Get cozy with fresh baked bread this rainy season

Home baked bread fills a house with one of life's most evocative aromas. These cold, wet days call for warm, cozy kitchens and homemade breads can uplift kitchens and spirits with cheer.

Into the loaf

Choosing a loaf of bread can seem to be as complicated as choosing a computer. Nutrition and ingredient information can be lengthy. This is particularly true when buying processed foods, including bakery goods. So taking a look at breads in the marketplace and ingredients for a home-baked bread can be just the ticket before the next storm blows in.

Flour is what makes bread the often called staff of life. Standard, all-purpose flour is white flour made from ground wheat kernels, often with some malted barley flour for color and flavor. The germ and bran have been removed; this allows flour to keep for a longer time without becoming rancid.

Bleaching with chlorine dioxide makes flour very white and speeds maturity. Mature flours are said to have better baking properties. Unbleached white flour is creamy in color and matures naturally. Home bakers should see little difference in goods baked with either as both are fortified with vitamins and minerals to replace those removed when the flour was refined.

Grocery stores stock all-purpose flour as well as pastry, bread-machine, pasta, milled vs. stone-ground, pre-sifted, quick-mixing, cake and bread flours as well as whole wheat and whole wheat pastry flours. The rule to follow when buying flour is this: stick to the recipe or manufacturer's instructions when using a bread machine. Unless a specialty flour is called for, use all-purpose flour or whole-wheat flour, depending upon the recipe. All-purpose flour is very forgiving; it's made to be used in a wide variety of baked products.

When buying bread take a quick look at ingredients and nutrition information. Ingredients are listed in the order of greatest amount to the smallest amount. So-called flourless breads are made from sprouted seeds and non-wheat grains for those who do not or cannot eat wheat.

Whole wheat bread contains the entire kernel: the germ and bran. Not all dark breads are whole wheat however; brown sugar, molasses and other dark flours may be responsible for the color. Some whole wheat breads also contain white flour.

The low carbohydrate breads are not necessarily a wise choice. Non-digestible plant material such as mustard bran, for instance, is included in such products. Mustard bran can't be digested by humans and thus passes from the system.

What's in a name

Check in any of the South End's popular bakeries and you'll see artisan and rustic breads. These terms are meant to evoke images of hand-made, wholesome, Old World products. Adorned with seeds, nuts, dried fruits and herbs as well as various cheeses and nubs of roasted garlic they add interest to any meal. Many are fashioned after breads from Europe, the Middle East, India and Russia.

Popular names such as Como bread are breads made like those from the Lake Como region of Italy. Chewy and crusty, Como bread, according to Carol Field's book The Italian Baker (Harper and Row, New York, 1985) is synonymous with French bread. Ciabatta is a Como bread shaped like a slipper. Mille Grane literally means 'one thousand grains' but actually is a multi-grain product. The baguette, the popular French bread often seen carried by small school children in movies and on postcards means wand or stick.

Pugliese describes anything from the eastern Italian coastal region of Apuglia. The large wheel of dark, grainy bread originates in breads baked in the wood burning stoves of Italy's Turkish conquerors long ago. Focaccia, some say, stems from the Italian word for hearth, meaning the focus of the home. Flat and chewy, focaccia is usually adorned simply with olive oil, sea salt and fresh rosemary sprigs. It is also dressed with par-boiled, sliced red potatoes in their jackets and a bit of Fontina.

A much-loved Jewish bread is the Challah, baked usually in a braid, sometimes a circle and sprinkled with sesame or poppy seeds but always wearing an egg-wash. Delicate and eggy, this special Sabbath bread is meant to be shared and torn rather than sliced.

Here's an easy batter bread to try at home:

Whole Wheat Batter Bread


2 .5 - 2 .75 cups all-purpose flour

2 tablespoons sugar

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon baking soda

2 packets regular dry yeast

2 cups milk

1/2 cup water

2 cups whole-wheat flour

1 cup raisins (optional)

Mix all-purpose flour, sugar, salt, baking soda and yeast in a large bowl. Meanwhile heat milk and water in a small saucepan over low-medium heat until quite warm (about 125 degrees F). Remove from heat.

Pour milk mixture into dry mixture and beat with an electric mixer until batter is moist. Scrape bowl to incorporate all of dry mixture. Add whole-wheat flour; stir until a stiff batter is formed. Add raisins as desired. Divide dough evenly and place into prepared pans. Sprinkle doughs lightly with a little cornmeal.

Cover lightly with a towel or piece of plastic wrap; set in a warm place (see below)* and allow to rise until batter is about 1-inch from rims of pans.

Heat oven to 400 degrees F (375 for convection ovens). Bake breads for about 25 minutes or until tops are golden; remove to cool on a wire rack.

Divide batter into two equal parts; pat gently into two loaf pans with butter or shortening; sprinkle lightly with cornmeal and set aside.

(*A cold oven can be heated on lowest setting for about 2 minutes; turn heat off and place filled pans into oven to rise.)

Recipe adapted from Betty Crocker's New Cookbook, Macmillan, New York, NY, 1996).

Beacon Hill writer and epicurean Georgia Lord Watanabe may be reached via[[In-content Ad]]