Family Bread & Butter Day

Written By: Alex Virata - 3/31/2020

Green Plate Special's Family Bread & Butter Day on March 28th was cancelled to keep flattening that COVID-19 curve, but we still want you to enjoy your own Family Bread & Butter Day at home! This article walks you through a brief history of grains, the different parts of a whole grain, the basic ingredients of bread, the history and science of making butter, and bread and butter recipes that you can enjoy in your own kitchen.

A Brief History of Grains

Grains are small, dry seeds that have played an important role in diets across many different cultures for thousands of years. Careful research of ancient human teeth and tools shows that we might have been chowing down on wild grains as early as over 100,000 years ago [1]! Part of their deep connection to us is how durable and shelf stable they are, making them easier to harvest and store over long periods of time.

They come in a truly amazing variety of colors, shapes, and sizes and can be grown all around the world. For example: Did you know that there are over 40,000 varieties of rice, and that it is grown on every continent except Antarctica? Pretty neat, right?

There are so many different grains that were originally cultivated in so many different places. A few examples are: maize/corn (Southern Mexico), oats (Middle East/Europe), quinoa (Andean region of South America), barley (Eurasia), and sorghum (Australia, Africa, Asia, Mesoamerica, and many islands in the Pacific and Indian oceans). The Whole Grains Council has an excellent list of different grains, their history, their flavor profile, and so much more HERE.

Speaking of the Whole Grains Council... What is a whole grain?

What Is a Whole Grain?

Each grain before is made up of three parts that serve different purposes and contain different nutrients...

  • The bran: the shell that protects the seed, high in B vitamins and fiber
  • The endosperm: the starchy center that makes up most of the grain and provides the seed with energy to grow, high in protein with some vitamins and minerals
  • The germ: the part from which the new plant springs! Contains B vitamins, some protein, minerals, and healthy oils

Foods made with whole grains (whole wheat flour and brown rice, for example) contain each of these important anatomical components. Many foods are made with processed grains (like white rice and refined/white flour), which have had the bran and germ removed leaving only the endosperm. While processing the grain can be very handy for extending its shelf life (the oils from the germ make the grain spoil much faster), you miss out on all the fiber, vitamins, minerals, and oil the removed parts contain.

Now that you know so much more about grains themselves... What do we make with all these grains? How about a little bread?

Basic Bread Ingredients and What They Do

Bread can come in many different forms and flavors, but many share these basic ingredients: flour, water, yeast, sugar, and salt.

Flour

Flour is the core ingredient that provides bread structure and density.

When wheat flour is mixed with water, the proteins in the flour interact to form an elastic gluten framework. Kneading your dough ensures the flour and water is mixed thoroughly (making more gluten), and weaves your strands of gluten together to create a strong web that holds your bread together as it expands and rises (more on that in a bit). If you stretch your dough reeeaaaally thin and hold it up to a light, you can actually see the complicated web of gluten you've made!

Aside from wheat, you can use many different types of flour to bake breads that have different structures. For example: rice or corn flour is often used in baking, and since these grains do not contain gluten they create bread with a very different texture from wheat.

Water

Water helps you mix and hold ingredients together. Some bread recipes, like those including wheat, require water to create gluten. For bread that rises to create a fluffy texture water is the perfect warm, moist environment for yeast to thrive.

Yeast

Yeast is the teeny tiny fungus sometimes added to bread to make it rise and fluff up. Fluffy, risen bread is called "leavened bread", and the ingredients that create this effect are called "leavening agents" (like yeast, baking powder, buttermilk, beer, etc.) Yeast consumes the sugar and starch present in flour and excretes alcohol and carbon dioxide gas, creating expanding pockets of gas that stretch the elastic framework of gluten in the dough (think about blowing a bubble with bubblegum).

Sugar

While there is enough sugar present in flour alone to feed yeast, it can be added to dough to give the yeast a little "boost" that speeds up the rising of the bread.

Salt

Salt will change the flavor of the bread as well as strengthen your dough's gluten. It also helps control yeast by dehydrating it a little, slowing down its multiplication process and the excretion of gas.

With all this talk of bread... What about bread's close friend, butter?

