Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Good Bread Only Takes Three Good Things...

I'm preparing my grand whole wheat bread recipe post, but before I jump into it, I would like to do a smaller post about ingredients, so I don't clutter up the recipe with segues into my preferences for flour or yeast.

Avram and I have a joke - with an twisted origin from something that Avram's brother Samuel's mission companion (he went to Montreal) said once about Poutine (a specialty of Canada) - that you only need three things to make a good Poutine - good Potatoes, good gravy, and good cheese. As Poutine is thick french fries covered in a gravy and cheese curds, this effectively describes the whole dish. We like to turn this into a joke about any dish. 'Pizza only takes four important things. Good dough, good sauce, good cheese, good toppings.' 'Fettuccine Alfredo only needs three important things. Good Noodles, good cream and good Parmesan.' - and so on until we get tired of the joke, which hasn't happened yet.

I'm happy to say that Bread is not in this category. In my experience you can get by with some mediocre ingredients and produce a wonderful product. Bread making is all about the method. I am the official family roll maker for my family's Thanksgivings and Christmas celebrations, and am somewhat famous in the position, if I do say so myself (and I just did). I have repeatedly been asked by various sisters for my roll recipe - and I always tell them that it isn't the recipe. I could use any old recipe lying around - and I usually do. It's how you make the rolls that makes them special. Same thing applies to bread. You can take any flour, water, salt and yeast you have lying around and turn out a great loaf - without even a recipe or four star ingredients at all.

Having said all this, I do care enough about my ingredients that I use to want to pontificate on them for a post or so.


There are two major types of yeast out there on the market, Instant or Regular. Either kind works fine, but I do prefer the regular, and I can't really tell you why. Supposedly since the regular yeast takes longer to rise, the flavor of the bread develops better. Who knows? Regardless, don't go out and buy the regular if all you have is instant. The regular comes in small balls, and the instant is more powdery. Many modern recipes assume you have instant yeast, and so will instruct you to mix the yeast with the flour. Do NOT do this if you have regular yeast. Regular yeast must be dissolved in water before mixing with flour - otherwise it will never fully activate, and your bread won't rise (and it also won't fully incorporate into the dough, and so there will be pesky little dots of yeast scattered throughout your bread. Not that I know this by personal experience, or anything....) If your recipe tells you to add the yeast to the flour first, just add it to the water, and make sure the water is warm to the touch, so the little yeasties can grow.

Instant yeast can either be mixed with water first, or mixed straight into the flour. My recipes will all call for proofing, or mixing the yeast and water, since I use regular yeast. Also this method allows you to test your yeast to make sure it is active and strong. Yeast has a shelf life, and the longer it sits, the less rising action you will get from it. Yeast is actually alive (which makes me wonder - is it alive enough to count as an animal? Should vegetarians really be eating bread? What about jello - gelatin is made from pigs and cows hooves and stuff. So can vegetarians eat jello? Mmmm, these are deep thoughts), and the best way to keep it fresh and strong is by storing it in your freezer. I just put the little jar or bag (if it's in a large bag, like you can buy yeast in from Costco, I first place it into a larger bag, so yeast doesn't leak out all over my freezer) straight into my freezer door - the yeast doesn't have moisture, so it won't freeze into a solid block, but will just remain as it was unfrozen in form and composition, and you can use yeast for any recipe straight from the freezer. If you proof your yeast and it isn't very strong, double the amount called for in the recipe.

Yeast is not like other ingredients. If you double the recipe, only 1 1/2 times the yeast. If you halve the recipe, you don't necessarily halve the yeast.

When buying yeast, take the plunge and buy the biggest container you can of it - it's much cheaper per ounce to buy a honking bag than a dinky little set of three individual use pouches.


I really don't have much to say here except use any old tap water. It's important though to add warm water - about the warmest that you can comfortably rest your hand in it - so that the yeast will grow quickly. Otherwise your dough will take forever to expand. If the water is too hot, it will kill the yeast as well (although I've never accidentally added too hot water.) It's really not rocket science - if you wouldn't put your baby in the water, whether it's too hot or too cold, then don't stick the yeast in it. Your baby - alive. The yeast - alive. Both need to grow. Just whatever you do, don't stick the baby and your yeast in the same water at the same time.


