The other day I put my basil plants out of their misery – although they were extremely happy this summer and on into early autumn, growing 3 feet tall and almost as wide around – their stems grew mustard-colored, the leaves shriveled up, and last Friday the whole plants just toppled over like tipsy ballerinas. In their place, I put out some heirloom pumpkins that I’d found I needed when I saw them displayed at the farmer’s market. Don’t laugh; my friends and family know well enough by now that I will release untold dollars from my wallet on large, heavy fruits when they have names like Lumina, Cinderella and Old Zeb and come in every autumnal color on the Martha Stewart paint chart. Plus, the guy at the market said they bake up real good. I’ll let you know how they taste in a few weeks, when I try them out.
But back to baking. It’s not that I think making bread should be relegated to those infrequent days when you are cozily nestled inside, but it’s definitely more satisfying. I do cheat a little, however. I want the wonderful homemade bread smell on my cozy inside day, but I also want to have more time to spend reading stories to my son, and to myself, for that matter.
My method is to haul up the handy bread machine that lives in my basement, and I highly recommend brushing the dust off of your machine, if you have one, to make only the dough for this bread. In fact, I might as well say that dough is the only thing you should make in the bread machine. Why do you need a dry, oddly shaped bread-like door stopper with strange holes on the bottom? Well, you don’t. But without a bread machine’s dough cycle, you will have a hard time duplicating the warm, humid atmosphere that dough needs to “proof”, or develop. All you need to do when the dough cycle ends is to take the dough out of the machine and fold it into a loaf pan for one more rise, then stick it in a regular oven to bake. So easy, so good.
One more thing: I recently tried a new Gold Medal “artisan” bread flour called “Harvest King” – at least, it’s new to me, but when I looked it up on the General Mills website, they seem to be saying it’s been around for a few years. It makes outstanding bread.
Adapted from Beth Hensperger
1 1/2 cups buttermilk
2 tablespoons canola or vegetable oil
2 tablespoons softened butter
3 tablespoons maple syrup
1 tablespoon honey
2 cups stoneground whole wheat flour
2 cups bread flour
1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons vital wheat gluten (optional, but gives machine-made dough a loftier texture)
2 teaspoons fine sea salt
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast (I use SAF)
Put everything in the bread machine in the order listed and press the “dough” cycle button.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees.
When the dough is ready, gently form it into a plump log shape on a lightly floured surface. Transfer the dough to a loaf pan coated with nonstick spray, tucking the ends under. Cover lightly with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel, and let it rise until doubled, about 30-45 minutes.
Bake for 30 minutes, or until top is browned and bottom sounds hollow when you thump it. Cool as long as you can before cutting into it, or the crust will get soggy.