the mixture and whisk again until smooth and shiny, about 1 minute.
  5. In a standing mixer fitted with a dough hook or by hand, add the remaining flour mixture to the dough mix and knead until smooth and elastic, about 10 minutes. Add additional bread flour as needed if extremely sticky, should just be tacky.
  6. Cover the dough, and allow to rise until doubled in bulk, about 1 to 2 hours.
  7. Gently deflate the dough, divide into 8 to 12 pieces (8 for burger size; 12 for bun size, 24 for slider size). Shape each piece into a round ball; flatten to about 3-inches across. Place the buns on a silicon sheet or parchment-lined baking sheet. Cover and let rise until noticeably puffy, about 1 hour.
  8. Brush buns with half of the additional melted butter. Bake 375ºF until golden, about 15 to 18 minutes, Remove from the oven and brush with the remaining melted butter.

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