Monday, January 30, 2006

A hearty loaf of bread for a friend

Back a few weeks ago when I posted my answers to the Seven Seven's meme one of my answers to why I blog was the interesting people I have met that I would not have otherwise. One of those people is Lauren over at ArdentEden. I'm not sure now how or why we started reading each other's blogs but it seems like I've known her for years. To make things even better, Lauren lives across the Charles River from Cambridge in Boston.

For the last two weekends we have had the best intentions to actually meet face to face at this incredible organic and green restaurant in Davis Square, Somerville called O'Naturals. Unfortunately, I've been sick and as Lauren has a baby, we have decided to postpone until I'm feeling better. But, I'm looking forward to meeting her very soon because I have this funny feeling that we are going to have one of those can't stop talking lunches over Thai noodles and steaming cups of tea. Or as Mr Bennett told Mr. Bingley in Pride and Prejudice after Mr. Bingley became engaged to Jane, "There are few men whose company I can tolerate but you may just prove to be one of them". Lauren is one of the many people through this strange and odd world of blogging I consider a good friend.

Yeast breads can be tricky devils. Not because they are difficult recipes but rather there is a mystique about them and they require time and patience. I think we are scared away from yeast breads unnecessarily. We are told that we MUST knead the dough for a long time but not too long or the loaf will be tough. That we have to have the water just the right temperature when adding the yeast or we will either kill the yeast or not activate the yeast. There is some truth to each of these but over the years I've learned that yeast breads are actually rather forgiving and while not every loaf baked is perfect, I have yet to have a loaf turn out inedible. Sometimes it takes two or three tries with a new recipe but once you have a feel for the way a little bit of flour, a little bit of water, and a little bit yeast come together, you can make any type of bread. As you can see, I'm pretty passionate about my bread because I believe that making bread from scratch is one of the most essential things we can do as bakers.

Recently, along with learning to make yogurt, coming up with a fantastic recipe for granola, and generally spurring most of her regular readers to think more "green", Lauren has been learning to bake bread. I applaud Lauren and my other fellow bloggers who these past months have taken up or returned to baking bread. So, for all of you fellow bread baking bloggers, this recipe is for you.

Hearty 5 Grain Whole Wheat Loaf

2 1/2 teaspoons instant or active yeast
2 Tablespoon luke warm water (80 degrees or so)
dash sugar

1 1/3 Cup water
1/4 Cup vegetable oil or canola oil
1/3 Cup honey
3 1/2 Cups whole wheat flour
1/2 Cup bread flour
1 teaspoon vital wheat gluten (optional but will result in a bit "higher" loaf)
1/4 Cup cracked wheat berries
1/4 Cup steel cut oats
1/8 Cup barley
1/8 Cup cracked rye berries (or rolled rye flakes)
1/8 Cup millet
1/4 Cup non fat dry milk
1 1/4 teaspoon salt

Step One: Activate Yeast. In very small glass bowl, mix yeast, 2 Tablespoon water and sugar. Mix until all yeast and sugar is dissolved. Let stand 5-10 minutes in draft free area until a froth forms. (I don't normally do this with my standard breads but I've found it really helps with whole wheat and grain breads)

Step Two: Make Sponge. In large glass bowl or large plastic bowl with a lid, mix 1 1/3 Cup water, 1/2 the whole wheat flour, and the yeast mixture. Cover with plastic wrap or lid and place in warm area for 3-4 hours until bubbly and doubled in size. (An oven with the light on is an excellent place to let bread rise and sponge to develop)

Step Three: Make Dough. Mix all the dry ingredients with exception of bread flour together and put aside. Add oil and honey to sponge and combine thoroughly. Add the dry ingredient mixture one 1/2 cup at a time. The dough will be very shaggy and wet, don't worry and don't add more flour. Let rest covered lightly for 20 minutes. (Resting this dough lets all the moisture be absorbed by the flour/grains)

Step Four: Finish Dough and Knead. On a very well floured countertop or if you have a stand mixer, using the dough hooks and on low, add bread flour. Dough should begin to look and feel elastic and smooth during this stage. It will still be a little wet and tacky. If it is too wet or stays "shaggy", add bread flour one large spoonful at a time until it becomes smooth. (This will take about 15 -20 minutes).

Step Five: First Rise. In large greased bowl or proofing container (I use my large round Rubbermaid cake keeper as my proofing container), let dough rise until tripled in warm, draft free place (the oven again). About 2-3 hours.

Step Six: Form Loaf (or loaves). Depending on how much your dough rises, you may have enough dough for two loaves. Punch down risen dough and turn out onto well floured countertop. Press into rectangle and fold into thirds. Put into well greased loaf pan, seam side down and brush with melted butter. Cover and let rise until dough is 1-2 inches over edge of loafpan.

Bake at 350 degrees for 35-40 minutes or until internal temperature is 200 degrees (really the best way to determine if a whole grain bread is baked completely). Remove from pan and let cool.

If you want to add some cracked wheat berries or oatmeal flakes to the top of the bread, I suggest you toast the cracked wheat berries or oatmeal for 5 -7 minutes in a 300 degree oven and when the bread is cooled but not cold brush more melted butter on the crust and sprinkle the oatmeal/wheat berries on top. If you add them to the bread before baking, they will get burnt and add a bitter taste to the loaf.