But first, as is my wont, let me talk about my very favorite subject: Me.
When I was in my 20s, I lived with a bunch of hippies in a shared-housing situation. Okay, yes, you could call it a commune. We just called it The Green House. I was younger than the rest of the residents, and I was kind of a bad roommate: I would forget to switch the laundry after I washed it; I slept with the housemate no one liked; stuff like that.
My biggest shame as a hippy wasn’t that I couldn’t seem to fit in with my fellow hippies socially; it was that I couldn’t bake bread.
There. I’ve said it. I’m a liberal, bisexual, polyamorous freak who couldn’t bake bread.
I still feel sorry for my family, as they tried to gnaw their way through whole-grain loaves that could break jewelry-store windows. My mom always bought bread at the store, but no self-respecting commune-dweller was going to settle for the spongy stuff with the balloons on the wrapper, was she?
Laurel’s Kitchen was my bread bible, and I blasphemed it on a regular basis. I just could not get the hang of bread—I couldn’t get it to be not-sticky unless I added enough flour to make it far too dense; I couldn’t get it to really rise in the pan; and then I could not, for the life of me, make a loaf that didn’t taste like failed pumpernickel.
Enter technology to my rescue. In my 30s, I discovered the miracle of vital wheat gluten, that processed marvel of bread science that adds loft to even 100%-whole-wheat bread, and in quantities so small you don’t feel like you’ve just created the next Frankenloaf.
Now, I can bake bread with whole grains, using the bread machine or my mixer or even my hands, and since I got the hang of the whole-grain stuff, white bread is even easier.
And best of all, now people are happy to smell bread baking in my house, rather than suddenly having very urgent appointments to get to all of a sudden.
Take-away tip for the day: When making bread, add one tablespoon of vital wheat gluten for every cup of flour that’s not plain bread flour or all-purpose flour. (Obviously, this tip is entirely useless to those of you who don’t do gluten. Sorry ’bout that.)
Whole-wheat Bread with Honey and Sunflower Seeds (bread machine)
1 1/4 cups water or milk
2-4 tablespoons honey, to taste
3 cups whole-wheat flour (I use freshly ground; if you use store-bought, you might need a little more liquid)
1/2 cup bread flour (or all-purpose)
3 tablespoons vital wheat gluten
1 heaping teaspoon salt
2 teaspoons yeast
1/4 cup sunflower seeds
Place everything except sunflower seeds into bread machine in the order the manufacturer recommends, and start dough cycle. Once the dough’s been kneading for a few minutes, check it and add more flour if it’s too wet, and more water if it’s too dry. This step will really help the texture and rise of your breads.
When it’s time to add things (my machine beeps 8 times), add most of the sunflower seeds. When the dough is ready, shape it and place it in a buttered loaf pan. Cover pan with oiled plastic wrap or silpat and let rise until just cresting the top of the pan. At that point, preheat oven to 350F. Sprinkle bread with a few sunflower seeds. Bake 35 minutes. Turn out of pan and cool on a rack for at least 15 minutes before slicing.