Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Bread is Good, Especially Bread with Ancient Grains

photo source

This Year's New Year's Resolution: Bake More Bread
Being of the hopeless romantic variety, I always make a few New Year's resolutions. What I actually do is put a few thoughts together about how to reset the priorities in my life, do a little assessment, and try to restructure how my brain thinks which lasts a few weeks into January.

Since exercise is already part of my religion, you'll seldom find that topic in my resolutions. I try to get out an hour a day to do some activity, whether it be bike, hike, run, x-country ski, or walk. Because my climate is moderate and I get to partake in these activities while enjoying Boulder's natural paradise, that hour is the highlight of my day. Not to do it would be my punishment.

As far as eating goes, I've found that focusing on what TO DO instead of what NOT TO DO works well. For example, deciding to eat an apple mid-afternoon every day goes a long way towards preventing poor impulsive snacking choices late afternoon. It's a sly way of tricking oneself into being good. Focusing on the good rather than the bad is a good principle in life whatever the subject and works for dieting, too.

The most clever weight-loss New Year's resolution that I have heard was to "lose one pound a year". The theory is that those who resolve to lose ten pounds every year never do it, but losing one pound a year is achievable and ten years from now, which of the two resolutions was smartest?

So, those are the most common resolution subjects. And instead of them, I've come up with a rather unconventional New Year's Resolution this year. My resolution is to bake more bread.

Food Trends for 2011 include Heritage Grains
Recently, the National Restaurant Association came out with the predicted food trends for 2011, based upon their annual survey of chefs. [see pdf] If you are a foodie, this list is a must-read. To follow, are some of their predicted trends that relate to bread:
9) Simplicity, back to the basics
29) Quinoa
30) Ancient grains (e.g. kamut, spelt, amaranth)
51) Flatbreads (e.g. naan, pappadum, lavash, pita, tortilla)
110) Whole grain bread
135) Buckwheat items
177) Barley
209) French toast/Stuffed French toast

Since one of my interests is heritage anything be it pigs, cattle, poultry, beans, grains, you-name-it, I am enthusiastic about ancient grains coming back into vogue in our modern diet. Many of them are higher in protein, higher in fiber, and higher in nutrient value.

Quinoa, for example, is a rare plant grain which contains ALL of the amino acids necessary for human nutrition. It has a high protein content of about 15%. It is gluten-free. It is so healthy, in fact, that NASA is considering it as a possible crop for long-duration manned spaceflights and the FAO says it's nutritious "like mother's milk". Soybeans, amaranth, and buckwheat also provide complete protein.

The Human Body's Protein Requirements
If you recall, the human body uses twenty amino acids to build protein. There are nine essential amino acids, those which our body cannot synthesize on its own, and there are eleven non-essential amino acids, those which the body can produce itself from the essential ones. The essential amino acids must be provided frequently in the diet, since they cannot be stored by the body, like fats and starches. This is why the combination of corn and beans, rice and soybeans, whole grain bread with peanut butter, and the popular "red beans and rice" are recommended. These plant food combinations contain all of the necessary amino acids the body needs to create a complete protein. Meat, eggs, and dairy also provide complete protein. The optimal ratios of amino acids vary, of course, by the specific food.

Trendiness in Eating and Dieting is the Norm here in America
Food and health in America is definitely trendy and highly influenced by advertising both in and outside of the grocery store. We are further influenced as we walk through the bookstores or glance at the magazine racks. Dieting is a multi-billion dollar industry and diet fads come and go. As with most things, the "everything in moderation" motto is wise when it comes to food and eating.

This past decade (or more) carbohydrates have gotten a bad rap. If anyone has studied the subject, it is the glycemic load of the carbohydrate that you need to pay attention to, choosing foods with lower glycemic load numbers. Fruits, vegetables, and whole grains are all highly desirable carbohydrates and provide the body with vitamins, minerals, fiber and phytonutrients to keep our immune systems, brains, organs, and colons healthy. In general, eating minimally processed whole grain products contributes to a healthier you.

Bread and the King Arthur Bread Company

So I say bring on the bread.

There's nothing that makes a house smell better than home-made bread, both the rising process, and the baking stage. The required ten minutes of kneading provides exercise and therapy to rid oneself of whatever one needs ridded of, but do knead at a height ergonomically comfortable to you, generally lower than your kitchen counter height. The kitchen table works well.

