The satisfaction derived from making one’s own bread is akin to the pride taken in building one’s own furniture. It makes us feel self-sufficient in an old-timey, Amish kind of way. Eating home-baked bread feels wholesome, earthy, and frugal, but can be intimidating to those who don’t realize how little work it can take. There are actually some quick and dirty methods that produce fantastic bread that will reveal store-bought bread for the flimsy, flabby, flavorless excuse that it generally is.
There’s the additional incentive that bread, well, it just ain’t what it used to be. Most whole grains today are mutated beyond recognition and posses none of their intrinsic health benefits or complexity of flavor once they are converted to flour. Industrial steel mills and genetic engineering have ensured that our wheat—now white, fine, fluffy, and long-lasting—bears more resemblance to cocaine than food.
Get your hands on some actual stone-ground, freshly milled wheat, and you can feel the difference. Stone-ground whole grain flour is full of protein, lipids, vitamins and minerals contained within the bran, middlings, wheat germ, and wheat germ oil, all of which are removed in white flour production to increase its shelf life. Bread made from stone-ground whole grain flour is high in fiber, has a low glycemic index, and causes none of the bloating of starchy white flour products. In fact, most people with mere gluten sensitivity can eat whole grain (also called “whole meal”) flour without a problem because the body processes it completely differently than white flour, or even whole-wheat flour (which loses part of the grain kernel in the steel-milling process).
Then there’s the spectrum of texture and flavor preserved in stone-ground whole grain flour. When bread is baked using freshly milled flour, the crust is crisp but the crumb is moist and succulent and continues to stay moist for days after baking. Subtleties of nuttiness, toastiness, and natural sweetness, intrinsic to bran and wheat germ oil, are retained. When used in pastry, the richness of the dough is attributable not just to the butter, but also to the flour.
We are pleased to have discovered a wonderful source for freshly milled stone-ground grains in Front Porch Farms. They offer three different kinds of whole grain wheat—two hard wheats for bread and one soft wheat for pastry. The ‘Frassinetto’ is an Italian heritage organic “hard red winter” whole grain flour intended for bread baking. The 'Cristallo' is a "hard white" whole grain flour, also for bread baking. The ‘Bolero’ is an Italian heritage organic “soft white” whole grain flour intended for pastry. (Nota bene: “red” and “white” describe the color of the wheat plant, not the flour). Front Porch also produces a rustic Italian heritage polenta called 'Floriani,' and rye flour in the summer.
We also recommend a trio of easy bread recipes from Jim Lahey of Sullivan Street Bakery, published in the New York Times. You’ll need nothing more than a cutting board and a casserole for these no-knead recipes: