All grains contain peptides that mimic morphine or endogenous opioid substances. This is where I deal with my latest loaf craving. Get your bread-based exorphin fix here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Reinhart's Transitional Challah

What happened when I made Reinhart's Transitional Challah

For some time now, I have been working my way through Peter Reinhart's book, Whole Grain Breads, trying to find my way clear to making use of more whole grains in my diet.  Along the way, I've had to battle, at various times, my own ignorance, preconceptions, attitudes, information overload, ennui, and whatever likes and dislikes I've picked up along the way both from my own tastes and my culturally imposed preferences, as I've tried to understand why or if I need to use more whole grains, how they ought to be best used to achieve health and nutritional benefits, and what sort of baking routine I can incorporate into my own life.  I can't say that I've been educated yet.  But finishing this particular bread brings me to a sort of plateau stage: this is the last of the enriched breads in the book.

Extended Rant Section

For some time now, I have been railing against how sweet these Reinhart breads taste.  Others who have tried the breads that I've made from these recipes have been astonished at the texture, the mouth-feel, of the loaves I've made, and have wondered if I have perhaps made a mistake in making them: the crumb is very moist, and yes, they are sweet, and yes, they seem more like cake than bread. 

While I expect and hope that the future loaves I make from this book  -- I am just about to start the "Hearth Breads" section -- will be closer to what I assumed I'd find when I began baking my way through this book, I'm not entirely convinced.  A quick look at the recipe-to-come, the whole wheat heart bread, shows me that it too has some added sugar in it.

Others seem to share the notion that Reinhart's breads are plenty sweet (e.g. see the recent-as-i-blog-this-today discussion here  following DMSnyder's quest for the perfect whole wheat bread: Snyder eventually goes on to compare Reinhart's Whole Wheat from the Bread Baker's Apprentice to the one in Whole Grain Breads.). 

Does the health benefit of the whole grain outweigh the high glycemic index of the simple carbohydrates used to make the bread more tasty?  I don't know the answer to this question.  I hear Reinhart and many other bakers say that good taste trumps all (for example, he says "Flavor Rules" and "Flavor is King" in his Ted Video when he was making the circuit to advertise this Whole Grain Breads book). 

Well, I beg to differ.  Flavor is not king.  Good taste does not trump all, except in the silo of bakeries that pander to common taste.  Sure, you can make breads that are sweet and that lots of people like.  But ultimately, are you doing your customers a service if they are dying of diabetes and heart disease because of what you feed them?  These days, we have to consider more than just taste.  We have to consider our health, and the health of the planet.

When I say the word "silo" I am referring to the way in which our knowledge seems to be gathered in stacks that are not well distributed.  We have farmers who grow the grains, who have a certain expertise; they buy the grain seed from suppliers who have a certain other expertise; they send the grain to mills that have a certain expertise; the flour has ingredients added to it that are mandated by the government based on recommendations by nutritional/medical science of decades ago, in order to curtail epidemics that were rife in those times; the scientists today have their own ideas about what additional additives ought to be put into our food, and these ideas are battled out in the test studies that are more or less funded by those who have an interest not in our health and well-being so much as making money from what they are lobbying for.  The baker who buys the flour has her own expertise.  And the consumer who will taste the bread knows what he thinks he knows, or what he is told he knows.

Each of these areas have their own area of expertise, and none of them are particularly interested in the expertise of the others.  They each live in a silo.  So the farmer is not particularly interested in how the seed is produced, except he wants it to be able to hardy, easy to grow, disease resistant, and fetch a good price in the market; the miller is not particularly interested in the grain, except that it should stand up to the milling process and the flour that is produced should find a buyer who is interested in its properties as a food ingredient; the government is not interested in the flour except as a foodstuff that is only nourishing enough to keep its taxpayers alive up until the age of 65 when they become more of a liability than an asset; the scientists have their own vested interests based on what they are trying to prove and for whom; the baker doesn't care what is in the flour as long as it has good baking qualities and can sell the final product to the consumer; and the consumer may or may not be guided by their taste: there may be other factors that they are considering, such as cost, or health benefits, or even lifestyle and culture.

Ultimately it boils down to this: the corporations who are fighting for control of our food supply are telling the consumer that what they are selling us most cheaply is best for us; and so our taste is being steered at every level into areas that may not be in our own best interest, but in the interest of those who seek to control what we eat so that they can improve not our health (or the planet's health) but their bottom line.

Take the example of transgenic wheat, which I've been doing a lot of thinking about.  Transgenic wheat is a reality.  The corporations who control the seed of our food have developed lots of different types of transgenic wheat, and they are ready and willing to put it into our food supply.  Farmers are willing and ready to try it, if it is easy to grow, and has other properties that farmers like (higher yield, less fertilizer, more disease or drought resistance, etc.).  Governments are ready to rubber stamp transgenic wheat because they have been lobbied to do so by the corporations that fund the research.  Scientists like transgenic wheat because they are able to show off how they can manipulate the genome of virtually anything.  Probably bakeries would like certain transgenic wheat if the gluten could stand up to baking procedures and some could be made that would help with the growing gluten sensitivities that are showing up, or if the new flour could be shown to be more nutritious and beneficial rather than dangerous.  If flavour alone were the king, then all a corporation would have to do is to make a transgenic wheat with more flavour than ever before, and the consumer would buy it.  The point is, the corporations who control the making of the seed are trying to appeal to every step along the chain of supply to make it more acceptable to us.  The resistance is not from anything other than the marketplace now: some customers are rejecting it on principle because the culture is so intertwined with bread made from wheat, and they are scared that the new wheat might somehow destroy them and their culture.  The corporations are currently trying to show that their wheat is safe to ingest: they are introducing it into the food supply of third world nations, and the poor and starving people of the world are going to be the guinea pigs that will convince the rest of us that our fears are unfounded.

So when a baker tells me "flavour rules", I say no.  In fact, tastes change.  Tastes can be manipulated like fashion.  What rules -- everywhere along the chain of interest -- is the bottom line.  As long as the ruling class can give us bread to fuel our bellies, we are going to be pacified.  Reinhart said it: "(Bread) is the product that everyone in the world eats, that is so difficult to give up."  We are narcotized into eating bread.  It is the exorphins in the grains that are king.  Bread is the opiate of the masses.  Whoever controls the bread controls everything.  This is all about total power and control of the world and its resources.

About this bread

This is the gooiest bread dough I've ever worked with.  It is really very sticky.  I ended up incorporating about an ounce more whole wheat flour while I was kneading it.  The goo was awful otherwise.  Like trying to knead the yellow part of a deviled egg.

I had no great interest in this bread.  Frankly I just wanted to get through it, to get on with the rest of the bread recipes in Reinhart's book.

The Soaker

The Biga

Day 2: Final Dough

I used this loaf as a practice of my braiding technique.  I'm still not much good at it, I'm afraid.  And I did have some question marks over my head when I turned the loaf over and braided the second half of the loaf.  Something there is still not right.

Today was a cold day in the house and things didn't rise very much.

The bread, in the oven, seemed to spread and sag rather than plump up.  And so most of my braiding is lost.  This is one ugly challah loaf.  But then, I'll never make this again, so who cares?


The crumb is surprisingly holey.

Notes to Myself

  • If you aren't going to pay attention, what is the point of baking? You are guaranteed not to learn anything. You'd be better off just not baking anything until you really want to bake a particular loaf. Otherwise, you will be disappointed in what you bake, so why bother baking? Don't bake a loaf just to "get through the book" whether you want to or not. That's just crazy. Don't do this again.

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