Whatever the carb cops have to say, not to mention those making piles of money pandering to Atkins mania, it’s time to wake up and smell the bread.
There’s a reason it’s called the staff of life. It’s one of the oldest prepared foods on record. It was a key to the bloody uprising of starving peasants against the fat priests and royalists overthrown in the French Revolution. It’s fundamental eats.
For serious foodies, especially those who follow the simple, time-tested dietary path of all things in moderation, wonderful artisan breads are widely and increasingly available, and promising to exorcise the horrid specter of Wonder Bread.
These new/old breads are best described as handcrafted combinations of flour, water, yeast and salt, the best and purest available — no preservatives — handled by a baker who understands the chemistry of the ingredients and knows how to mix, ferment, shape and bake them into a perfect loaf.
Two such people are Jackie Victor and Ann Perrault, owners of the superb Avalon International Breads in Detroit’s Cass Corridor. They and their dedicated staff crank out fabulous bread that’s served in many of the area’s best restaurants and sold in gourmet markets. I prefer to go right to the source, where the bread is freshest and the variety greatest. Try the chewy focaccia or the raisin pecan for a sample of something unusual.
Over in Ann Arbor, the folks at Zingerman’s Bakehouse offer hard-crust loaves, some of which have developed — risen — for as long as 18 hours. Longer rising time means richer flavor. I love the Parmesan pepper bread and the 3-pound crusty, chewy country bread.
Breadsmith, a franchise operation, offers European-style bread in several stores throughout metro Detroit. Its multigrain loaf is one of my favorites, good enough to eat plain.
With great bread readily available, you may not have the incentive to make your own — but you should give it a try. Forget all that you’ve heard about the difficulty of working with yeast. If you knead the dough by hand, which I recommend at least the first few times, you’ll get a good workout that allows you to rationalize eating the carb-laden goodness that results. There are tomes written about baking bread, but I’m going to simplify the process for you.
A side benefit is the irresistible aroma of baking bread. When you see how easy and how good it is, pick up one of the many bread books available or surf the Internet for recipes, and experiment. Of course, now you have to make some soup.
Avalon International Breads, 422 W. Willis, Detroit; 313-832-0008.
Zingerman’s Bakehouse, 3711 Plaza Dr., Ann Arbor; 734-761-2095. It offers bread-making classes for $20. The next is 4-6 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 14. Call to reserve a spot.
Breadsmith has locations throughout the metro area, including Birmingham, Bloomfield Hills, Troy, Livonia, Rochester, Grosse Pointe Woods and Dearborn. See breadsmith.com
Basic White Bread
1 tablespoon or 1 envelope yeast. I don’t use rapid-rise yeast — if you do, adjust the
recipe according to the instructions on the package.
1-1/2 cups warm water, divided in two portions
1 pinch sugar or 1 teaspoon honey
3-1/2 cups all-purpose flour or bread flour, preferably unbleached
2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons whole wheat, rye or oat flour – optional
Begin by “proofing” the yeast to assure it’s active, alive: Stir it into one half of the warm water with the sugar or honey, which activates the yeast. Don’t overheat the water; it will kill the yeast. If the yeast is active, it will begin to bubble within four or five minutes.
In a large bowl, combine the mixture with the rest of the water, a cup of the flour and the optional grain flour, if using. Stir until well mixed. It will be “muddy” at this point. Add two more cups of flour and begin working it with your hands until it comes together and begins to smoothen. If, after a few minutes, it’s too sticky, add a few more tablespoons of flour and work it in.
Turn the dough onto a lightly floured counter and knead it for about 10 minutes: Take out your aggression. Flatten, press and twist the dough until it becomes smooth and elastic — don’t worry about overworking it. Form the dough into a ball and coat it lightly with any cooking oil, or spray a bowl with nonstick cooking spray and put the dough in to rise. Cover it with plastic wrap or a towel. Most recipes advise putting it in an oven with the light on; it’s not that sensitive. Depending on the temperature, the dough will rise one-and-a-half to two times its original size in about an hour. This timing isn’t critical. I sometimes let dough rise overnight in the fridge.
When you’re ready to bake the dough, punch it down, knead it a couple of dozen times, and form it into the shape you prefer. Put the loaf or loaves on a baking pan that’s been sprinkled with cornmeal — this will prevent the bread from sticking. Let it rise for another hour.
Bake in a preheated 350-degree oven for 35-45 minutes, depending on the size of the loaves. They’re done when the crust is brown and they sound hollow when tapped on the bottom. Cool on a rack.Jeff Broder is a chowhound for Metro Times. E-mail comments to firstname.lastname@example.org