Bread does not need sweetener. I have made many a loaf with nothing but the four basic ingredients - Flour, Water, Salt, Yeast. But sweetener does help the yeast grow quickly, since they feast on the sugar, it acts as a preservative, and if you add a lot of sweetener it affects the flavor of the bread as well. For whole wheat bread I always use honey, because the flavor complements the whole wheat taste. Also, honey is sweeter measure for measure than sugar, so if you ever substitute sugar for honey you need to add more sugar. Since I make a weekly sandwich loaf, I use minimal honey - two tablespoons for two loaves. But if you like a richer bread, feel free to add more. Honey is expensive, especially when compared to using sugar, but two tablespoons a week does not add up very fast. I've been using the same large container (about $10) for about eight months, and we use it for everything - sandwiches almost daily, on cornbread, in bread baking.

If you quickly spray the measuring cup first with oil before measuring out the honey, the honey will slide right off the cup. I love spray oil - it's my best friend in cooking.


For this recipe I would recommend either using all whole wheat flour or part whole wheat, part white flour. For a white sandwich bread, I'll post a recipe soon that better works for white bread. Optimally for the best loaf, I recommend half hard white wheat flour, and half hard red wheat flour. Obviously this will not be an option unless you can grind the wheat yourself, so feel free to just use whatever whole wheat flour your store provides.

If you are LDS, odds are that someone in your ward has a wheat grinder that they would love to either lend you, or have you come to their house and use. If you aren't LDS but know anyone who is, odds are they too will have an unused Wheat Grinder in their garage. For months before getting my own wheat grinder I would periodically borrow a Sister's wheat grinder and grind two or three months worth of flour at a time. I would grind the red and white wheats separately, and then store them in gallon freezer bags in my freezer. These bags can hold a LOT of flour when filled completely! If you are going to store wheat flour for longer than a day or two, store it in the freezer - it will stay fresh tasting and retain its nutrients better this way. Even store bought wheat flour benefits from being kept in the freezer.

Even now with my own grinder I will intentionally grind more than I need, and keep the extra in the freezer, so that way when I'm whipping up something quick I can just grab the flour from the freezer, instead of having to add in the extra step of grinding it right then. I grind the red and white wheats separately, but you can also just add them straight to the hopper together, which will make a nice premixed flour, without having to add the different flours to the dough separately.


We don't like much salt. You can if you like salt a lot double the amount of salt my recipe uses.

Dry Milk

I developed this recipe to use up food storage items, and so intentionally included dry milk. If you do not keep dry milk in the house, just substitute milk for most of the water (still proof the yeast in warm water), and you'll be fine. If you do this, warm the milk up in the microwave until it's lukewarm. Milk is important to include in a sandwich bread that you will not completely eat on the day it's made. Milk, along with honey and eggs (if a recipe uses them - this one doesn't) help preserve bread, and keep it fresh tasting longer. Bread without any of these will taste stale the next day after baking.


I only use Extra Virgin Olive Oil in my bread baking - whether it's white bread or wheat bread (although with rolls I do use butter). There is no taste residue in the bread itself, and I like how healthy it is. If you like, you can substitute any oil, or even melted butter. But I do prefer Extra Virgin Olive Oil, or at least Olive Oil.

Vital Wheat Gluten

This is probably the most specialized ingredient, and also probably the only one that you don't already have in the house. But it is NOT optional. Or I suppose it is, if you like to eat the stereotypical whole wheat bricks that are the reason people are convinced homemade wheat bread is disgusting. In Provo, where you can buy fifty pound bags of wheat in the grocery store, you can also find Vital Wheat Gluten in any grocery store. Here in Ohio, I found some organic, super expensive wheat gluten at Walmart. On my last trip to Utah I stocked up, although my Mom ended up getting me Dough Conditioner instead. This will also work, although not quite as well, but it is a good thing to keep for any yeast bread, as it will help give bread that indefinable "bakery taste" (they all use dough conditioners).

Whole Wheat Flour doesn't have as much gluten as white flour, and as gluten is what gives bread its structure to keep it risen and lofty instead of dense and yucky, you need to boost the dough a little with vital wheat gluten. This will help your wheat bread rise and stay risen. It is the miracle secret of home whole wheat baking, and it's worth buying - I only use two tablespoons per recipe, so it lasts a long time. Dough Conditioner even only needs one tablespoon per recipe. So go make the investment into edible home whole wheat products today! (The Company of Grandma's County Foods really ought to pay me to say all this. I sound like a cheesy commercial.)