The History and Science of Butter

The History

Did you know that butter is actually an ancient food?! Records show that butter was being produced at least 4000 years ago. Originally, butter was most commonly made from sheep or goat’s milk. The earliest recipes are believed to have come from nomads in the Middle East, who used a container made from the skin of a goat to churn butter. The skin was sewed together tightly, leaving a small opening in which to pour milk. It was filled half full with milk or cream, then suspended from wooden poles so it could swing around until butter formed. In the earliest centuries butter was made and shipped from India. Starting in the 12 century C.E. butter became popular in Scandinavia, where people would make it and send it to the rest of Europe. The cooler climates in northern Europe (like Scandinavia) helped to preserve the butter for longer. For the last century, most butter has been manufactured in factories.

The Science

When whole milk sits out tiny fat molecules float to the top, forming a layer of cream which can be skimmed and collected. This cream is what we use to make butter (and whipped cream). The cream is agitated (stirred up) so that the fat molecules get shaken up and clump together. Eventually, after enough agitation, the fat molecules clump so much that a solid is formed - butter! This entire butter-making process is called churning.

21 pounds of fresh milk will make 1 pound of butter. At first, as you agitate the cream you will hear the liquid slosh around. The initial clumping allows tiny air bubbles to be trapped in the cream, forming a light and airy product… whipped cream! Gradually, over the course of 5-20 minutes the sloshing will slow and the cream will thicken until it abruptly becomes butter. At this point, the fat has clearly separated from the liquid in the cream, leaving us with two products: solid butter and liquid buttermilk!

Tip: Try using cream that has sat out of the fridge for a few hours - this will speed up the churning process. When particles are heated, they move faster because they have more energy. So, fat molecules in room-temperature cream (as opposed to fat molecules in chilled cream) move faster, which allows them to clump together faster, thereby forming butter faster.

You’ll notice that the buttermilk is white and the butter is yellow. Why is this? The difference in color is due mostly to the higher fat content of butter.

  1. Cows that eat grass and flowers store the yellow pigment naturally found in those plants (beta carotene) in their fat.
  2. The beta carotene gets carried over into the fat in their milk, but the fat molecules in milk or cream are surrounded by a thin membrane that hides the yellow pigment (making milk look white).
  3. When we make butter, the membranes break apart, which exposes the beta carotene.

Fun fact: If cows are raised on pasture, their butter is more yellow when the milk is collected in the spring or summer (when they have more plants high in beta carotene to chew on).

To Make Butter:

  1. Pour at least half a pint of heavy whipping cream into a jar. Make sure to fill the jar only half-way to allow room for the liquid to move around.
  2. Shake vigorously! The liquid cream will first turn into whipped cream, and then into butter. You will know you’ve made butter when you have a solid, yellow mass floating in a thinner liquid. The liquid is buttermilk!
  3. Strain off the buttermilk and save for future cooking projects, or discard in the compost.
  4. Rinse the butter under cold water and press it down with a spoon to strain out all remaining liquid.
  5. Flavor the butter with salt and any additional ingredient of your choosing, such as rosemary, garlic, or honey.

Make sure to save some of your butter to put on the homemade bagel recipe below. We've also included a couple of our other favorite wheat-based recipes. have fun!

RECIPES!

Bagels, New York Style (Makes 8 medium-sized Bagels)

Ingredients:

2 tsp.                   active dry yeast

1 ½ Tbsp.            honey

1 ¼ cups             warm water, plus ¼ cup if needed

3 ½ cups             bread flour, plus more for kneading

1 ½ tsp.               salt

1 tsp.                   olive oil

1 each                 egg, whisked

Optional: poppy seeds, sesame seeds, caraway seeds, coarse salt, minced fresh garlic, minced fresh onion

Make it:

