While I have been fortunate enough that I have never had to steal a loaf of bread to feed my family, a few years ago my brother and I "acquired" a bucket of winter wheat from a farmer near our hometown in Northeast Ohio. Using our mother's coffee grinder, the only tool we could find to grind wheat, helped us create homemade flour that fell through my fingers with the ease and grittiness of sand. Though the resulting bread was not exactly a perfectly stone-ground artisan creation baked in a wood-fired hearth, or for that matter the most delicious bread we had ever eaten, as it had just a hint of coffee and was rather dense, we were quite proud of it. Even though my brother and I -both together and separately- have had quite a few adventures in ultimate scratch cooking, (more often than not, ideas conceived after a bottle of wine, like marshmallow peeps from scratch that left our poor mother's kitchen a disarray of sticky fluff); that loaf of bread was one of my favorite cooking escapades, and I have been in the culinary industry all of my life. I am certain it is not because the results were perfect. But, that the ridiculous act of making bread from the ground up led to the most simple and traditional act. Our entire family enjoyed the hot fresh loaf right out of the oven; a tradition that is weaved through every generation and every culture in its own way, and that is the simple act of breaking bread together. It is a way of building bridges, finding common ground, creating bonds, celebrating, remembering. Regardless of the many reasons people choose to share a table, breaking bread has acted as its own form of communication since the beginning of time. The Urban Dictionary definition calls it an affirmation trust, confidence, and comfort with an individual or group of people. Despite its importance through history and prominence at the dinner table, bread in the U.S. has earned a bad reputation over the years. Beginning in the 1930's, squishy, sponge-like slices made with bleached flour and corn syrup took over the once fresh-baked, stone ground market. Now, traditional and artisan bread is on the rise, making a comeback in restaurants and homes in every city across America. Bread in its simplest form is composed of just a few ingredients: flour, water, salt, and yeast. The most interesting and variable of those are flour and yeast. While most home cooks and many bakeries rely on commercially purchased yeast, others are reverting to traditional bread starters known as biga, poolish, leaven, or mother dough, based on the bread and culture from which it is derived. A starter can be made with domestic baker's yeast or wild yeasts like that of sourdough and can last for many years if kept alive properly. The flavor wild yeast creates is tangy yet bold. Boudin Bakery in San Francisco boasts a wild yeast starter that has been alive and in use in every loaf of bread baked since 1849. Interested in making your own starter? Click here for a basic recipe. Flour is equally complex. Generally, bread flours are produced of hard winter wheat which is higher in protein (precisely what my brother and I subjected to Mom's coffee grinder). All-purpose, pastry, and cake flours each are comprised of a different ratio of hard and soft wheat which ultimately affect the consistency of the baked good. Rye, spelt, oats, and other grains will add a distinct flavor and texture. Stutzman Farms, an Amish grain producer in Holmes County, is one of my favorite local, organic producers. The adventurous can purchase wheat berries (hard variety) and grind them in a coffee grinder or a dry container of a Vita-Mix or similar appliance, to make flour at home. If you're feeling especially daring, use a mortar and pestle or a couple of big rocks. I can't imagine that everyone reading this wants to grind their own flour or wait a generation or two for the perfect tangy flavor in their bread. We've provided some of our own favorite recipes as inspiration to help you rise to the warm, fresh-baked occasion. Recipes: Italian Bread and Tomato Salad If you have leftover homemade bread sitting around (which we doubt you will), this recipe for Italian Bread and Tomato Salad is a fresh and hearty meal. Whole Wheat Pecan Raisin Bread If you're ready to take on your first foodie endeavor in the kitchen, a Whole Wheat Pecan Raisin Bread is a great recipe.
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