There you have it - the complete tour through my bread's ingredient list. I calculated it once that making homemade bread costs about a dollar a loaf. For twice that amount you can buy white bread in the store that you can smash down into a little ball of bread mush, or you can have healthy, yummy homemade whole wheat bread.

Soon I will post the recipe and instructions themselves, and then you too can eat yummy bread all of the time.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Make Some Homemade Pasta Today

A year after Avram and I were married, we discovered a fifty dollar gift card tucked away in his wallet - the last remnant of our wedding money and gifts. What good is an unspent gift? So away we headed to Sears to find something to buy. Among the final wedding loot, we came away with a pasta machine, for under $25. We used the pasta machine several times in the next year, but never enough in my mind to justify it being the last of our free wedding money. A friend of mine from college, Kevin, had a pasta machine, and every New Year's he would have an Italian Pasta feast, which he would make all day with friends, and then eat in the evening on his cobalt blue beautiful dinnerware. Kevin was an amazing cook, and taught me many secrets to good bread, among other foods. Kevin married my very good friend and roommate Carol, and shortly after their marriage they had us old single roommates over for some homemade spaghetti pasta. I felt inspired by Kevin to make my own homemade pasta.

Making homemade pasta can be quite a chore, although a worth it one. The dough is usually just a blend of eggs and flour, with nothing else added. Avram always had to knead the dough because I simply am not strong enough - or more specifically, my wrists cannot handle it. I broke my wrist when I was seventeen, while twirling down a hill, celebrating the return of spring and warmth (hey, this was in Wisconsin, it's a big thing there). I reached the bottom of the hill and stopped my skipping, but the momentum of my turning made me continue to twist, and I fell, with my right wrist catching my twisted weight. Six weeks later the pin finally came out and the wrappings came off. Spring and I have never felt the same about each other again.

My wrist has never felt quite the same again either, and I simply cannot exert enough pressure to knead the tough Pasta dough, hence limiting our Pasta sessions to weekend exertions when Avram can knead. We loved the homemade pasta taste, and even making it is a fun cooking experience, but it never felt convenient enought to justify for more than special occasions.

Then in an effort to expand our eating habits from plain old spaghetti, and because I've been wanting to pull out our pasta machine, which hasn't been used since Provo, I got The New Complete Book of Pasta, by Maria Luisa and Jack Denton Scott, out of the library. We followed their "Pasta Fresca All'Uovo" recipe, and fell in love. The addition of olive oil and warm water, plus the handy kneading power of a kitchen aid, made all the difference in our homemade pasta experience.

Since Pasta dough has certain characteristics I didn't want to mess with by using all whole wheat, I only used half whole white wheat for the dough (you are supposed to use semolina flour, but we didn't have any). Here's the recipe. You can make it without either a Pasta Machine nor a Kitchen Aid, although both do make the operation easier.

2 Cups Whole White Wheat Flour (or white flour)
2 Cups white flour (preferably unbleached)
4 eggs, slightly beaten
1 1/2 tsp salt
2 tsp olive oil
2 tsp warm water.

Pile the flour on a well floured table top or in a Kitchen Aid mixing bowl. Make a well in the center, and place the four lightly beaten eggs, salt, olive oil and warm water in this. Add the liquid slowly to make the dough soft enough to handle. Mix together (it will not look as if it will mix together at first. Keep at it.) Avram first mixed together the dough by hand a little, and then we put the mixing bowl in the Kitchen Aid, and using the dough hook mixed on one for several minutes. Knead it by hand or machine until it is smooth. By hand this will be about ten minutes.

Let the dough rest for 10-20 minutes, under a towel (VERY important step). Divide the ball into four pieces. If you have a pasta machine, run the piece through the machine several times on the widest setting, until it forms a uniform shape. Lydia had to run the machine - she would push down the handle one way, and I would bring it back up to the top for her, since she couldn't make it all the way around.

Otherwise roll out one piece with a rolling pin (make sure to flour the table and pin) until very thin. With a machine, put the dough through each setting once, until it goes through the thinnest setting (we had to cut cut the strip in half in the middle, to make it more workable, as otherwise it grew too long). At this point cut the thinnest dough in half, width wise, and then run the strip of thin dough through either the fettuccine or spaghetti setting, and then lay on cloth or some other place to dry. If making the pasta by hand, cut the rolled out pasta into strips 3/4 of an inch wide, or whatever size and shape you desire. You can also lightly roll up the dough, and then cut the roll into thin strips, unroll, and you have fettuccine.

