The Japanese have invented a counter-top home bakery unit into which one pours whole-wheat flour and other ingredients and out of which, hours later, comes a perfect 3/4-pound loaf of bread.
Surely, there's a hitch. Or maybe only the all-pervasive hitch is that, piece by piece, we have cut ourselves off from most of the truly satisfying tasks life offers -- the hand work and craft by which we used to house and clothe and feed and amuse ourselves.
Meanwhile, for all you traditionalists, here is a rich, luxurious 100-percent whole-grain bread that is light, tender and loaded with protein: FEATHERPUFF BREAD (Makes two 8-by-4-inch loaves)
1 1/2 cups cottage cheese
2 eggs, slightly beaten
1/4 cup honey
1/2 cup water
2 teaspoons active dry yeast
1/2 cup warm water
5 cups whole-wheat flour, finely ground
1/2 cup powdered milk
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
2 tablespoons butter, cold, in chips
Warm the cottage cheese gently in a saucepan. Remove from heat and mix in the eggs, honey, and water -- the cottage cheese shouldn't be so warm that it cooks the eggs. The final mixture should be about 80 degrees.
Dissolve the yeast in the water.
Mix the flour, powdered milk and salt thoroughly, making a well in them and adding the liquid. Mix to make a dough, and test for consistency, adding more water or flour if needed. The dough should be very soft, and it will be sticky to work with; but if you add too much flour at this stage, the dough will be dry later on and the bread not as high as it should be.
For the lightest bread, knead very well, at least 15 minutes. Then add the butter little by little, and knead again until quite silky.
Because it contains eggs, this dough rises slowly. When it has risen well, gently poke its center with a wet finger. The dough should not "sigh," but is ready as soon as the hole you have made remains without filling in. Press the dough flat, shape it again into a smooth ball and let it rise again.
Divide in two and form smooth rounds. Protect the rounds from drafts, letting them rest until the dough regains its suppleness. Shape carefully, and place in greased 8-by-4-inch pans for the final rise. When spongy and quite high, put in a 325-degree oven and bake about an hour. Check at 45 minutes though; if the bread is extra light, it will bake faster.
Brush with butter when it comes out of the oven, and let it cool before you slice it.
Variation: Featherpuff bread dough makes marvelous cinnamon rolls. At the shaping point, roll one loaf's worth into a high rectangle. Brush with softened butter and sprinkle generously with brown sugar, cinnamon, chopped walnuts and raisins. Roll up jelly-roll fashion, sealing the end well. Using a loop of strong thread, cut the roll into slices (slip the thread under the roll and draw the two ends together, crossing, scissors-fashion). Slices can be 1-inch to 1 1/2-inches wide. Arrange comfortably close together on a greased baking pan, and let them rise in a warm place until quite soft. Bake at 325 along with bread until nicely brown -- 20 minutes for thin rolls, 40 minutes for big puffy ones.