Thursday, January 11, 2007

Daily Bread Revisited

Yesterday I mentioned that if you look back through history, you will see that people did not gain weight by eating bread. Today I want to explore that idea a little more, as it is not a simple one.

While it's true that people didn't gain weight by eating bread, it's also true that what they considered to be "work" was usually hard physical labor. Work meant getting up early, heading out to the fields or factory, and pushing, pulling, chopping, dragging, lifting, carrying etc. More people used their muscles when they worked in the 19th and early part of the 20th centuries (as well as before) than they do now. Today, most work is performed at a desk, on the phone, in the car, or in a store or a shop. There is less physical labor involved in work. The muscles most of us use today in this country are the jaw muscles, the tongue, and the muscles of the hands and arms while working on our computers.

So it's important to look at your occupation before you decide what will or will not cause you to gain weight. Once you realize that your desk job doesn't require as many calories as a construction worker's job, then you can consider your eating options. No matter what you do for a living, though, you needn't eliminate bread from your diet. You can enjoy bread with soup or stew and not pay the price on the scale. I'll go into that further in a future post, but right now, I want to give you a simple recipe, given to me by a friend, for the first bread I ever made. It's a French baguette, based on the one found in "The Joy of Cooking", and it's foolproof.

Makes 2 long loaves

1/2 C milk
Add to it
1/2 C boiling water

While this liquid cools to 85 degrees (almost same as your body), dissolve:
1 package yeast

1/4 C in 85 degree water

After the yeast rests for 10 minutes, add it to the milk mixture with:
1 1/2TBS melted shortening
1 TBS sugar

Measure into a large mixing bowl:
4 C sifted unbleached, all-purpose flour
2 tsp. salt
2 tsp. sugar

With your hands, mix the last 3 ingredients together. Make a hole in the center of them and pour in the liquid mixture. Stir thoroughly, but do not knead. The dough will be soft. Cover with a damp cloth and set in a warm place to rise. (You can always partially fill your sink with warm water and set the bowl in it, if you live in a particularly cold place.)

Take your fist and punch down the dough. Divide dough in half, and place half on a lightly floured board. With the heel of your hand, push the dough until it forms an oblong shape. Now roll the dough towards you, pushing outward gently and tapering the ends as you go. You will get a long, thin loaf this way. Repeat with the other half.

Place the 2 loaves on a greased baking sheet, cut diagonal slits in the top with a sharp knife, and set in a warm place to rise until somewhat less than double in bulk.

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

You may place a pie tin of boiling water in the bottom of the oven at this point, or do as I do and use a spray bottle and spray the loaves 2-3 times during the baking process. The point is that there should be some moisture in the oven while the loaves bake. Place the cookie sheet in the oven, spray loaves 3-4 times then close the door.

Bake bread for 15 minutes.
Reduce heat to 350, spray again and bake for 30 minutes more. Check after 15 minutes to see if you want to spray again. Loaves should be developing a nice tan color.

Cool on a rack until you can't stand it anymore. Then pull apart and eat.

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