For me, the fall equinox is a time of balance, of gathering in, of warm colors and rich textures. I think of deep, rich scents like baking bread, fallen leaves, and chicken roasting and sizzling in the oven. It's a warm, nurturing time to spend with friends and family, to anticipate snuggling in front of a fire with my beloved husband and cats (even if the weather isn't quite cool enough for a fire yet).
At fall equinox I can look back on a summer season that was filled with work and labor but that was also rich with rewards: delicious harvests, bags and jars of our own crops saved for the coming winter. I also like to make a point of noticing and honoring changes in the animals' seasons: to put out ample seed and suet and clean water for migrating songbirds, to make sure I'm leaving enough seedheads in my flower garden to feed the hungry finches and sparrows, and to listen for the calls and imagined whispers of both waterfowl and butterflies migrating overhead.
If the weather is good, I'll often spend the weekend nearest the equinox out in the garden, clearing leftover weeds, prepping the soil for the winter, or tending any lingering crops. This past weekend was pretty much all cold rain, so I didn't spend much time outside except for running out to fill the bird feeders. However, I still engaged in one of my favorite autumn equinox rituals: making homemade bread.
|Most of the tools and ingredients you'll need for this recipe. Not shown: mixing bowls, olive oil, and the actual bread machine.|
When I was younger and single, and had fewer demands on my time, I used to make all my bread by hand. I would spend hours painstakingly coaxing whole-wheat dough through multiple risings, long kneadings, and so forth to create chewy, lightly sweet loaves of whole wheat bread. I learned from a wonderful cookbook called The Laurel's Kitchen Bread Book: A Guide to Whole-Grain Breadmaking. These days, however, I don't have quite that much time to devote to a single recipe. The Laurel's kitchen technique depends on extra rising and long kneading in order to produce a tender, delicious loaf of bread from wholegrain flour.
|This is the edition I have; I haven't yet read the newer edition that apparently includes a chapter on using bread machines. I love the friendly, nurturing style of this book, and highly recommend it.|
Instead, I now make my almost-whole-wheat bread in, surprisingly enough, a bread machine. It still takes a long time but it's mostly hands-off. After trying many recipes I found in various bread machine books and online, I finally came up with my favorite variation. This recipe has one thing that most bread machine recipes skip: proofing the yeast. This helps fill my kitchen with that warm, welcoming scent of fresh bread, and also makes a tender loaf that won't crumble into a pile of crumbs when you try to spread a slice with butter. It's almost as good as real whole-wheat bread, and probably would be even better if you removed the dough from the machine after the final rise and baked it in the oven. I've never tried that, though, usually going the completely lazy route of letting the bread bake right in the machine. You could also add any of your favorite mix-ins for a nice harvest loaf: sunflower seeds, chopped walnuts, shredded Parmesean cheese, pepitas, sesame seeds...
As a gift to you all to celebrate the onset of fall, here's my favorite recipe for harvest bread made in the bread machine. It might seem like sacrilege to not make a harvest loaf by hand, but given a choice between a machine loaf of bread and none at all? I'll choose the bread every time. Enjoy!
|The finished loaf, sliced to show you the gorgeous texture. I sliced it right away once I got the bread out of the pan, and we could barely restrain ourselves long enough to snap this photo before spreading butter on the hot bread and gobbling it up.|
Basic Harvest Bread from the Bread Machine
1 C warm water (should feel hot to your fingers, about 110 degrees F)
3 level TB of dark honey (like clover or wildflower honey, not a delicate type)
2 1/4 tsp bread machine yeast
2 C whole wheat bread flour
1 C white flour
1 1/2 tsp salt
1/4 C extra-virgin olive oil
Mix-ins of your choice (optional): shelled sunflower seeds, pepitas, chopped nuts, shredded cheese, whatever you like.
1. Spray the paddle and inside of your bread machine's loaf pan with non-stick spray. (My bread machine is quite old and pretty scratched up, so I need to use spray to help the bread release after cooking. A new machine might not need this step.)
2. Add hot water to the pan. Sprinkle the yeast evenly over the surface of the water. Then pour in the honey so it stirs up the yeast and you end up with very little dry yeast grains floating on the surface.(note: I also spray the tablespoon with non-stick spray before measuring the honey.) If you need to stir the yeast into the water, do so gently with the measuring spoon; ideally though you won't need to because the action of the honey dribbling in will mix the yeast into the water for you.
|Once the honey has mixed in with the yeast it should look like this. But over the next ten minutes, things will change quite a bit!|
3. Set the pan gently aside somewhere for ten minutes while the yeast activates and foams up.
4. Meanwhile, combine the wheat flour, white flour, and salt in a mixing bowl.
5. After ten minutes the yeast mixture should be thickly foamy, and should smell delicious like fresh bread. It might even smell faintly fermented, this is ok. Don't let it go too long, though.
|After ten minutes the yeast has foamed up quite a bit, looking thick and substantial on top of the water-honey mixture. Happy yeast is a good thing!|
6. Pour the olive oil into the pan on top of the yeast mixture. I like to try and let it dribble down the top of the paddle, again because I have an old beat-up machine that likes to grab my fresh bread. If you have a newer machine I'm sure this detail isn't necessary.
7. Scoop the flour mixture gently into the pan. I sometimes smooth out the top of the flour with my fingers, or even draw a little symbol in it if I'm baking for someone or something special (like a heart if I'm baking a celebration loaf for my husband and me).
|For the equinox I drew a spiral, thinking about how things are drawing inward as the days grow shorter.|
8. Set the pan into your bread machine. Use the Basic or White Bread setting if you're completely cooking the bread in the machine. Press Start.
- Notes: Consult your bread machine instructions if you want to use the Dough setting; you'll probably need to shape the loaf after its final pulse in the machine, and then let it rise for 30 minutes in its pan before baking.
- If you plan to add any mix-ins, your bread machine should signal when it's time (usually just before the final knead). Mine beeps, for example. Again, check the instructions which I hope you still have (or can download online).
|Here's the bread as it came out of the pan. You can see where the crust ripped a bit; I had to run the bread knife carefully around the pan to loosen it even though I greased my pan at the beginning. Anybody know how to prevent this?|
9. About three hours later, enjoy your delicious fresh bread! I often slice a piece off while it's still hot, just to do "quality control" and make sure it's good enough to serve to anybody else. :-) This bread is really good with butter melted on a slice still hot from baking, but also with cheese, hummus, peanut butter, or even nothing at all-- it's a little sweet from the honey. Victor and I alone finished this loaf in about two and a half days. Yum!
I hope you have a lovely autumn, filled with all the goodness of the harvest. Let me know in the comments if you try any mix-ins with the basic recipe, and of course how you liked it!