When you find a recipe you like, experiment with it. Personally, I'm using the King Arthur Bread Flour Oatmeal Bread back of the bag recipe because in my opinion "everything's better with raisins and oatmeal in it".

3 cups King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour
1 cup rolled oats (old-fashioned oats)
2 tablespoons butter or margarine
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
3 tablespoons brown sugar or honey
2 teaspoons instant yeast OR 1 packet active dry yeast*
1 1/4 cups lukewarm milk
3/4 cup raisins or currants (optional)

*If you use active dry yeast, dissolve it in the warm milk before combining with the remaining ingredients.

Manual Method: In a large mixing bowl, or in the bowl of an electric mixer, combine all of the ingredients, mixing to form a shaggy dough. Knead dough, by hand (10 minutes) or by machine (5 minutes) till it's smooth. Place dough in a lightly greased bowl, cover and allow it to rest for 1 hour; it'll become quite puffy, though it may not double in bulk. Shape as directed below.

Bread Machine Method: Place all of the ingredients (except the fruit) into the pan of your machine, program machine for manual or dough, and press Start. About 10 minutes before the end of the second kneading cycle, check dough and adjust its consistency as necessary with additional flour or water; finished dough should be soft and supple. Add the raisins or currants about 3 minutes before the end of the final kneading cycle. Shape as directed below.

Shaping: Transfer the dough to a lightly oiled surface, and shape it into a log. Place the log in a lightly greased 9" x 5" loaf pan, cover the pan (with an acrylic proof cover, or with lightly greased plastic wrap), and allow the dough to rise for 60 to 90 minutes, till it's crested 1" to 2" over the rim of the pan.

Baking: Bake the bread in a preheated 350°F oven for 35 to 40 minutes, until an instant-read thermometer inserted into the center registers 190°F. If the bread appears to be browning too quickly, tent it with aluminum foil for the final 10 minutes of baking. Yield: 1 loaf.

Though the recipe seems perfect as-is, I'm experimenting with adjusting other whole grain flours into it by, for example, substituting one-half cup of rye flour instead of
one-half cup of the three cups called for in this recipe (or any other combination). King Arthur makes it easy to do this by selling "Ancient Grains Flour Blend" which contains 30% each of amaranth, millet, and sorghum flours, plus 10% quinoa flour. They recommend substituting their ancient grains flour at a ratio of 20% into any bread or muffin recipe.

King Arthur Bread Flour comes unbleached, contains a high protein content of 12.7%, is 100% organic, and is milled from northern plains hard red spring wheat. They have a great interactive website with a multitude of wonderful bread recipes. Plus, they have an exemplary business model.

The King Arthur Flour Company originated in Boston in 1790 and is now located in Norwich, Vermont. In 2009 it was named one of the best five large companies to work for in Vermont, being employee-owned. Its annual revenue is more than $70,000,000 and they have over 200 employees. Their flour is available in all of my local Boulder chain grocery stores and organic food markets.

Bread is the new Black
My apologies. I couldn't resist that headline. "Everything Old is New Again" would have been better. As far as the evolution of the human diet goes, you may or may not be aware that the latest archeological evidence has pushed back the date that grains were used by humans some 70,000 years, discrediting the anti-grain stance of the Paleo-diet promoters.

Making a loaf of bread is like creating a piece of art. It is a craft. But, it's also a science experiment. You get to use your hands to do real labor, real work. Then, the magic happens when the yeast reproduce exponentially and when the oven bakes the loaf. In fact, most of the work is done by the yeast. The end-result and shape of the loaf is always a surprise and always beautiful.

If you consider each ingredient you use, where it came from, and how many people were involved in the process, the loaf connects you to our modern day civilization. Then, if you consider the history of the grains, the history of bread-making, and the history of humans developing agriculture, its connects you with ancient human civilization. That loaf of bread represents another day of survival, another day of gratitude.

Baking bread connects us with our human predecessors at a root level, not unlike that same connection experienced by staring into the flames of a burning log or campfire.

Recommended reading:
Carbohydrates: Good Carbs Guide the Way from Harvard School of Public Health
Humans feasting on Grains for at least 100,000 years from Scientific American 2009
It's Official: Grains were part of the Paleo-Diet by The Spartan Diet