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Any food that promises to prepare itself to perfection when left alone for the day -- or, even better, overnight -- is a sure winner in my book. Yogurt was my first foray into this realm of (seemingly) magical cooking, and my slow-cooker's gotten lots of use ever since, rockin' not only raw milk yogurt for the little dude, but also many a vegan dinner for our family this fall, and thus allowing me a clean kitchen and plenty of fully-focused kiddo time in the evenings before dinner. I do love to cook, but -- like work, marriage stuff and everything else in my life -- having a kiddo in the mix has inspired some creativity and shifting around, if not in terms of priorities than certainly in terms of timing. Night hours are often best for working, date "nights" are sometimes most doable at midday, and cooking dinner -- thanks to my slow cooker and this book -- is sometimes most viable (and enjoyable) first thing in the morning. Aaron takes Kaspar off to school, and I pull up Pandora (Cat Power station) on the iPod and get to making a happy, meditative mess in the kitchen. By 10 a.m., dinner's doing its thing, the mess is cleaned up, and I'm punching in at the office

Besides the timing tricks slow cooking allows, I'm fascinated with foods that co-create themselves by way of natural processes (yogurt's one of them, since its cultured); they have a certain allure and mystery. I've made simple pickles in the past, and plan to experiment further with fermented foods (kombucha and sauerkraut, here I come) in the near future. And for some time now -- despite various failed attempts -- I've also been determined to turn out a good loaf of yeasted bread. 

I've wanted to make a 100% whole wheat bread, but my loaves always ended up with the consistency of dense bricks, and tasting of cardboard. Aaron -- a seasoned bread-baker himself, although he hasn't made any in a while -- suggested I start with a simple white bread recipe, which would be more forgiving, and then take my new skills up a notch by introducing heartier grains.  Too stubborn to compromise, I did study up on the subject a bit, by way of The Tassajara Bread Book and The Complete Tassajara Cookbook, by the now-famous zen chef Edward Espe Brown. (I also recommend this documentary about Brown. Good stuff.) I realized that my past attempts have failed because I used water that was too warm, and thus killed the yeast at step one. I also used recipes that called partially for white flour, but used whole wheat instead; these recipes weren't designed to make a good loaf of 100% whole wheat. 

Brown's basic bread-baking tips corrected my too-warm water mistake -- easy enough to fix going forward -- and his (very basic and easy) recipe for Overnight Whole Wheat Bread -- made of just whole wheat flour, yeast and water -- promised a semi-sourdough taste without the trouble of a sourdough starter. And its title offered the instant appeal of bread-making while we slept. 

As it turned out, although there is an overnight component to this bread's creation, a substantial part of my Sunday was also spent attending to its subsequent steps. Like most yeasted breads, the hands-on time wasn't all that intense, but I had to be around for several rises and to put the bread in -- and take it out (ahhhh)  -- of the oven. This might have been tricky on a week day, since I'm in and out of the house, but it was fine for a Sunday. We were kind of just kicking around anyway, relaxing after the eventful week before (my birthday was last Monday -- woot! -- and Thanksgiving of course quickly followed), and it was nice to attend to bread baking at the same lazy pace, and likewise to do our down-time thing against an olfactory backdrop of hot bread in the oven. (That Kaspar couldn't eat the results, due to his wheat and gluten allergies, was not really a big deal. I do plan to bake some bread with the same flour blend I use for his chocolate chip cookies, though, now that I'm getting the hang of this thing.) As for the actual results, the bread was substantial without being brick-like in the least, and it tasted amazing. Mission accomplished!

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Before going out for my birthday dinner (Aaron wined and dined me while K stayed home with a sitter)
I used substantially more flour than Brown's recipe called for, since my dough was super sticky. I've modified the proportions below to reflect this, but when you do this at home, add about a half a cup of flour at a time as you're kneading, and stop adding the flour when your dough forms a smooth and pliable ball, instead of caking itself in sticky globs onto your hands and work surface. 

Here's what you'll need: 

Evening: 

1/4 tsp. active dry yeast
3 cups whole wheat flour
3 cups warm water (just barely above body temperature will be perfect)

Morning:

1/2 cup warm water (again, just barely warm to the touch)
1 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast
2 teaspoons salt
5-ish cups whole wheat flour

What you'll do:


Evening: Dissolve the yeast in the water, and stir together (in a large bowl) with the flour, about 100 times. Cover with a clean, dry dish towel and set it aside until morning.

Morning: 

1. Dissolve the yeast in the water, and add -- with the salt and additional flour, beginning with 2 1/2 cups and slowly adding more as you go -- to your mixture from the night before. 
2. Turn out onto a floured work surface, and knead your dough, adding more flour as necessary so it isn't sticking to everything (see note above).
3. Knead your dough about 300 times (no need to count). Place the kneaded ball into an oiled bowl, and let rise for 3 to 4 hours.
4. Shape dough into 2 loaves, and place them either in oiled loaf pans, or on an oiled baking sheet. Brush the tops of the loaves with water, and let rise for another hour. 
5. About 15 minutes before baking (so 45 minutes after step 4), preheat your oven to 375 degrees.
6. Brush the tops of the loaves with water again -- I actually used a bit of coconut oil, and next time may add some garlic and herbs to olive oil and use that -- and bake for 45 minutes to an hour, until the loaves are browned on bottom and top. (I went for the full hour, and they were perfect.)
7. Remove from oven, slice, top with coconut butter (current addiction), and enjoy! 


 


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