Tuesday, March 2, 2010

Whole Wheat (and friends) Bread

As those of you who know me are doubtless already aware, I (Emily) consider myself a baker above all other culinary titles. I love light and fluffy muffins, chewy chocolate chip cookies, and the occasional richer-than-J.K. Rowling chocolate cake. However, there is no way to deem oneself a true baker, in my humble opinion, without being able to bake bread.

I grew up with parents who baked bread-- not every day or every loaf, mind you, but they baked. I'm sure they would have baked more often if not for my sisters and me taking up so much time. I have time. It's nice. So I do bake basically every loaf of bread I eat. And now you can too.

Also, before we begin, a recommendation: The Tassajara Bread Book. In my opinion, Edward Espe Brown is to bread as Mollie Katzen is to vegetarian cuisine--entirely irreplaceable. His book was first published in 1970, but my parents got me a new 2009 edition for Christmas. It's worth the buy; the cookbook practically reads like prose. My recipe is based closely on Brown's, but it's got its own zest.

This will be a long entry. Bread making is not so very complicated if one knows what he or she is doing, but it does take a good bit of explanation, so if you crave that fresh-out-of-the-oven aroma, just bear with me. (It's worth it--I promise.)

Ingredients (all proportions for 2 loaves-- can be easily halved or doubled)
  • 3 cups wrist-temperature water
  • 1 1/2 TBS yeast
  • 1/4 sweetener (honey, molasses, brown sugar, or a mix. I like molasses for this bread)
  • 3/4- 1 cup dry milk (not essential, but it makes a sturdier loaf)
  • 2 cups white flour
  • 3-5 cups whole wheat flour, plus more for kneading
  • at least 1 TBS salt-- depends on your taste. I usually have closer to 1 1/2 TBS
  • 1/4 cup oil
  • 2 1/2 cups rolled oats
  • 1/2 cup sunflower seeds
  • 1/2 cup sesame seeds
  • Put the water into a large bowl. I don't have the bread bowl I will someday have. A plastic or glass mixing bowl will do, but if you have a big ceramic bowl so much the better. Sprinkle the yeast in, and mix in the sweetener and dry milk.
  • Add the white flour a cup at a time, followed with 2 cups of the whole wheat flour (you'll add the rest later). Stir after each cup is added, and after 4 cups are in beat it 100 times or until smooth. Brown says that at this point the mix should look like "a thick mud," and I couldn't agree more.
  • Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a towel and leave it for 45 minutes or so. Try to put it somewhere warm, but if you're in Minnesota in March, well...I at least try to stick it in a sunny spot.
  • Add the salt and the oil, folding them both in. At this point the sponge (what you've put together so far) will be a nice big glob. You don't want to mess that up, so as you're folding don't cut through the dough.
  • Add the oats in the same way, and some of the sunflower and sesame seeds, then begin mixing in the rest of the whole wheat flour. The less you cut through the dough the stronger it'll be, so add the flour in 1/2 c.-1 c. amounts, gradually incorporating. Add at least 2 cups of flour--more, if the dough seems too sticky. Then dump it onto a clean, floured counter top for kneading.
  • There are many ways to knead, but most people (myself included) push the dough down and out with their palm-heels. I'm not going to go into too much detail here, but basically you want to work the dough for 10 minutes, kneading and folding and turning and so on. You'll probably need to add more flour to the dough, the counter, and your hands. The dough will get stretchy and steady, gradually growing smooth. I like to add some of the sunflower and sesame seeds while kneading, but I don't know if real bakers would advise that.
  • Scrape any last bits of bread dough from the bread bowl (if they seem stuck, using a bit of the detached dough works well) and spread a little oil around it. Put the kneaded dough back into the bowl, turning it so that the surface is coated lightly in oil. Cover the bowl back with the plastic wrap and towel and let it rise again for 50-60 minutes.
  • Now the yeast is really at work. When the dough has doubled in size, punch it down, cover it back up, and let it rise for another 40-50 minutes. Oil two bread pans.
  • Time to shape the loaves. Dump the dough onto the counter and cut it in half. Take each half and knead it briefly, then roll it into a log. Try to pinch the seam together. Put each loaf into a pan and use the backs of your hands to press it in, flattening it. Cover the loaves and let them rise for 20 minutes while you pre-heat the oven to 350°F (sometimes 325°F, depending on your loaf pans).
  • Before you put the loaves into the oven, score them a couple of times with a very sharp knife.
  • Bake for about an hour, until they're golden brown and sound hollow when thumped on the bottom.
  • Remove from the pans and let cool as long as you can resist. An hour is good. I usually last about 10 minutes.
  • If you don't think you'll need your second loaf for awhile, wait until it's completely cool and wrap it first in plastic wrap, then aluminum foil. It'll keep well in the freezer.
So now it's on you! Make the bread your own! Take out the oats and add millet (or another cup of flour). Sub pumpkin seeds or wheat bran or...well, the possibilities are endless, and they'll probably all taste amazing. Say goodbye to the bread aisle.

1 comment:

  1. Emily - this sounds amazing!

    This is definitely my next baking project in Tiny Flat (Northern Ireland Edition) - especially because we have a proper bread bowl and nothing else (maybe we can trade).