The View from My Kitchen

Benvenuti! I hope you enjoy il panorama dalla mia cucina Italiana -- "the view from my Italian kitchen,"-- where I indulge my passion for Italian food and cooking. From here, I share some thoughts and ideas on food, as well as recipes and restaurant reviews, notes on travel, and a few garnishes from a lifetime in the entertainment industry.

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Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Homemade Bread or That Store-Bought Bread-Like Substance

Baking Bread vs Eating Your Yoga Mat

Azodicarbonamide (ADA) has been making a lot of headlines lately. It seems that the public has gotten clued in to the presence of the stuff in a lot of the food products they consume, especially breads. The real shock and awe came when it was discovered that Subway, the poster place for healthy eating, used the substance in its “fresh baked” bread.

In its industrial uses, ADA is employed as a blowing agent in the production of foamed plastics, such as shoe soles and yoga mats. Of course, in Europe and much of the rest of the world, the use of ADA in plastic products that come in contact with food has been banned because of its potential carcinogenic properties. So naturally, American manufacturers actually add the stuff to food. And the food industry lapdogs at the FDA and the USDA have granted it GRAS (Generally Recognized As Safe) status. This in spite of the fact that ADA is banned as a food additive in Europe and Australia and the World Health Organization and the UK's Health and Safety Executive have found it to be responsible for a variety of respiratory issues when inhaled.

But, darn it all, when you add it to flour as a bleaching agent, ADA just makes dough so nice and stretchy and rubbery and strong. Just what my body needs: to process slices of ham and cheese wrapped in the equivalent of a couple of baked foam shoe soles. How utterly healthy is that?

You know how they ask you for your bread preference when you order at Subway? The girl at my local store was confused when I asked for my sandwich on “plastic Italian bread.” When I explained the ADA angle and pulled up a couple of articles on my phone to support my assertion, she was positively dumbfounded. “I've eaten here myself for years,” she exclaimed, “because I thought it was so healthy.” And as I went off to munch on my plastic-enhanced repast, I could see the girl running around to other employees with her phone in her hand.

To be fair, the articles I showed her dealt with Subway's announcement that it would be removing the ADA from its bread products, but why was it there in the first place? Especially when the chain has successfully managed to bake its bread without ADA in places where the substance is banned. It is most imperatively not an essential ingredient in the bread making process. So why do we Americans get to be the corporate guinea pigs? Never mind biting the hand that feeds you; just poison it instead.

Of course, Subway is not alone. A list has been circulating online of more than five hundred products you probably consume on a regular basis that contain ADA. How about that store brand White Enriched Bread or White Enriched Hamburger Buns you buy at Kroger? Or those Little Debbie or Mrs. Freshley Honey Buns? Plastic New York Garlic Breadsticks anyone? Or any of sixteen products Pillsbury stashes in the dairy case. Say it isn't so, Sara Lee! But it is. Smuckers is all concerned about our kids' health, so they lower the sugar in their “Uncrustables” – and leave the ADA. The whole list can be found on the Environmental Working Group's website here:

Now, admittedly there's not much I can do to avoid hidden ADA at places like Subway or, say, a ball park that uses ADA-laced Ball Park hot dog buns. But I can certainly avoid bringing it into my home, and I have done so for many, many years through the simple expedient of baking my own bread.

Oh, the anguished cries of the outraged consumer are deafening! “You idiot! How dare you suggest that I have the time to bake my own bread?” “Baking bread is expensive, you stupid Communist.” “What makes you think I can bake bread, you elitist food snob?”

Sorry. Baking bread is not expensive, it's not time consuming, and it's not difficult. Think about it! Before commercial industrial bakeries began bagging up soft, gummy loaves of sliced pseudo bread-like substances, people baked bread at home all the time. Real bread! With real flavor and texture! And real ingredients. Ingredients that did not include enough additives and preservatives to embalm an Egyptian pharaoh.

I can count on one hand the number of loaves of “store-bought” bread I have purchased in the last ten years. Let me clarify, because I do occasionally buy specialty breads in the store's bakery or deli. But I only buy the aforementioned plastic bread in a plastic bag when I have absolutely no other choice; and I make sure to always have other choices.

Yeah, like most baby boomers, I grew up on a diet of Wonder Bread. My mom, who could actually bake bread that was truly wonderful when she wanted to, got sucked in by marketers and advertisers to the whole “convenience” thing. And all the claims that store-bought bread was “enriched” and “healthy” and “nutritious” just helped sell it to a gullible populace even more. So Mom's homemade bread got to be a rare treat. When I got older, I asked her why she stopped baking bread. “I don't have the hand strength to be able to knead it anymore,” was her explanation. And at the time it was a good one. Mom didn't have any kind of super mixer in her kitchen arsenal. And, although it was great for cake batter and cookie dough, heavy bread dough would have torn up her good old Sunbeam Mixmaster. So she mixed and kneaded bread dough by hand, a task even I would hesitate to undertake today. Well.......sometimes I do, but I have lots of other options.

