Miss M goes to a Steiner preschool. One of the activities they do is make bread – wholemeal bread. It is one of Steiner’s “signature” activities for preschoolers. When I first heard it, I thought “how quaint!” and had this image of little children earnestly learning the lost art of traditional bread making, as families of generations past might have done together.
Then one day it occurred to me. Why, breadmaking isn’t particularly arty or anything – it’s just like play dough! It’s a perfect activity for preschoolers because, you have all the fun of play dough, and in the end you put your creations in the oven and voila, you can eat it for lunch, too. Two birds with one stone, what a clever idea. Plus it’s pretty hard to screw up a loaf of bread. Unlike cookies or scones, which can be ruined if over-handled, bread dough can withstand a lot of toddler abuse.
So I decided to do the same at home, too. I put together a batch of bread dough in the morning (takes no time with my beloved Kitchenaid mixer), leave it to rise till after the kids wake up from a nap, then it’s play dough time. Miss M and and Mr. A love this. (Well, Mr. A mostly loves eating the bread dough, but I turn a blind eye to such small transgressions these days.) After they’ve had enough, I clean up, bake the bread, and it’s ready to eat for dinner.
The great thing about making bread is that it’s incredibly easy. You don’t need to be precise with the ingredients as long as you are in the ballpark for the flour-yeast ratio, and you can eyeball the water amount as you knead the dough (you can’t blindly follow a recipe here anyway because the amount of water you need changes depending on the humidity, the weather, and the kind of flour you use). Even the rising and proofing time is flexible. If the dough is a little under- or over-risen, it doesn’t really matter. It’ll still taste far better than any bread you buy in a supermarket.
Here’s a simple recipe I’ve used and works well:
Easy Wholemeal Bread
- 300g wholemeal flour (I use organic baker’s wholemeal flour, which, if you are in Australia you can order online in bulk here)
- 300g plain flour (the same shop has the organic bakers flour here, but you can use any flour with a decent protein content – say, over 10%).
- 2 teaspoons instant yeast
- 1.5 teaspoons salt
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- about 380ml water (1.5 cups)
Place all dry ingredients and in a mixing bowl, add olive oil and about a cup of water, and start mixing at low speed with a dough hook (or you can do this by hand; it just takes a bit more effort). As the mixture is mixing, slowly add the remaining water, watching the dough consistency. Basically, you use enough water so all the dry stuff is absorbed, but not too wet. You are looking for the consistency of play dough. If there is any dry stuff left at the bottom of the bowl, slowly add more water till all the dry stuff is gone. If it gets too wet, just add more flour. Knead at low speed for about 7-8 minutes. Or longer if by hand.
Cover the dough with a little bit of olive oil, cover the top with plastic, and leave at room temperature for the dough to rise. You want the dough to rise to roughly twice the size. Wholemeal is heavier than white flour, and it takes longer to rise. In cold weather like it is now in Sydney, it takes longer yet than in warmer weather. In summer it might take less than 2 hours. The other day when it was particularly cold, I left the dough in the kitchen for nearly 5 hours, and it was still all right.
When the dough has risen, hand it over to your children and play away! In the end I encourage a semblance of a round bread roll, all of them in similar size to bake evenly, but a bit of variation doesn’t matter. Then, when it’s done, cover and leave the dough to proof – about 1 to 2 hours. This time it doesn’t have to double up in size. Just wait for it to puff up a little.
In a preheated oven at about 200 degrees Celcius, bake the bread till it’s done. Every oven is different and every bread has different size, so it’s impossible to say how long it’ll take. You know it’s ready when the top of the bread is golden, and the bottom has a nice hard feel. When you tap the bottom, it feels a little hollow inside. Leave it to cool for a while before eating (I know, this is the hardest part).
You’d be amazed how tasty a simple wholemeal bread is straight from the oven. All you need is good butter. Your kids will love eating what they made. And it’s nutritious, too.