Sunday = Bread

Recently I’ve been baking all my own bread from scratch. Yes, you may hoist me to your shoulders and name a parade after me–I am awesome. Also, baking bread is something that I do on Sunday while I clean up the kitchen, tidy the house and mentally prepare myself for the week ahead. Initially I used 1 loaf recipes using instant yeast that I found in Baking Illustrated (published by the wonderful people at America’s Test Kitchen). These recipes worked great, but I found two problems: they called for whole milk and butter (yikes), and only produced one loaf. We usually go through about two loaves a week and I didn’t want to do mid-week bread baking or buy a $5 loaf of organic bread at the store.

I found this recipe and made some modifications: instant yeast instead of active, canola oil instead of butter, and 2 cups of a whole grain flour blend I made by mixing bulk flours instead of 2 of the cups of whole wheat flour. It turned out decently for sure–moist, chewy, sweet. But a little bit more crumbly than how I like sandwich bread to be.

Then, we flew to Colorado to visit my grandma who is 92 and still bakes all her own bread–LIKE A BOSS. We spent a lovely and memorable afternoon making her bread recipe which she’s spent years and years perfecting. Do I need to say it turned out really great? Tender, fluffy, but resilient enough to spread stuff on. Nice crust. Didn’t stale even though it took us almost a week to eat it. Good stuff.

Grandma and hubby looking at pics. Lovely. 

Since we’ve been home I’ve been trying to modify the recipe to accommodate my preference for using a mix of wheat and other kinds of flours, instant yeast and stand mixer (I’m lazier than grandma, for sure). Here’s what I’ve got so far:

Multi-grain Sandwich Bread
Makes 2 9″x5″ loaves
Time commitment: 2-3 hours but a lot of it is hands off.
Baking time: 25 min

Ingredients:
2 1/4 c. water
2 T. each: brown sugar, honey, molasses
1 t. salt
3 T. oil (or melted butter if you’re into that kind of thing)
1/2 c. wheat or oat bran
2 T. vital wheat gluten flour
2 1/2 T instant yeast
2 1/2 c. mixture of whole grain flours (I used buckwheat, spelt, rye and whole wheat for the bread in the pic below)
3 c. unbleached, white all-purpose (aka “AP”) or bread flour (the difference is that bread flour has more protein and therefore more gluten than AP flour, which can be helpful in making whole grain bread rise)

Directions: 
In a sauce pan, heat water, sweeteners, salt, oil and bran to about 115 or 120 degrees (USE A THERMOMETER!!!!!). Meanwhile, combine wheat gluten, yeast and whole grain flour in the bowl of your mixer with the dough hook (or the mixer one would probably work too). When the liquids are the right temp, start the mixer and slowly add them to the flour/yeast mixture at a low speed (so you don’t create a flour explosion). Once combined, increase speed to medium and let it go for about 3 minutes (as grandma says, “by the clock”). Slowly incorporate the rest of the flour (or however much you can until your mixer starts sounding like it’s going to croak) and then dump your dough baby onto the surface where you will knead it. (Counter top, table top, etc. I don’t have counter space to speak of so I put a giant silicone baking mat on a table and do it there. The silicone is nice too because the dough doesn’t stick to it.) With your little pile of your remaining white flour somewhat to the side, knead your dough for 10-15 minutes, so that it becomes soft, smooth and elastic, and not so sticky that it sticks to your fingers when you poke it. As you knead, push a little of the edge of the dough into your flour pile. Doing this will evenly distribute the flour through the dough (and prove that g-ma is a baking genius). When you’re done, gently roll the dough ball around so it’s nice and ball-shaped, and put it in an oiled bowl. (You’ll want to roll it around in the bowl so it’s totally covered in oil, like George Castanza’s head.) Cover loosely with plastic wrap or a towel (I use plastic wrap. I think it holds the heat in better.) Now your bread will need to rise.