  1. Measure ½ cup of the warm water into a small bowl. Pour in honey and yeast. Do not stir! Let sit for 5 minutes, and then stir the mixture until it all dissolves in the water.
  2. In a large bowl, mix the flour and salt. Make a well in the middle of the flour and pour in the yeast/honey mixture. Add 1/3 cup more of the warm water into the well.
  3. Mix and stir in the rest of the water (a little less than ½ a cup) as needed. If the mixture is too dry, add more water 1 Tbsp. at a time until you form a moist and firm dough.
  4. Dust your work surface with flour and knead the dough for about 10 minutes until it’s smooth and elastic. You’re looking to form a firm and stiff dough, so you might have to add more flour as you knead.
  5. Lightly brush a large bowl with the olive oil and turn the dough over in the oil to coat. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let rise in a warm place for 1 hour, or until the dough has doubled in size.
  6. Punch down the dough and let it rest for another 10 minutes.
  7. Divide the dough into 8 equal pieces. Shape each piece into a round and roll it into a ball by pressing it gently against the table and moving your hand in a circular motion.
    1. Preheat your oven to 475
    2. Bring a large pot of water to a boil
  8. Lightly oil a baking sheet. Dip one of your fingers in flour and gently press your finger through the center of each dough ball to form a ring. Stretch the ring to about 1/3 the diameter of the bagel and place it on the baking sheet. Repeat for all of the dough balls, and keep the formed bagels covered with a damp towel. Allow to rest for 10 minutes.
  9. Once your pot of water has boiled, reduce the heat to medium-low. Carefully lower each bagel into the water (a slotted spoon works well for this.) Once the bagels are in, they will float to the top in a couple seconds. Let them sit there for 1 minute, then flip them over to boil for another minute (2 minutes total.) You may extend the boiling times to 2 minutes per side if you prefer a chewier bagel.
  10. Use the slotted spoon to take each bagel out of the boiling water one at a time and arrange them on a lightly oiled baking sheet. Lightly brush each bagel with egg wash, and then top with your choice of seeds.
  11. Bake for 20 minutes, until golden brown. Cool on a wire rack.

Chapati Flatbread (Makes 10)

Ingredients:

¾ cup                  semolina flour

2 cups                 whole wheat flour

1 tsp.                   salt

4 Tbsp.                butter, melted

1 cup                   water, to form a soft dough (add a little more if dough is too dry)

Make it:

  1. In a medium bowl, stir together the flours, salt and 2 tablespoons melted butter. Add the water, stirring into the flour mixture, until a dough forms.
  2. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit for 1 hour.
  3. Divide dough into 10 equal pieces and shape each piece into a ball. Using a rolling pin, roll each ball into a 5” round, or as thin as possible.
  4. Heat a 12” cast-iron skillet over high heat. Add 1 dough round and cook, turning once, until each side is very brown and the dough is cooked through, about 1 minute on each side.
  5. Put on a plate and brush with some more of the melted butter. Cook remaining rounds.
  6. Serve hot.

GPS Pizza (makes 7 small pizzas - freeze extra dough!)

Preheat your oven to 550 degrees. The oven rack should be at the bottom of the oven.

Ingredients:

½ tsp.                                dry active yeast

1 tsp.                                 sugar

3 tsp.                                 salt

2 cups                                water, cool but not cold

6 ¼ cups                            all-purpose flour        

Make it:

  1. Put yeast, sugar, salt and water in a large bowl and mix for 5 minutes with a wooden spoon. Make sure the yeast is completely dissolved. Add flour using the “scoop and swish” method. Mix for 8-10 minutes, using your hands to knead it when it gets too hard to stir, and adding more flour, 1 Tbsp. at a time, if the dough feels too sticky.
  2. Cover the bowl with a clean towel and let dough rest for 10 minutes.
  3. While it rests, prepare a shallow plastic tub by rubbing or spraying it with a little oil on all sides. (Or do this on a cookie sheet.)
  4. Put the dough on a work surface and stretch it into a log about as thick as your fist.
  5. Cut the dough into 6 equal pieces. Cover the pieces with plastic wrap as you work with each one separately.
  6. Roll each one (as learned in GPS), and place them in the plastic tub or on the prepared cookie sheet.
  7. If you want to freeze some of them, see notes below:

Stretch it, Top it:

  1. Stretch the dough (as learned in class) with your fingers, gently pulling it to fit the pan. The sides of the dough should be a little thicker than the rest. Bring the edges of the dough up the side of the pizza pan (or cookie sheet).
  2. Add tomato sauce (just a light covering), cheese (also lightly) and your pizza toppings.
  3. Cook right away in the oven for 10-20 minutes (depending on the pan you use and the thickness of your dough).
  4. Turn the pan in the oven after the first 7 minutes, to make sure the pizza cooks evenly.
  5. Slide the pizza onto a cutting board, cut and enjoy!

Notes: To Freeze: the dough must first rest in the refrigerator for 24 hours.

  • Rub each dough ball with a little more oil.
  • Gently put each dough ball into their own zip lock sandwich bag
  • Put them in the freezer in a way that they will freeze without getting squashedWhen they are frozen (the next day), put them all together in a larger, 1 gallon, zip lock bag and mark the bag with the date

References

  1. University of Calgary. "Stone age pantry: Archaeologist unearths earliest evidence of modern humans using wild grains and tubers for food." ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 18 December 2009. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2009/12/091217141312.htm>

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