My Solar Oven adventures for this week coincided with my need for some homemade bread. Remember last Saturday’s post where the next sunny forecast was Tuesday? It wasn’t kidding: mid-70’s, not a cloud in the sky, barely breezy. Perfect!
I pulled my go-to Whole Wheat Bread recipe out of my brain and got to work. (Recipe follows.)
1) I heated up the water while I measured out all the little ingredients:
2) After putting it in the bread mixing bowl, I give the dry stuff a whirl with a whisk (whee!) to mix in the dry milk powder. I use the non-instant dry milk, and when water hits it, it just clumps. If I’ve stirred it into the dry ingredients first, then no clumps. It took me a long time to figure that out…
3) Mix the dough according to your mixer’s instructions and capabilities. Then turn it out onto an olive-oil coated countertop (I use my Misto Oil Sprayer remember?) and form it into a nice ball. Divide the ball into four equal globs.
4) Again on an olive-oil coated countertop, press one dough glob into a rough rectangle, then use a rolling pin to finish rolling it into a larger rectangle that is the approximate width of the bread pan. Starting at the far end, roll the dough up tightly (like cinnamon rolls!) and tuck and round the ends under, forming a nice-looking loaf. (Takes practice—don’t despair!) Place in a greased bread pan. Repeat with the other three dough globs.
I love my Norpro 10 Inch Nonstick Bread Pan. They are the perfect size and shape and four of them handle this recipe perfectly. Not to mention that they are dark colored—perfect for solar ovens.
5) Cover your “bread babies” with a clean towel and let them rise until their curved tops are just even with the top edge of the bread pan. That’s the signal to start pre-heating the oven. (Solar ovens take longer to pre-heat, so I set my Sun Oven out in the sun as soon as the bread was in the pans.)
6) I baked only one loaf in the solar oven. (I’m not even sure if two would fit? Yes—I just checked! Two will fit. Next time.) The other three got baked inside—perfect for comparison purposes. It’s still May and the sun’s rays aren’t as intense as they will be in July, so my oven only heated up to 300°F, which is 50°F cooler than the recipe indicates, but we’ll have to make do.
7) The solar oven was hot enough for the bread to continue rising, which is typical. After 30 minutes of baking, the glass door had steamed up, which is also typical since the Sun Oven solar oven is a sealed unit and steam can’t escape. But that fact also ensures that baked goods won’t dry out.
Just to play it safe, I baked my solar oven bread for 45 minutes at 300°F (instead of 25 minutes at 350°F). I wasn’t worried about it drying out (see the above paragraph) and wanted to make sure it was cooked all the way. I was pretty pleased with the final product. Here’s a comparison to its conventional-oven-baked brother:
As I’ve mentioned previously, solar ovens do not impart a lovely golden browned color, but this bread looked pretty great to me. (Of course, the real test will be a piece of hot buttered toast!)
This is my favorite I-don’t-have-time-to-make-bread recipe. It can be rising in the pans in less than 20 minutes, and cooled enough to put in bags in just about 2 hours total.
Whole Wheat Bread
(for a conventional –or– solar oven)
makes 4 loaves (halve the recipe for 2 loaves in a solar oven)
1/3 Cup white sugar
¼ Cup dry powdered milk
¼ Cup sesame seeds
¼ Cup oat bran
¼ Cup ground flaxseed
2 Tbs. vital wheat gluten*
2 ½ tsp. salt
1/3 Cup cooking oil
4 Cups warm water (about 105-110°F)**
4 Cups white flour
2 Tbs. instant yeast***
5-7 additional cups of whole wheat flour
(Bake at 350°F for 25 minutes)
Whisk together the first 7 dry ingredients in the bowl of your bread mixer. Add the cooking oil and water and turn on the machine.
Gradually add the four cups of white flour to make a thick batter, then sprinkle in the instant yeast and mix until it’s incorporated.
Gradually add the remaining whole wheat flour until a dough forms that just cleans the side of the bowl. Use just enough flour to create a dough that you can work with; too much flour will make the bread dry. “Knead” the bread for 3-6 minutes with your machine.
Turn the dough ball onto a greased (not floured) countertop, gather it into a nice ball, and divide it into four equal pieces. Roll and form each piece into a loaf and place it in a greased bread pan. (Begin preheating your solar oven at this point.)
Cover the loaves with a clean kitchen towel and let rise just until the curved top reaches the top edge of the bread pan (which might take only 20-25 minutes). That’s the signal to begin preheating your oven to 350°F. Place your loaves into the hot oven and bake for 25 minutes. (Use your best judgment for a solar oven! You’ve got a little more wiggle room because it won’t dry the bread out.)
Dump the baked loaves onto a cooling rack to cool completely, then store in a plastic bag. These loaves will keep at room temperature for several days (longer in the winter than in the summer) or will freeze for at least a month.
* Vital wheat gluten is just an extra dose of the elastic-y gluten protein that will help your whole wheat bread be less crumbly and more airy since the bran in whole wheat flour has a tendency to cut and shorten gluten strands during the kneading process.
** Water hotter than 110°F could potentially kill your yeast. If you don’t have a thermometer, just poke your finger into the water. It should feel warmer than your finger but not hot.
*** Instant yeast is a strain that grows fast and doesn’t require proofing or a second rise. You can also use regular yeast in this recipe: you will just need to dissolve it in water before you add it to the dough, and will need to let the dough rise once in a greased bowl before you punch it down and form the loaves. If you bake with yeast much at all, it’s worth it to purchase your yeast in “bulk” at one of the membership warehouse stores. Grocery story yeast is expensive in comparison.
–You may have to add more or less total flour depending on the humidity of the air on any given day.
–I love sesame seeds, flax, and oat bran in my bread. But you can omit them or replace them with something else: cracked wheat, sunflower seeds, millet, etc.
Other posts in this series:
Solar Oven Saturday – Intro
Solar Oven Saturday #1 – Roast Chicken
Solar Oven Saturday #3 – Au Gratin Potatoes
Solar Oven Saturday #4 – Banana Bread
Solar Oven Saturday #5 – Strawberry Rhubarb Crisp
Solar Oven Saturday #6 – Banana Blueberry Muffins