A note about where to let your bread rise. The oven is a great place for this because you can control the temperature, there’s no draft, it’s probably warmer than your kitchen, and it will save you some space to put stuff while you clean up or do something else. What I’ve been doing is preheating the oven at 350 for a few minutes while I’m getting the ingredients together and then turning it off. It should be about 120 degrees but my oven doesn’t go that low, so I stick my hand in it when I need a break from kneading and if it feels too hot I leave the door open until I’m ready to put the bread in to rise. Super precise.

Let George’s head rise for 30-45 minutes or until it’s doubled in size. Then “cut it down” with a dinner knife (think a cross between stirring and stabbing) and divide it in half. Roll each half (with a rolling pin) into a rectangle about 8″ wide and however long it ends up being, maybe 1/2″ thick. Roll starting at a skinny end and pinch the seam closed (I always forget to do this though and it seems to turn out OK). With the seam side down, karate chop the ends and tuck under. Place in greased loaf pans and gently squish down so all sides of your bread touch the sides of the pan. Now, I like to get a little fancy, so I sprinkle some flour on top of my loaves and then use a paring knife to slash a design into the top. Knock yourself out, or don’t, whatever. Let these suckers rise another 30-45 minutes, covered with your same plastic wrap, and this time NOT in the oven, because you’ll need to preheat. I like to put them on top of the stove or next to it, where it’s warm and toasty. They should definitely crest the pan, and it would be nice if it was close to an inch, but in my experience this doesn’t really happen when you use as much whole grain flour as I like to. It’s OK. Your loaf will be a little dense, but it will also be chewy, healthy and delicious.

Bake at 380 for about 25 minutes. Grandma can tell that they’re done by licking the tip of her finger and tapping the bottom of the pan. If it sizzles, it’s done. I’m too scared to do this so I just dump one loaf out and tap on the bottom with my fingernail to see if it sounds hollow-ish. Take your pretty loaves out of their pans and cool on a rack for a couple of hours. If you resist the temptation to go to town on them until they’re cool, your patience will be rewarded because you won’t destroy your bread. Your choice. To store, I use these bags I bought at the store that say “Food and Bread Storage” (which I think is funny). Basically they are not ziplock. When the loaves are cool, I put one in the freezer and slice the other one and keep it in the cupboard. It’s important to keep bread (especially when it doens’t have gross preservatives and stuff in it) in the dark otherwise it will mold and stale more quickly. If it takes you more than a couple days to eat your loaf, first of all, what’s wrong with you? And secondly, put it in the fridge. Or not, it’s up to you. I don’t mind fridge bread.

I don’t mind bread that’s a little “rustic.” Has more character.

A note if you don’t want to use a stand mixer: don’t worry about it. Instead of mixing the first ingredients in a sauce pan, mix them in a bowl. Before you add the flour and gluten, mix the yeast to dissolve. Then mix by hand with a wooden spoon for 3 minutes, mix in the white flour after that, and the rest of the instructions are the same.

Scared of baking your own bread? Don’t be! It’s fun, it’s cheap, and it takes a while to figure out how it works for you.

Have advice or stories for me? I want to hear!

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4 Responses to Sunday = Bread

  1. mmagdaleno says:

    I love baking my own bread and want to get into the habit of doing it regularly as well. Thanks for this two loaf recipe as our family can go through bread rather quickly at times. I was using the no kneed recipe I was turned on to in the New York Times. It works pretty well also when in a pinch. It requires no butter, just flour, yeast and salt. http://www.nytimes.com/2006/11/08/dining/081mrex.html?_r=1

  2. Looper Says says:

    I second the suggestion of NYT No-Knead bread. You have to wait a while for it to rise, but there's hardly any labor involved. This makes delicious loaves, and slices that stand up to spreading. I've used white bread flour and 1/2 & 1/2 with whole wheat flour. I make it almost every week.

  3. s.k.h. says:

    Awesome. I still am sort of a sandwich bread-aholic but I've been wanting to give that a try once I find a cast iron lid for my cast iron dutch oven. Glad to know it works with whole wheat, too!

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