Thursday, February 26, 2009

Our Daily Bread

Ok, religious punning aside, this is our go-to everyday bread. We recently became an all-homemade, all-the-time bread family once we realized how delicious the house smells for, like, the whole day after you make a loaf. And I'm not kidding when I say there is NOTHING in the world like that first slice. This recipe is a modification of the multigrain loaf from
Cook's Illustrated, which uses some all purpose flour (ours is all whole wheat). It relies on a multigrain hot cereal mix for its nutritional base. I happen to like Bob's Red Mill (either 7- or 10-grain) mix, but maybe you can find something you like just as much.

The trick to eluding brick-quality whole wheat bread is vital wheat gluten. It's a powder that I buy in bulk at my local health food store, but you may find it on the flour/baking aisle. Do NOT confuse it with seitan, a gummy mass of jaw-cramping meat substitute. If you can't find it locally, order some online and keep it in your freezer.

If you keep all these ingredients on hand, it is no effort at all to throw it together. But it does involve a good bit of waiting, so make it a weekend project, then eat the bread all week long

Multigrain Bread (adapted from Cook's Illustrated)
Makes one 9x 5 inch loaf pan

1/2 cup + 2 Tbsp multi grain hot cereal mix
10 oz boiling water
2 Tbsp melted butter
2 Tbsp honey
1 1/4 tsp instant or bread machine yeast (they're the same thing)
2 cups whole wheat flour
2 Tbsp vital wheat gluten
1 1/2 tsp table salt
1/4 cup sunflower seeds, pepitas, or other nuts of your choice
(I know there are seven grains in the cereal, but I can't resist adding extra stuff sometimes. For example, I threw in flax seeds and millet this last time for a nice crunch. Add caraway or fennel seeds for little zaps of flavor. Better yet, toast them first!)

1. Place the cereal mix in a large bowl and pour in boiling water. Stir and let sit (stirring occasionally) until the water is absorbed and mixture has cooled to lukewarm temp, about 30 minutes.

2. Stir in yeast, butter, and honey until well mixed. Stir wheat gluten into flour and add to grain mixture 1/2 cup at a time until dough comes together. Cover with plastic and let sit 20 minutes.

3. Add salt and knead until incorporated. With either your bread hook on the mixer or your own brute strength and inhuman patience, knead dough for about 8 minutes. Add seeds and knead until evenly distributed. Let the dough hang out for about 10 minutes.

4. Now, time to form a loaf. On a lightly floured surface (sprinkled with oats if you like that look on the outside of your bread), press the dough into a 10 x 6 inch rectangle. Rolling from the short end, make a cylinder of the bread, pinch bottom seam, and place in a greased 9 x 5 -in loaf pan. Cover in plastic and let rise about 40 minutes. (Two tricks to rising your dough: either microwave a cup of water for about a minute, then remove and immediately place your dough in and shut the door, leaving a warm, moist place for the yeast to work its magic. OR, turn your oven to warm while you are forming the loaf, then turn it off and place loaf in the now-warm oven. Just remember to take it out when you preheat to bake).

5. When ready, heat oven to 375º and bake for 35 minutes, or until internal temperature reaches 200º. If you don't have a thermometer, just thump the outside. It should be stiff. Cool it on a wire rack (NOT IN THE PAN, or you'll have soggy bread). Be sure to cut and eat a slice while it's still warm.

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