I am quite enamored with neighboring Bucks County. We don’t live there. We live closer to the city and only 5 minutes from my husband’s job. That kind of proximity is priceless. But I find myself making the drive to Bucks County weekly for its locally cultivated and produced foods. The drive is scenic and I have an energy efficient car. I get the sense that local foods have always been a part of the area fabric. They are not just some hipster trend, but instead the way it’s always been done. Just gazing out over the sprawling farmlands and beautiful stone farmhouses gives me a sense of peace. I grew up in a rural part of Pennsylvania. I love cities but they are often too much for me. When I admit this to my sophisticated and savvy city dwelling peers I feel like such an old woman. The truth is that I don’t want to live in New York or Philadelphia or even Austin. It’s just too much. Traffic stresses me out. I need the forest close. My favorite places in the whole world are where it’s isolated enough that I can let my dogs run off leash, see the stars at night, and smell, taste and hear nature. And then I went and married a city boy. Born and bred. Go figure. I guess we balance each other out. I keep plants on our balcony to brighten the room. He humors me and drinks the crazy farm fresh milk I buy. But I am getting off topic here. This is actually about a different love story. The day I fell in love with freshly stone ground whole wheat.
Castle Valley Mill is a centuries-old restored mill in Doylestown, PA. It has been grinding grains since 1730. Bucks County Taste ran an article about the operation in 2010. The flours come in fabric sacks. Because there are no preservatives and flour can go rancid, you have to store it in your freezer. The mill is open on Saturday mornings and a few local markets sell their products. I drove up to a Farm market last week to purchase a sack.
I was curious, but slightly skeptical. I’ve bought high quality whole wheat flours before and my breads have come out heavy as bricks. And with so many great bakers and bread producers out there, would my homemade product hold a candle to the professionals? Is it worth the drive and the price? My biggest goal in making my own whole wheat bread is to have a freshly baked staple in my house without all the preservatives and long-syllable words the commercial products contain. We got very spoiled eating freshly baked bread, hot from the oven each day, in Chile where there’s a panadería on almost every corner. And the bread goes hard as a rock a day later. Because that’s how it should be!
In the past I’ve used Mark Bittman’s classic No-Knead Bread Recipe with great results for the while flour version. However, the whole wheat version came out too heavy. So I found a promising looking whole wheat version by a website called Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day. This recipe does use Vital Wheat Gluten. (I assume that if you already have gluten sensitivities this recipe won’t work for you, but adding even more gluten probably makes it especially impossible.) The bread that I ended up making combined the Artisan Bread Recipe with Bittman’s instructions on baking in a dutch oven. Perhaps because of the flour, the dough came out really hard to handle, and I used more of the Bittman technique for resting and baking. However, if you do not have a dutch oven, the Artisan Bread You Tube Channel has a great video on creating a steam environment in your oven using three different techniques.
The idea behind Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day is not so much that the bread takes only five minutes start to finish. You make a large container of dough and go baking it in small batches. Rising and resting takes quite a bit of time, but your actual active time preparing and putting it into the oven is only five minutes once you have the dough ready and waiting in your fridge.
So–how did the freshly stone ground flour turn out? Phenomenal! We got such a tender loaf of bread full of flavor and delicate texture. If you can find freshly stone ground flour, I cannot recommend it enough!
Stone Ground Whole Wheat Bread
(From Artisan Bread in Five Minutes a Day and Mark Bittman)
- 5 1/2 cups stone ground whole wheat flour (freshly ground and locally produced if possible)
- 2 cups unbleached white flour, plus extra for dusting
- 1 1/2 tablespoons instant granulated yeast
- 1 tablespoon coarse salt
- 1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
- 4 cups lukewarm water
- flaxseeds and oatmeal for crust (optional)
Above: Dough before rising.
To make the dough:
- In a very large bowl, whisk together flours and all dry ingredients.
- Slowly stir in water until you create a loose, wet dough. The dough will seem extremely wet and runny compared to traditional bread recipes.
- Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a towel.
- Allow to rise for at least two hours. When ready, dough will have nearly doubled in size and have tons of bubbles in it.
- You can then cover and put dough into the refrigerator for baking later, or start with a handful of dough immediately.
Above: Shapeless blob of dough before resting.
To make a loaf of bread:
- Place a large handful of dough on a floured piece of parchment paper or a heavily-floured (clean) kitchen towel.
- Lightly dust with flour and cover with saran wrap. If dough is fresh, allow to rest for 40 minutes. If dough has been refrigerated, rest for 90 minutes.
- 30-40 minutes before baking, preheat oven with dutch oven inside (without lid) to 450 degrees F.
- Dust rested dough with more flour and shape into a loose ball by bringing up dough from below to the top on the sheet of parchment paper.
- Once oven and dutch oven have preheated, carefully remove dutch oven from oven using pot holders.
- Carry dough over to dutch oven using the parchment paper and flip into heated dutch oven.
- Using pot holders, shake dough into place.
- Optional: Sprinkle flax seed and oatmeal onto top of dough. (At this point my dough was wet enough so that topping stuck without a problem, but you can also sprinkle dough with water before adding toppings so that they stick).
- Place lid on top of dutch oven and put inside the oven.
- If the loaf is relatively small, bake for 25 minutes with the lid on, then 10-15 minutes with the lid off, until loaf is brown. If the loaf is large, bake for 30 minutes with lid on, then 15-20 with lid off.
- Remove from oven. Flip loaf onto cooling rack and allow to cool before serving.
Above: Dough after resting.
Dough shaped into a sticky ball.
Flipped into dutch over with toppings sprinkled on top.
Fresh out of the oven.
We enjoyed our freshly baked bread with olive oil, salt and pepper!