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Sustainable life: Home baked bread

Mia Swainson

The smell of freshly baked bread gives us a feeling of warmth and comfort.

All is good in the world when there’s fresh bread ready to be eaten.

Bread has been a staple food for more than a thousand of years of human history. Folklore that celebrates the grain harvest and bread making pops up everywhere, from Scotland to South America. In Norway, it’s believed that boys and girls who share the same loaf a destined to fall in love and marry. Anyone tried that lately?

Home baking this staple food gives me a connection to that rich history, a sense of satisfaction… and it’s delicious. So, what are we waiting for? Let’s get baking.

Here are my three favourite recipes, all gifted from Canberra friends who are passionate about baking their own bread.

Classic Seed and Nut Loaf

An easy recipe to follow that turns out spectacular bread, every time. The secret? It uses yeast and doesn’t require any kneading, just a little planning as the dough rises overnight.

Ingredients

  • 1 ½ cups of wholemeal flour
  • 2 ½ cups of plain flour
  • 1 tsp of yeast
  • 2 tsp of salt
  • 2 ¾ cups of water
  • 1 cup of seeds and nuts. Try any combination of linseeds, pepitas, poppy seeds, sesame seeds, sunflower seeds and flaked almonds

Step 1. Mix all ingredients together, to make a wet, sticky dough.

Step 2. Leave for 10 – 24 hrs, covered. Don’t knead. It will triple in size (approximately), and look sticky and hole-y.

Step 3. Plop the wet, sticky dough into a large, greased baking dish with a lid. If you’d like to, sprinkle some seeds on top, to give the bread some pizzazz. Put it into a hot oven (about 240 degrees Celsius) for 30 minutes.

Step 4. Remove the lid, then bake for a further 20 mins, or until brown and crusty.

Step 5. Leave the bread to cool on a rack and enjoy!

Wholemeal flat bread

Flatbreads are a staple in Middle Eastern and Mediterranean cooking. This recipe goes beautifully with a Turkish feast. Simply top the flatbread with a generous helping of beetroot dip and spicy lamb mince. Garnish with mint leaves.

Ingredients

  • 1 cup of self-rising flour
  • 1 cup of wholemeal flour
  • 1 cup of Greek-style yoghurt
  • 1 tsp of salt
  • 2 tbsp. of olive oil
  • Extra oil, for brushing

Step 1. Combine all ingredients and form a ball.

Step 2. Turn out onto lightly floured surface and knead for 2 minutes, until smooth. Cover dough and let it rest for at least 15 minutes.

Step 3. Divide dough into 4 – 6 equal pieces and roll out on a lightly floured surface into rough, oval shapes. You’ll need them to be about 5mm thick. Brush with a little olive oil.

Step 4. Bring chargrill pan or heavy-based saucepan to a medium heat. Add flatbreads and cook for 5 minutes, until charred and cooked through.

Sourdough

There’s art and passion in sough dough making. There are also workshops from cooking schools and a long list of books about how to make it. I have to confess that the thought of making sourdough bread hurts my head. Maintaining your starter culture, making time for resting or fermenting, as well as the usual bread baking.

It might be tricky, but health professionals tell us that it’s better for you. The fermentation process helps to release essential minerals from the flour and it’s easier to digest. My husband, who bakes at least twice each week for our family, also tells me that it’s easy to make… Once you’ve done it a few times. It’s definitely easy to eat.

Here’s an overview of the steps. They’re designed for someone new to get an idea of what’s involved and for someone experienced to be re-inspired to get baking again.

Step 1. Grab some starter culture from a friend, from a shop or online. This will be a sticky, bubbly combination of rye flour, water and culture in a glass jar. If you’re feeling wild, make your own by exposing a mixture of rye flour and rainwater to the air for a few days, just be prepared for this to take a few goes.

The starter culture can live in your fridge, just take out a little each time you bake. You’ll also need to ‘feed’ the culture with little bits of extra rye flour and water each time you take some out.

Step 2. Wake up your starter culture. Bring it to room temperature. Combine 50g of your starter with 60g rye flour and 90g water. Leave in a warm place for 6 – 12 hours, until it becomes active. You’ll know it’s active because it will increase in size and look either foamy or spongy, with bubbles throughout.

Step 3. Mix the activated starter with other bread ingredients (400g of white wheat or spelt flour; 240g of rainwater and 1 ½ tsp of finely ground sea salt).

Step 4. Rest the dough for 15 – 20 mins. Air-knead for 5 mins. For the uninitiated, air-kneading involves throwing your dough into the air and then slap/throwing it onto your bench. It develops elasticity.

Step 5. Let the dough rise for 4 – 6hrs at room temperature (or overnight if it’s cold). We use a wicker basket, lined with a lightly floured tea towel to give the dough a nice shape. Spray a mist of water over the dough and sprinkle on sesame seeds before it rises. The dough should roughly double in size.

Step 6. Bake in a very hot oven (235 degrees Celsius) for 10 mins, then reduce to a hot oven (215 degrees Celsius) for a further 25 – 30 mins. If you’re unsure whether the loaf has cooked through, tap on the side. Cooked loaves have a firm crust and a hollow sound.

Enjoy the pleasures of smelling and eating freshly baked bread. Ponder the connection between your bread and the traditions which reach back for centuries.

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Mia Swainson

Mia Swainson is passionate about creating a more sustainable world and believes that everyone can make a difference. Trained as an environmental engineer, Mia has worked in sustainable development with the Australian Government and community sector for more than 15 years. Mia’s work has taken her around the world to Papua New Guinea, Solomon Islands and back to Canberra. She currently tends her kitchen garden, cares for three young boys and is growing her executive coaching consultancy (miaswainson.com.au/wp). More about the Author

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