Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures

Wasilla Alaska Garden Adventures - learning about gardening up north.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Baking Bread From Scratch

My vegetable seedlings are doing fine, but the garden is still covered with slowly melting snow. My indoor tomato project is still going strong despite the grow light fiasco I had last month.

I have my first green tomatoes on my Red Robin Dwarf plants and, as you can see, I have been fighting Aphids with insecticidal soap. The plant is indeed very small and only about 12" tall. It seems to be doing well in my water farm hydroponic bucket.

Since my yard seems to be the last place in Wasilla to melt, I decided to try my hand at something new yesterday and set out to bake some whole wheat bread from scratch. Now I have baked my own bread for many years, but this time I decided to try my hand at grinding my own flour.

I have a small steal bur mill that I have used for grinding coffee in the past. I tried adjusting the grind as fine as possible. I found that hard red wheat berries are tough and ended setting the grind a little coarse and running them through the grinder twice setting it as fine as possible on the second grind. It was a slow process and took nearly 30 minutes to get 4 cups of flour. Not as fine as commercial bread flour - but fine enough for me. I would definitely switch to a real flour mill and probably an electric one if I decide to do this very often. My recipe is based on the Tassajara Bread Book.

My well worn copy is one of my favorite baking resources. I wanted the bread to be as simple as possible so I could judge if using fresh ground flour made a significant improvement.

I decided on flour, water, yeast, oil, and salt. I followed the basic whole wheat sponge method with punching down and double rising the dough to improve the gluten and make the bread as light as possible. This is definitely an all afternoon process. I also used their french bread baking method. Adding a water filled pan inside my oven and starting at 400 degrees for 10 minutes then brushing the loaf with more water and lowering the oven to 375 for about 30 minutes. I also place the loaf on a ceramic pizza stone inside my convection oven.

The loaf came out a beautiful golden nut brown without splitting after 30 minutes. I use the snapping test method to listen for that distinct hollow sound indicating it is done baking. I cooled it on a wire rack fighting off the urge to cut a slice fresh from the oven.

Still warm after a cooling for an hour I broke down and had to have a taste. It was not as heavy as I expected and adding the water during baking kept the crust from getting too tough and possibly splitting. It did remind me of the texture in a French baguette with the nutty flavor of whole wheat four. Is grinding flour worth the effort? I believe it is, simply because you are getting all of the nutrients and oils from the wheat berry that quickly oxidize after milling and cause commercial flours to go stale over time. The nutty flavor and texture was definitely better then many loaves I made from commercial flours. A real flour mill is already on my future wish list.

I really like all of the Victorio kitchen products and they make a  Deluxe Hand Operated Grain Mill.  I also heard a rumor that there may be a conversion kit available to add an electric motor some day. Using a hand powered mill is not a real problem unless you plan to make large batches of bread at one time. Typical bread recipes call for 4 - 6 cups of flour per loaf and this mill will produce 1/4 cup of flour per minute - or about 16 minutes to make 4 cups of flour. Just one more factor in the slow food movement.

Wednesday, April 11, 2012

Springtime in Wasilla

It is about 50 degrees outside today but I am still waiting for the snow to melt in my front yard. My indoor salad garden is doing fine.

I harvested a large bowl of salad greens and had a huge salad for supper last night. Growing salad greens indoors at home is a no-brainer and should be on everybody's to-do list.

My seedling rack is full of planting trays and all of my broccoli, Brussels sprouts, cabbage, and tomatoes are up and looking good. My peppers are just now starting to sprout and they usually take about a week longer to germinate.

I am glad that I waited about a month longer this year before starting my seeds indoors. With all of the snow that we received this winter season it looks like I will be waiting a while longer than I usually do for my garden to thaw out and warm up before I will be planting anything outdoors.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

2012 April Snow Storm !!!

It was snowing yesterday. A heavy wet spring snowstorm - but it ended in early afternoon and was melted by evening. Today I woke up to more snow and it is still coming down at 11:30 AM on Saturday morning April 7.

Looks like we have 8 - 10" so far and it doesn't look like it will be letting up any time soon. It is about 38 degrees outside but the ground is still frozen and was still snow covered - so this new snow is not melting right away. I had a sinking feeling as I opened up the blinds to get a better look outside. This has been one of the harshest winters up here in a long time and it looks like the Anchorage area will easily break their all time winter snowfall record if they continue getting as much snow as we are out here in Wasilla.

I have started tomato, pepper, broccoli, and cabbage indoors, but it looks like garden season is still a ways off for us up here in the great white north...