I am not a planner. My best ideas usually come to me only after I actually begin a task. That's the way it has always been and it usually works for me, whether I am working, writing a blog post, or ...baking bread.
My sandwich bread recipe, which is part whole-wheat, has been one of my go-to bread recipes for months now. It takes less than 15 minutes to put together the dough and once that's done all I have to do is nurse it through two rises and bake it into two fabulous loaves we can eat all week long.
I've often thought of converting the recipe to an all-wheat, high-protein bread richer in dietary fiber, but while I've baked enough wholegrain breads in the past, I have never been satisfied with the texture of an all-wheat sandwich bread which, in my book, needs to be at the same time soft and chewy and light and airy but firm enough to hold whatever you want to slather and smear on it.
This past Sunday, as I started mixing up the water and the yeast to make my usual loaves, my lazy brain cells blinked out of hibernation for just a minute to suggest: what if...?
I ran with the thought. My original sandwich bread recipe calls for two cups of whole-wheat flour and two cups of all-purpose. For this whole-wheat recipe I replaced the two cups of all-purpose with one cup whole-wheat flour and one cup of vital wheat gluten flour. This immediately punched up both the fiber and protein content, because vital wheat gluten flour is almost 75 percent protein.
For those unfamiliar with vital wheat gluten, this is a natural protein found in wheat and it is especially valuable in baking wholegrain breads because it helps them build structure-- in simpler words, it helps them rise. I've explained the role of gluten in bread-baking and the gluten content of various kinds of flours in this old post on my Whole-wheat French Bread. But to do a quick recap, here's the reason whole wheat bread doesn't rise as well as a bread made with all-purpose flour or bread flour: gluten occurs in the grain's endosperm and all-purpose and bread flours are made by milling the endosperm which automatically gives them a high gluten content. Whole-wheat flour contains not just the endosperm but also the wheat germ and bran which are the outer coatings of the wheat kernel and are devoid of gluten. Since ounce for ounce whole-wheat flour has less milled endosperm in it than more refined flours do, it has a lower gluten content. Simple enough?
I know some of my readers who are outside the United States don't easily find wheat gluten flour where they live: I'd advise, in that case, to just continue using half whole-wheat and half all-purpose or bread flour to get a really delicious loaf.
If you're wondering after looking at the pictures why my two loaves are different-sized, it's because I've got two different sized loaf pans: one's wider and squatter, and the other one's taller and slimmer. Both bake up delicious breads, though. :)
The recipe's next, but keep reading after for some food for thought. Especially if you think zoos are magical places where animals prance around in artificial meadows and snow all day and eat lots of free food.
Whole-Wheat Sandwich Bread
Mix in a large bowl and set aside for five minutes until it begins to froth:
4 tsp active dry yeast
1/4 cup warm water
Mix in another bowl:
1 cup warm soymilk
1 cup warm water
2 tbsp vegetable oil
2 tbsp maple syrup (use sugar or agave nectar if you'd rather)
1 tbsp salt
Add the soymilk mixture to the yeast. Add to it:
2 cups whole-wheat flour
Mix in a stand mixer on low speed or by hand. Then add:
1 cup vital wheat gluten flour
Knead on low speed or by hand, adding a little at a time until the dough is no longer sticky:
1 to 1 1/2 cups of whole-wheat flour (add more flour if the dough's still sticky).
Continue kneading for another 10 minutes. You should have a really smooth, supple dough.
Transfer the dough to an oiled bowl, turning once so the top of the dough is coated with oil.
Cover with a kitchen towel and allow it to rise in a warm place for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until doubled in volume.
Now punch down the dough, and put it back in the bowl to rise for another hour.
Grease and flour two standard (6-cup) loaf pans. Now punch the dough down again and divide it into half. Shape each half into an oval, tucking the seams underneath.
Place each oval into a loaf pan, cover loosely with oiled plastic wrap, and set it aside to rise for about 90 minutes until the dough rises above the pan, forming a nice dome.
Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Bake the loaves for 10 minutes, then turn the oven temperature down to 350 degrees and continue baking for another 30 minutes or until the bottom sounds hollow when tapped.
Cool on a rack for about 10 minutes, then remove the loaves from the pan and continue cooling.
The short, sad life of Knut the polar bear, and why zoos should make you sick
If you love animals, you're probably outraged too about the sudden death of Knut, the world's most famous polar bear. If you hadn't heard, he died unexpectedly on March 19 in his enclosure at the Berlin Zoo.
Knut, born at the zoo four years ago, became world-famous when his mother rejected him and the whole world, it seemed, rallied to keep him alive. While I am not one of those people you will find oohing over a zoocam of a newborn animal-- I don't think there's anything cute about innocent animals deprived of freedom from birth -- I remember falling in love with Knut instantly when Desi first sent me a picture of this impossibly cute, playful furball that you just wanted to pick up and cuddle.
Knut was hand-reared by zookeepers. As he grew older and larger, the Berlin Zoo profited copiously from him: he was their main attraction over the next four years of his life and his story brought kids and families from around the world rushing to the zoo. It is believed that the zoo netted more than seven million euros from Knut through his short life.
But for Knut himself, life was miserable. It is now believed that captivity induced immense stress in this majestic creature meant to roam wild in snowy landscapes and leap from one ice floe to another. Instead, he was living behind bars in a zoo and getting gawked at by throngs of clueless crowds day after day.
Whether or not you agree that Knut's death was a result of his life in captivity, here's something most of us would agree on: Freedom is the most basic need of every living creature. Those of us who live in the free world exercise our right to it every day with every choice we make. At this very moment the people of Libya are giving up their lives to demand their freedom from an evil dictator. To most of us, life without freedom is unfathomable and simply not worth living.
Every animal deserves that basic right too. The world's zoos are a place of unnatural terror where stately creatures like elephants, lions, tigers, bears, and even penguins and deer are forced to live lives that go against every natural law. And if you think they are treated royally at the zoos, think again. In my hometown of Washington D.C., home to the National Zoo, animals have died suddenly and mysteriously on a regular basis and there have been accusations of mismanagement. And I cannot even begin to remember without shuddering the terrible conditions animals lived in in Bombay's Byculla zoo.
There are many efforts on worldwide by animal rights activists to close down zoos but that day unfortunately may not dawn in our lifetimes. But there is a way each one of us can make a difference: by simply not going to zoos.
What's there to see, other than gross cruelty and a pathetic display of man's power over innocent, helpless animals? I would rather look at the National Geographic any day.