A year or two ago I bought a used copy of the New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook for a few dollars at a thrift store in Vermont. I had never heard of it, but it looked interesting and was filled with no-nonsense recipes stacked two or three to a page – over 700 of them in total! The book sat on my bookshelf pretty much untouched until a couple of weeks ago, when I picked it up and started skimming through the pages. The recipes sounded wonderful, a combination of unusual, quirky, simple, seasonal – both old standards and things I’d never heard of. Suddenly I had a score of recipes I wanted to try. But I slowed down in the bread section, realizing I’d never, ever made bread before. I’m not sure why, but it’s something I’ve always postponed (even though I have always wanted to do it). I’ve kind of been stockpiling some wonderful flours that I keep purchasing with the intent of making bread and figured I’d take the leap.
I narrowed down my choice of recipes, looking for a whole wheat bread so I could use the Farmer Ground Whole Wheat Bread Flour that I had in the cupboard. I settled upon one in which the dough is stirred instead of kneaded. It was an incredibly easy process – almost too easy. (Next time I will certainly try a recipe that involves kneading in order to have the experience of working the dough directly with my hands.) That said, I was really pleased with the results. The shape of my loaves was a little…unique, I think – kind of a squashed oval. But it tasted pretty great. And the texture was really nice, elastic and bready and scattered with nice air pockets. It toasted well and froze well and I ate it all sorts of ways.
A couple of notes: I used polenta instead of corn meal because that was what I had on hand. I did not use the sesame seeds, only because I didn’t have any on hand.
Spoon-Stirred Whole Wheat Bread (adapted from New York Times Natural Foods Cookbook, by Jean Hewitt, Quadrangle Books, 1971) – makes 2 loaves
1 Tablespoon active dry yeast
2 cups lukewarm water
2 Tablespoons honey
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
2 Tablespoons vegetable oil (such as canola)
4 1/2 cups sifted whole wheat flour
4 Tablespoons sesame seeds (optional)
〭 Put water in a large mixing bowl, add yeast and let dissolve. Add honey, salt and oil and mix.
〭 Add flour and stir well with a wooden spoon. Cover with a kitchen towel and place in a warm spot for one hour (I put mine under a table lamp that was turned on). Mix the dough every 10 minutes with the wooden spoon.
〭 Turn out the dough onto a floured work surface, divide in half and shape each half into a ball. Cover with a towel for 10 minutes.
〭 With a rolling pin, roll out each ball into a 12″ x 9″ piece. Roll it tightly along the long edge to form a loaf. Seal the seam by wetting with your fingers dipped in water. Place on a baking sheet that has been oiled and sprinkled with corn meal.
〭 Make diagonal slashes across the top of each loaf with a sharp knife. Brush tops with water, cover with towel and allow to rise until it has doubled in size – about 30 minutes.
〭 Preheat oven to 375〬 F
〭 Brush loaves with water again and sprinkle with sesame seeds, if using. Bake 35 – 40 minutes or until bread looks done and makes a hollow sound when you pick it up (with oven mitts!) and tap the bottom of the loaf. Brush the top of each loaf with melted butter and set them to cool on a wire rack.