The longest part of this whole process is the rolling out parts - but it's a fun kitchen job, and once you get the hang of it (which really doesn't take very long), not stressful at all.

The Florenzo School of Highly Official Drying Racks. (Notice the sheet of pasta waiting its turn for being cut. This is half of a quarter of the ball - ie, the half that was laid aside when we had to cut the dough in half because it grew too long while being thinned out).

For immediate use, let dry about an hour. To store without refrigeration, let dry a while longer, and then store in a ziplock bag.

To cook the pasta have a large pot of water on the stove rapidly boiling. Right before adding the pasta, put a couple of tablespoons of salt and a little olive oil (if desired - it can help the pasta not stick to itself) in the water. Add the pasta all at once, and boil until Al Dente. For homemade pasta, this is only three minutes, at the most. Start testing at two minutes. If making a pasta that will be baked afterwards, only cook for one to one and a half minutes.
Ta-da! You have half whole grain, yummy and delicious homemade pasta! (Bet you can't tell it's whole grain, either).
We made a recipe I may post later from this same cookbook, with lots of yummy spinach and bacon. Even Elisheva was scarfing it down.

This recipe makes 1 1/2 pounds of pasta, so unless you have a larger family, there should be lots (we saved half the recipe) to dry and use again.

I would say "Happy Eating!" in Italian here, but the only Italian I know is "Principessa" from It's a Beautiful Life, so; Principessa!

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Grain Types

My sister Camilla requested a post explaining about the different types of wheat, since she didn't know there were different kinds. I spent most of my life not knowing either - but now I'm obsessed with wheat types!

Hard Red Wheat:

Small reddish grains of wheat, hard red wheat has a high gluten content, and is ideal for bread making, and any cooking where a development of gluten is desired (ie, anything made with yeast that is kneaded, etc.) The flour of hard red will have visible red specks of the hull sprinkled throughout. Available through any LDS Church Home Cannery.

Hard White Wheat:

Larger yellow/brown grains of wheat, hard white wheat also has a higher gluten content. Available through Provident Living or any LDS Church Home Cannery.

White Flour available in the Supermarket:

A blend of various hard and soft wheat.

Soft Wheat:

A low gluten content. Used for pastry and pie crusts and anything that is risen by baking powder or soda and where a soft crumb and minimum development of gluten is desired (cakes, cookies). The brand of Soft Lily flour and cake flour are soft wheat.

Durham Wheat:

Principally used for pastas. A yellow, large grain. When milled into flour it is known as semolina, and it is its yellow color that gives pasta its color.

I've only ever used hard red and white wheat, but I'd love to get some soft and durham wheat (to make my own pasta). There are plenty of places on the Internet that sell them, but I'm hoping to find them for sale in local feed stores, health food stores, and the like.

Bread made with Hard Red Wheat alone will be fairly dense and have a hearty (sometimes almost bitter) taste. White Wheat tends to be slightly bland, which works very well in dishes that aren't traditionally whole wheat, and so you do not want a whole wheat flavor. I mix the two for bread baking and for most recipes using yeast. For everything else I use White wheat alone.

Whole wheat absorbs more water, so when adjusting a recipe for whole wheat add slightly less flour, so that the balance of dry to wet ingredients is not changed.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

For My Mom

So my mother does not boycott this blog for lack of Lydia exposure, here is Lydia in the Kitchen With Thora.
She's helping mix up (whole white wheat) Butterscotch Brownies. Yummie!

Thursday, May 7, 2009

Applesauce Whole Wheat Muffins

Editor's Note: If you have already copied down this recipe, please not the salt was wrong. The correct amount should be 1/2 tsp. salt. It has been corrected below. That is all.

As the virgin Nutrimill homeground wheat recipe extravaganza, this morning I made Whole Hard White Wheat (bought from the good old Church Cannery, in a 25 pound bag) Muffins. These muffins are amazing, and my own recipe, if I must be modest.

My general rule for baking with Whole Wheat is when I want the hearty taste traditionally associated with Whole Wheat - usually in Whole Wheat bread, I use a mixture of half White Wheat and half Red Wheat (both of the hard variety). When I want to approximate white flour, I use White Wheat alone.

