My mother says bread making is a gift, an ancient art I can be proud of to the end of my days, that I can take flour and water and yeast and transform them into something all their own, a unique food that is not flour or water or yeast, but something more. Unfortunately, knowing this does not make bread-baking easier.
I’ve never been good at making bread — it takes forever, even with the cheater recipes where you just stick the stuff in the bread machine. That said, I like eating bread, so when the December 2012/January 2013 issue of MOTHER EARTH NEWS arrived promising the best whole-grain bread you’ve ever tasted, I was psyched. There are bread recipes I make regularly and like, but they aren’t the best ever. Accordingly I decided to try it. Then, for argument’s sake, I figured I’d make a loaf of our normal bread at the same time so I could compare them.
Twenty-four hours into the process, I had dough-hand, my stress levels had long since punched through the roof, and I was beginning to wonder what exactly I had gotten myself into.
As fellow readers of the magazine will know, I had started the bread-making the previous day. The non-MOTHER recipe improves with aging, but the MOTHER EARTH NEWS recipe requires it, so I had put together the ingredients on Saturday and did the actual baking on Sunday. Not only that, but there’s a twist — the MOTHER recipe has to be aged in two separate pieces, the sponge and the soaker. On paper, the main difference between them is that the sponge has yeast and the soaker does not, but the sponge was also fluffier and looked like bread dough. The soaker was dark gook with a powerful aroma.
On Sunday dough-hand (gloppy, doughy, messy hands) struck again. I had combined the sponge and soaker and was working on kneading the MOTHER EARTH NEWS dough. My mother said my kneading technique looked more like massaging, but I managed to manhandle this dough into a ball and put it in an oiled bowl to rise.
Then I took the other dough out of the refrigerator. When I uncovered it, my first thought was: Is it supposed to look like that? My mother confirmed that it was far too loose, and I dumped nearly a cup of flour in before it was finished.
Not wanting to take more time than necessary, I put both the breads in the oven at the same time and temperature. Since we had quartered the non-MOTHER recipe, I stretched it out a little bit to cover the bottom of the baking pan, assuming it would rise in the oven.
When I took it out it still looked exactly the same. The MOTHER EARTH NEWS loaf was quite possibly the most beautiful bread I’ve ever made — it looked like bread should look. The other looked rather like challah bread, which would have been fine except that in texture it resembled a rock. I suspect that this was my fault and not the bread’s, but whoever’s fault it was, it was still inedible.
The MOTHER EARTH NEWS recipe, however, was delicious. I tried it one morning with breakfast — I didn’t add toppings or even toast it. I wanted to see how it held up plain.
It held up just fine.
Even without the extra grains (I’d opted not to add them), it was delicious: tender with a nice crust, and it tasted of whole wheat and ferment. I didn’t get to compare it with the other bread, but it was very tasty. Our new kitten gave it her own stamp of approval by stealing a burnt crust off the table and gnawing on it.
All in all, the latest MOTHER EARTH NEWS bread recipe isn’t as simple as some, but worth trying. Here’s the link to the bread recipe.
See you next time.