Sunday, November 22, 2009

Multi-grain Bread

I love the idea of baking bread on Sundays.

Well, actually, I love the idea of baking bread on any day, but there's something appealing about a lazy Sunday spent in a cozy house, with enticing yeasty smells of rising bread and baking bread wafting from a warm, humid kitchen.

Seriously, I love just about everything about bread. I have a difficult time during the first few days of stage one of the South Beach diet, sometimes even dreaming about bread, its taste, hearty smell, distinct texture.

The process of making bread is an enjoyable one for me as well. Even if I take the lazy baker's way out and toss the items in the Zojirushi, and sit back and let the machine do the kneading for me, I still like to shape the dough myself and bake it in my oven, and then, as easy as you like, I have an amazing loaf of fresh, home-baked bread.

Kneading the dough myself though, has definite benefits. At times it's damned-near therapeutic, as I beat the shit out of the dough and use it as a focus for every last petty grievance, stupid annoyance and revenge fantasy. The bread is always the better for it, too.

Some breads I will always create by hand from start to finish are:
  • Whole Wheat Flatbreads, which I cook on a cast iron griddle, which really smokes the hell out of the entire house so I have to have fans running full-bore, windows wide open, and even outside doors propped open, but they're so worth it - anytime I make Indian food, I whip up a batch of these too;
  • Herbed Whole Wheat Focaccia, best served warm with a dipping sauce of balsamic vinegar and extra virgin olive oil. It tends to get eaten up very quickly;
  • Pizza dough, my super-fast, incredibly easy, no-fail recipe which can be ready to go in the oven in under 30 minutes, makes homemade pizza almost as fast as takeout, and way more satisfying. It's fun too, because the girls get to shape and top their own personal pizzas, so no more arguing about which toppings are touching each other;
  • Russian Black Bread, because sometime I crave real zakuski* - buttered black bread topped with smoked salmon, sour cream & chives or sliced pickles with a sharp horseradish cheddar - and a loaf of pumpernickel, homemade or store-bought, while tasty, doesn't have quite the same kick to it that authentic black bread has;
  • Maple Wheat Dinner Rolls, one of my favorite Thanksgiving offerings. Coming soon!

My daily-use bread is some sort of whole grain, multi-grain bread. I really like Pepperidge Farms's Natural Grains loaves and several of Arnold's Whole Grain Classics, but nothing beats a loaf of bread I've baked myself. Even my kids have come to agree. Finally. Let me tell you, that was a hard-won battle! Thank God I have never had to wean them off of Wonder bread! That stuff is like crack, and about as good for you.

One of my favorites, great as toast, the base of a grilled cheese sandwich or just by itself, spread liberally with herbed butter, is this hearty multi-grain bread.

Multi-grain Bread

  • 2 ¼ tsp dry yeast
  • 1 ½ cups bread flour
  • ¾ cup whole wheat flour
  • 3/8 cup oatmeal
  • 3/8 cup multi-grain cereal, like Hodgson Mills or Bob's Red Mill
  • 4 heaping T gluten
  • 1 ½ tsp salt
  • 3 T honey or agave nectar - I've come to prefer the subtler flavor of the agave nectar
  • 1 ½ T butter
  • 1 ½ cups warm milk
  • 3/8 cup mixture of sunflower seeds and sesame seeds
  1. If you have a bread machine, place the ingredients inside in the order the manufacturer recommends.
  2. Add the sunflower seeds and sesame seeds during the tail end of the mixing cycle (last 10 minutes) before the first rise.
  3. I prefer to use the dough cycle, so I take it out once the dough cycle has completed the first rise, punch it down, place it in a loaf pan, cover it with a towel for the second rising (about 60 minutes until it has doubled in size. If it's a cooler season, I often turn on the oven to keep the kitchen warm while the dough rises.
  4. Bake in a preheated 375° F oven for 25-35 minutes (depending on your oven - start checking it at 25 minutes), take it out to cool on a wire rack and coat the top lightly with butter if you like.
Non-machine method
  1. Place warm milk (130° F), honey and yeast in a large bowl. Let sit 5-10 minutes until yeast mixture is foamy. Add salt and bread flour, stirring to incorporate.
  2. Sift in the whole wheat flour ½ cup at a time, stirring well after each addition. Add the gluten, oats and multi-grain cereal and mix well.
  3. Add the sunflower seeds and sesame seeds.
  4. Turn out onto a lightly floured surface and knead well until the dough is smooth and elastic (appr. 10 minutes).
  5. Set in a warm place, cover with a clean dish towel and let rise 1 ½ - 2 hours until doubled in size.
  6. Punch down and knead a bit, shape and put in a greased loaf pan, set in a warm place, covered with a towel and let rise for 1 hour or until the crown is about 1 inch above the top of the pan.
  7. Bake in a preheated 375° F oven for 25 - 35 minutes. Take it out to cool on a wire rack and coat the top lightly with butter if you like.
  • This recipe makes a 1 ½-lb loaf. I have adjusted these ingredients upwards to make 2-lb loaves as well;
  • If I make the 2-lb loaf, I usually knead it by hand because I'm not sure how large a loaf the bread machine can handle;
  • Oddly enough, the machine seems to do best with the 1 ½-lb recipe, perhaps because the pan is vertical instead of horizontal, and has two kneading paddles and a smaller recipe might not get mixed as well as a slightly larger one, though that seems paradoxical at first, it makes sense when I'm looking right at the pan;
  • Have I ever mentioned how much I love this bread machine? I get downright gushy over it at times and actively proselytize the Zojirushi whenever I can.

* For an explanation of zakuski, see this great article from The Zakuska Table, and this piece from NPR Zakuski: Mighty Russian Morsels, which includes a wonderful recipe for Russian Black Bread.

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