I made these Apple Sauce Muffins with White Wheat, although if I had any Soft White Wheat, I would preferably use that. I ground the wheat as finely as possible, although these are also good with a courser grind for a more rustic texture and flavor. Any store bought whole wheat flour will work fine as well.

I love these muffins - they are tender, and made with no oil or butter, so they are healthy too.

Whole Wheat Applesauce Muffins
400 Degree Oven, Makes 12 Muffins

2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 tsp salt
4 tsp baking powder
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon
1 cup milk
2 large eggs
1/2 cup applesauce

1. Preheat the oven to 400 Degrees Fahrenheit.
2. Mix together the dry ingredients.
3. Measure out the milk in a liquid measuring cup. Add the eggs, and beat the eggs lightly.
4. Add the milk/egg mixture, the applesauce, and mix together gently until just moistened - there will be lumps.
5. Fill 12 muffin cups, which have been prepared either with liners or spray oil.
6. Bake for 12-15 minutes, or until firm and lightly browned.

This is an easy weekday breakfast. It takes the same amount of time to make the muffins as preheat the oven, and then while they're baking you can, get dressed, do prep dishes, get your kids up (although to be honest, I didn't get all of this done while baking this morning).

I don't measure out the cinnamon, so this is just a broad guess of what I use. We like these with a lot of cinnamon.

I usually halve this recipe for our family.

These are definitely breakfast muffins - they are not overly sweet and rich, like dessert muffins you buy at Costco.

I plan two each for Avram and I, plus a glass of milk or juice, and fruit or yogurt on the side. For yogurt I buy plain, and we sweeten it ourselves with brown sugar - usually 1 tsp per half cup if there will be fruit added, or more if it will be eaten plain or with a couple drops of vanilla added.


use 1/2 cup pumpkin puree instead of applesauce. Use pumpkin pie spices - nutmeg, cinnamon, ginger, cloves. Increase sugar by a couple of tablespoons or more.

Use 1/2 cup banana puree (made with brown speckled, very ripe bananas) and 1/2 tsp vanilla.

Any of these varieties could have nuts, or struesal topping added, or blueberries or cranberries. Use your imagination!

You are in the Kitchen with Thora

"What is this blog?" I bet you're asking yourself (or not). Well -

Someone's in the Kitchen With Thora
is a cooking blog. Or a food blog. Occasionally it's an instructional, recipe blog. Sometimes I promise there will even be pictures. Currently it will often focus on Whole Grain Cooking, specifically home ground whole wheat cooking, because I just got my Nutrimill yesterday, and I am very excited for all the Whole Grain Possibilities. Also, I have been working to expand my repertoire with desserts, so there will liably be a fair number of dessert experiences sprinkled throughout my posts. Ultimately, this blog is a little cooking paradise where I revel in my life-long love of cooking and food. I can't promise this will be an educational blog, with in depth discussion of methods and recipes. I can promise that I'll attempt to make jokes of life and of my failed cooking experiences - which despite my long years of cooking still happen.

I take as my cooking muses (doesn't that sound nice and literary and pretentious?) The Little House Cookbook, and the Frugal Gourmet, whom I loved growing up, and my childhood self (can one muse for oneself? It sounds very Jungian - my younger self projects a muse for my older self, so the actual existence of the muse is not as important as the projection....).

I used to spend hours in the kitchen from about 11 onwards, standing at our large pine table with long benches, pretending to lead a cooking show, with our large picture window facing the backyard composing the camera and audience. I spent countless hours cooking, and instructing, in that little kitchen. I made bread galore, molasses candy, really salty baked beans (this was when I learned that par boiling salt pork is not a step to skip in the interest of time), and even a daffodil (marbled sponge and angel food) cake, which I have not since attempted until 14 years later, or last week.

Now that I cannot get away with blithely chattering to myself in my kitchen while I cook, I have created this little space as my own cooking show, and you all get to be the audience. Who knew that you would be a famous audience for a pretend cooking show one day? (Which all reminds me of my first kiss, which happened in a one act play I was in in High School about a cooking show played by three archetypes - Epicurean, Stoic and Cynic. The nice boy I kissed is now gay and attempting to be on Broadway. Good Times.)

For the rest of my daily musings and meandering memories, visit my regular blog, The Good News of Thora.