irene and the staff of life

Irene’s long gone, but her crippling effects made quite an impression on the East Coast this past weekend.  For some people it meant good surf or more time to putz around in the kitchen.  For others it meant great loss.  My thoughts are with the latter and I pray that as they piece their homes and lives back together, they will eventually bear some semblance of that which was.

When I think of survival and food, bread is the first thing that comes to mind.  It is an accessible and unembellished staple that dates back over 30,000 years.  Anthropologists assert that bread, nicknamed the “staff of life,” is actually one of the first prepared foods and some even argue that it is the primary reason agriculture came about. Historical significance aside, it’s far-out to think that, while the recipe and heating apparatus may vary greatly, I’m conceptually making the same food in my oven that someone during the Neolothic era was making over a fire thousands and thousands of years ago.

Enough history.  Let’s fast forward to present day.  Recently, I had been growing more and more frustrated with the bread I purchase in the market.  Yes, it’s organic, whole grain, and there’s no high fructose corn syrup, but somehow that wasn’t enough anymore.  Its texture is spongy and the ingredient list is much longer than I would like to mention.  Then, miraculously and as if she sensed this frustration, Heidi Swanson of 101cookbooks, one of my favorite food bloggers, posted a recipe for an “easy little bread.”  Every week I anxiously await and then furiously read her latest blog post, but this one in particular had me over the moon.  It was exactly what I’d been yearning for:  a simple and wholesome whole wheat bread that I could throw together in no time at all.  Putting delicious and healthy recipes out there is nothing new for Heidi, though.  It’s something she consistently does every week and that is why I consider her an inspiration on so many levels, her photography and recipes constantly making an impression on the cook I am and the blogger I want to be.  After making her latest recipe for the “easy little bread,” I was so impressed that I couldn’t help but leave my latest ode to Heidi on her site (see right).

Anyhow, I’ve already made the recipe three times since she posted it and have consistently been pleased.  As a matter of fact, I see no reason to purchase the market bread anymore when she’s made it this easy and delicious.  I’ve adapted her recipe to suit my needs and made it a bit more wholesome by subbing white whole wheat for all-purpose white flour, tossing in some ground flax seed for omega-3, and, finally, adding some sunflower seeds for crunch.  I’m not a baker but this bread somehow manages to turn out just perfect every time….  Bravo, Heidi!

Basic Whole Wheat Bread
Slightly adapted from Heidi Swanson’s recipe
Makes 1 loaf

1 1/4 cups warm water (105-115 degrees Fahrenheit)
One packet active dry yeast
1 tablespoon honey
1 cup white whole wheat flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
1 cup rolled oats
3 Tbsp. ground flax seed
1/3 cup + 1 Tbsp. sunflower seeds (optional)
1 1/2 teaspoons fine grain sea salt
1 tablespoon butter, melted, for brushing

In a medium bowl, mix the yeast with the warm water and stir until it dissolves. Mix in the honey and set aside for a few minutes until the yeast blooms and swells, about 5 – 10 minutes.

In the meantime, mix the flours, oats, flax seed, 1/3 cup of sunflower seeds, and salt in a large bowl.  When the yeast liquid has bloomed, add it to the dry ingredients and stir very well.

Brush an 8 1/2-inch loaf pan generously with the melted butter. Place the dough into the pan, sprinkle one tablespoon of sunflower seeds on top, and press them gently into the dough.  Cover with a warm, slightly damp cloth.  Set in a warm place to rise for about 30 minutes.

Preheat the oven to 350F.  Bake the bread for 35-40 minutes, until golden and pulling away from the sides of the pan. Per Heidi’s recommendation, finish things up by leaving the bread under the broiler for a few moments to give the top a deep golden brown color. I needed 2 – 3 minutes under the broiler, but this will vary from oven to oven. Whatever you do, do not walk away.  Remove from oven, and turn the bread out of the pan quickly and let it cool on a rack.

A couple notes:

    • Sunflower seeds, poppy seeds, or any seed you can dream up would be a welcome addition
    • The first two times I made the bread, it popped right out of the pan.  The last time, not so much.  I had to use a butter knife in a couple of sections to pare the dough away from the sides.  Problem solved.

7 Responses to “irene and the staff of life”

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  1. patty hughes says:

    Yum!! Yum!! Can’t wait to try this one!

  2. Lisa says:

    Can’t wait to bake a loaf myself.

  3. Julie says:

    Sounds delicious! Can you make me some 🙂 Ha!

  4. Laura says:

    Saw this on 101 Cookbooks. Love your addition of sunflower seeds. Grainy, seedy bread is totally my jam.

  5. This looks and sounds delicious! I’ve always been afraid of baking breads, other than quick breads. But this one seems pretty easy! Thank you!

  6. Trish says:

    What is white whole wheat flour? is it as nutritious as whole wheat? this recipe looks fantastic

    • KarmaCucina says:

      White whole wheat flour is a lighter colored, milder tasting, and more refined whole wheat flour. It is milled from hard white spring wheat, rather than traditional red wheat. And, yes, it is a whole grain and nutritionally similar to the regular whole wheat you’re accustomed to. A win-win!

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