Option number one is a decent stand mixer. And, yes, “decent” and “expensive” are usually synonymous. I have a KitchenAid 5-Quart Tilt-Head in my home kitchen that will handle just about anything I throw in it. And I'm still trying to regenerate the arm and the leg it cost me. But when I consider that the hundred-dollar Sunbeam Mixmaster I bought at Walmart lasted one day in my restaurant kitchen, I realize that it was worth the investment. I've turned out a ton of baked goods from that thing, not to mention the meat I've ground and the ice cream I've made with its attachments.

If you prefer a unitasker, a bread machine is a good option. I have two of them. For the record, though, I don't actually “make bread” in them. I don't like the squarish loaves they produce. But they are superb when used on the “dough” setting. I can dump my ingredients in the hopper and go off and do other things while the machine makes the dough. Then I come back and take over the remainder of the process myself. I make the bread; the machine just makes the dough. Kind of like having a tiny Hobart on my home kitchen counter.

Food processors can be used for some types of bread dough. Pizza dough, for instance, is a breeze in a food processor. If I'm trying to impress somebody, I let them watch me make pizza dough by hand. Otherwise, into the food processor it goes.

Let's talk ingredients. Read the wrapper on that loaf you bought at the store: Enriched Wheat Flour (Flour, Barley Malt, Niacin, Iron, Thiamin Mononitrate, Riboflavin, Folic Acid), Water, Corn Syrup, Yeast, Soybean Oil (Non-Hydrogenated), Salt, Contains 2%Or Less of The Following: Wheat Gluten, Soy Flour, Dough Conditioners (Monoglycerides, Sodium Stearoyl Lactylate, Enzymes, Ascorbic Acid, Azodicarbonamide), Yeast Nutrients (Ammonium Sulfate, Monocalcium Phosphate), Calcium Peroxide, Calcium Propionate (A Preservative), Calcium Sulfate, Soy Lecithin. Contains: Wheat, Soybeans. May Contain Traces of: Milk, Egg, Hazelnuts.

Here's what I put in mine: unbleached bread flour, water, milk, butter, sugar, salt, and yeast.

Now let's discuss cost. A five-pound bag of the good stuff, King Arthur Unbleached Bread Flour, costs me between four and five dollars, depending on where I buy it. I can get six loaves of bread out of a five-pound bag of flour. I buy my yeast in one-pound packages for about two dollars. Add in milk, butter, sugar, and salt and I can make a loaf of bread for about a buck. At anywhere between two and four dollars a loaf for store-bought breads, who's coming out on top?

Ah, but time is the deal-breaker. Who's got time to bake bread? Let's takes me almost five minutes to prepare the ingredients and dump them in the machine. Then I go sit at my computer and check email for thirty minutes while the dough is making. I invest thirty seconds in walking to the kitchen to turn off the machine after the dough cycle so it won't continue baking the bread. Then I go watch an episode of something on TV while the dough rises. It takes another grueling minute or two to remove the dough from the machine and put it in a loaf pan. I rest up by watching something short, like “Jeopardy.” By the time Alex is done, the dough is ready to put in the oven that I set to preheat during a commercial. By the time Pat and Vanna are through spinning the “Wheel of Fortune,” my bread is ready to take out of the oven. Whew! I don't know how I manage to slave away like that.

And once you get the hang of a basic loaf of bread, the rest is easy. I make a huge variety of breads and rolls. Besides basic sandwich bread, I make French baguettes, Italian bread, cheese bread, breadsticks, dinner name it. And it doesn't all have to be white bread. Whole wheat and whole grain breads are just as easy. Some breads are a little more involved than others and some require special pans, but the point is, you can do it all at home for far less cost and with infinitely better quality. Skip the KitchenAid if you can't afford it. A good bread machine will cost about a hundred bucks and will last for years and years. Heck, if you're not as picky as I am about the shape of the loaf, let the machine do the whole process. It'll still be better than than that chemistry set in a bag that disguises itself as bread in the grocery store.

In today's world, you can't entirely eliminate artificially enhanced, preservative-laden, chemically processed food from your diet. It's everywhere. Subway. Who'd a thought? But you can take steps to make sure it doesn't dominate your diet. And baking your own bread at home is a good place to start. And besides, once you get started, you'll be really popular with your friends and neighbors.

1 comment:

  1. Good to know that I am not the only one feeling the same way about bread - thank you