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Smells like home

By Staff | May 18, 2018

Melanie Forester shares a freshly-baked warm loaf of her wheat bread on a cold spring afternoon



STORY COUNTY – If you ask Melanie Forester when she began baking bread for her family, she has an answer at the ready.

“Early in our marriage, my husband and I decided we would pursue better health for our family through our lifestyle and diet choices,” Forester, of rural Story County, said. “Over the years we’ve obviously learned and changed what those choices are, but for the most part we consume whole foods with minimal processing and that has been the priority for our grocery budget.”

Forester has six children and describes herself as “a full-time wife, mom and homeschool teacher for most of our marriage.”

Melanie Forester has experimented with various brands and types of wheat over her years of baking. “This hard red Wheat Montana is the best brand and best price I’ve found to get the right texture and flavor in my bread,” she said. This is available on the company website, wheatmontana.com.

“Because of that, I’ve been able to spend more time during the day preparing and cooking our meals,” she said. “My first garden quickly became ‘ours,’ then ‘his,’ all before the first harvest. But growing our own food as much as possible has always been a part of our family life no matter who weeds the garden.”

Beginning with a bread machine nearly 25 years ago, Forester has experimented with KitchenAid mixers and hand mixing dough techniques.

When Tim and Melanie Forester’s oldest daughter was 11, she received a gift of a children’s Amish cookbook. She mixed the dough by hand as the recipe directed. The whole family was happy to have “real” homemade bread to eat, and the breadmaking began in earnest.

“In 2005, our daughter entered the bread at the Story County Fair as a 4-H project where it was selected to advance to the state fair,” Forester said. “My husband encouraged her to invest in a larger mixer that would enable her to make twice as much bread faster. She was invited to sell bread at the Ames farmer’s market as well as other local shops.”

Within a year, Forester said her daughter had sold enough bread to pay for an expensive mixer, while the family had expanded its recipe options.

The breads included “Kate’s Amish Bread, Marianne’s 100 percent Whole Wheat, Hearty Oat-Nut first dubbed ‘Market Favorite,’ Lee’s Special Request, Whole Wheat Raisin, and Italian Herb artisan bread.”

“At that point I was buying stone-ground organic whole wheat flour through an area buying club,” Forester said. “But when my local bread baking mentor gave me a sample of her fresh-milled flour to use, my husband quickly approved the purchase of our own grain mill. He said it took our ‘great’ homemade bread to an even higher level of deliciousness. My husband also preferred the lighter taste of white wheat berries over the traditional red wheat, so that’s what we’ve been using since buying the mill in 2006.”

Forester likes to purchase 150 to 200 pounds of wheat berries from The Baker’s Pantry in Dallas Center every few months, depending on how much baking they are doing.

How does one decide from the varies of wheat available?

“Research,” she said. “Just a lot of reading and trial and error. We like this Wheat Montana brand since it is grown with a natural nitrogen fertilizer and is certified chemical free before it is shipped to customers.”

Special baking equipment purchased in 2005 has stood the test of time in their kitchen.

Being used regularly to bake daily bread needs for a family of eight, the Ankarsrum mixer, NutriMill Classic grain mill and Norpro dimpled bread pans look nearly new and were purchased “mostly on advice and experience of a bread-baking friend,” she said.

“Once upon a time, the eight of us easily consumed at least one loaf of bread each day, just for lunch meal,” Forester added as she removed hot loaves from the oven. “A fresh loaf of warm bread is still a favorite treat.”

She also likes flexible recipes, and said “mixing bread is pretty forgiving, as long as you don’t kill the yeast. If you do kill the yeast, we call it dead bread and roll it into crackers. Thankfully my kids like almost everything.”

It takes practice to become a bread baker, especially with yeast bread.

“You learn to judge by feel of the dough, not the exact number of cups of flour,” Forester said. “That can vary with humidity especially. I love and depend upon my mixer and other tools, but you can bake bread without them, especially mixing by hand.”

“The kneading process becomes key, as well as learning how the dough should feel,” she added. “The kneading is what develops the gluten and thus the texture of your bread.”

Forester offered a few tips for novice bread bakers.

“A lot of my choices are a result of what God has allowed me to learn from others over the years, as well as availability of ingredients,” she said. “I do purchase local, raw honey because it has so many health benefits, and we really, really like knowing where our food comes from. I buy eggs directly from friends and neighbors. Just practice and dive right into making yeast breads – you will enjoy the process and the results.”

“Also, note that people can buy fresh milled wheat flour at the Baker’s Pantry in Dallas Center, so you don’t need a grain mill to enjoy that either.”

100 percent whole wheat bread (or almost)

2 cups rolled oats

2 cups warm or hot water

6 tablespoons butter, softened or melted

1 tablespoon lemon juice (optional)

1/2 cup vital wheat gluten (optional) or 1 to 2 cups unbleached bread flour (or all-purpose)

1 tablespoon sea salt

1/2 cup brown sugar

1-2 tablespoons honey (optional)

4 cups fresh whole wheat flour (Forester mills hard white wheat berries)

1 and a half tablespoons yeast (Forester uses SAF brand)

3 cups additional warm water (100-120 degrees)

5-6 cups additional fresh whole wheat flour

NOTE: The order listed is how Forester combines the ingredients in a large mixer. She recommends, if using a KitchenAid stand mixer with dough hook, to just make half a recipe)

Special instructions:

Forester soaks the oats in the first 2 cups of hot water for several hours. After starting the mixer, she adds the 3 cups of water and additional flour. She also uses instant yeast which doesn’t need to be “proved.” She puts most of the ingredients in the bowl before mixing anything. Forester uses the mixer to mix and knead the dough for about 10 minutes. It will take longer by hand. Then let dough rise until almost doubled (20-40 minutes depending on dough and room temperature). Grease the bread pans. Punch down, divide dough, and shape. Let rise again for about 20 minutes. Bake about 25 minutes in a preheated 350 degree oven. Remove from pans to cool.

Makes four, 10-inch loaves of bread.

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