Jenny's Everyday Wholemeal Bread from An Echo in the Bone

Jenny's Everyday Bread from An Echo in the Bone

SHE WAS SMALLER than I had remembered, and thinner, her hair with a little more gray in it though still darkly vibrant -- but the deep-blue-cat-eyes were just the same, as was the natural air of command she shared with her brother.

"Leave the horses," she said briskly, wiping her eyes on the corner of her apron. "I'll have one o' the lads take care of them. Ye'll be frozen and starving -- take off your things and come into the parlor." She glanced at me, with a brief look of curiosity and something else I couldn't interpret -- but didn't met my eyes directly or say more than "Come," as she led the way to the parlor.

The house smelled familiar but strange, steeped in peat smoke and the scent of cooking; someone had just baked bread, and the yeasty smell floated down the hall from the kitchen. The hall itself was nearly as cold as the outdoors; all the rooms had their doors closed tight to keep in the heat from their fires, and a welcome wave of warmth eddied out when she opened the door to the parlor, turning to pull Ian in first.

An Echo in the Bone, Chapter 76

Wheat was an expensive import into the Highlands in the 18th Century, and only relatively successful estates, such as Lallybroch (somewhat recovered from the scourge of the English after Culloden), would have been able to afford it. Even so, there's not a chance that a woman as practical as Jenny would have used the finest French-milled flour in her everyday baking.

And so, our unexpected home comers are welcomed with hearty slices of stone-ground wholemeal bread slathered in butter and jam.

coarsely-ground-oats

This recipe is adapted from a whole-wheat loaf, in The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart.  I made some changes to the methods and ingredients, and added oats, to make this 100% Jenny's bread. The recipe uses a pre-ferment, a wet dough made the night before, that adds flavour and lift to whole-grain loaves that would otherwise be dense and heavy tasting.

The pre-ferment is an easier, modern mimic of the more authentic yeast culture (think sourdough) that Jenny would have kept alive with flour and water in her kitchen. We're using instant yeast from the grocery store, but Jenny's sole source of baking yeast would have been Lallybroch's brew house. The barm, or froth, was scraped from the surface of fermenting beer and used to leaven the household's bread.

jennys-wholemeal-dough

Making bread this way will take you back to a simpler, slower time. In today's world of instant gratification, anything that takes more than a day can seem like a long time. But there really isn't a lot of active work involved -- most of the time is spent waiting for the dough to rise. Pick a day when you're around the house and, to make more from the same amount of work, double the recipe. Four loaves of bread lasts us a couple of weeks -- I usually bake one loaf immediately, refrigerate another and then freeze the other two for the following week.

Once the dough is split, shaped and in the pan, wrap the loaves you want to save for later tightly with plastic wrap. These loaves will keep in the fridge for up to 3 days -- remove them from the fridge about 4 hours before baking to give the dough time to rise. Notice the flavour in a dough that's been fermenting in the fridge for a couple of days -- you can really taste the grains!

Well wrapped loaves will keep in the freezer for up to 2 weeks. Defrost on the counter overnight, then unwrap and bake the risen dough off in the morning.

2nd-rise-in-the-pan

As for for the metric equivalents, I took a leap of faith and used (mostly) weight instead of volume this week. Weighing ingredients is a much more accurate way to ensure baking success. If you have an electronic scale, consider using it for this recipe. (Most of them have a metric option.)

One last thing: whole wheat flour takes a lot of kneading to develop the gluten, which is what reacts with the yeast and causes the dough to rise. A LOT OF KNEADING. If you have one, use your stand mixer as described in the New School Tips below the recipe -- especially if you double the recipe -- most of us simply don't have the wiry upper-body strength that Jenny and the other women of her time developed by doing everything by hand...everyday.

jam-bread