December 04, 2012

satisfying a craving

I'm sitting here in the dark. It has been dark since about 3:30. I haven't gotten up out of my chair at the dining room table, where I'm camped out with my computer and blanket, to turn on any of the lights. It is also raining. The drip from the gutter onto the metal sheet beneath the bay window is mildly annoying, okay fine, very annoying. Unlike the light situation there isn't much I can do about the incessant drip, besides maybe turning some music on, or moving into a different room. That's a good idea actually, maybe I will bring my chair into the kitchen and slip my computer next to this nice loaf of bread, which if I'm lucky will still be warm and fragrant.

I started the dough this morning before I went to the market and I only just now had my first slice with peanut butter and jelly on it. I didn't wait for the bread to cool down. The top gave slightly as I cut into the still steaming center, but a nice slice found it's way on to the cutting board. I quickly cut a second piece, because although I like the end piece, I wanted my first bite to be from a soft middle piece.

This bread is hearty and grainy, made with whole wheat flour and full of all sorts of seeds. I like my bread that way, dense, full, textured. Sure I also like light and fluffy ciabatta and the big bubbles that form on soft pizza dough, but when it comes to bread that I'm going to toast (or eat hot out of the oven), I like it to have a little bit of depth, in flavor and composition.

I don't bake bread regularly, but I should. One of the cookbooks I leaf through most often is Tartine Bread. I have been meaning to start and feed a sourdough starter since last Fall. I can't seem to gather the courage to tackle it. I'm full of excuses. Last night when the urge to bake bread came over me I cursed my lack of ambition in the starter category. I had to look past Tartine Bread, and their beautiful rustic loaves, and towards bread recipes that utilized compressed and instant yeast. I eventually settled on a recipe from Sarabeth's Bakery for their house bread, their go-to sandwich, toast, everything loaf. It is a good recipe to start with; it is easy and it meets my seedy and dense criteria. I don't doubt that there are other loaves out there for me to try (please share recipes if you have any favorites). If these short, grey, and wet days continue on like this, which I have to believe they will since it's already been a month since we've seen sun, I will have plenty of time and desire to bake a variety of different loaves. But for now, this loaf is doing the trick.
// Whole Wheat Seed Loaf //
adapted from Sarabeth's Bakery: From Our Hands to Yours
As with many bread recipes the steps might seem complicated when really they are quite simple. The only hard thing about bread baking is the timing. You will need to allow of two rising periods, the first one being the longest. I met some friends for an impromptu lunch just as the second rise was finishing so I put the dough in the refrigerator to slow things down a bit. The dough sunk a bit, but it still tastes delicious. 

1 oz compressed yeast (or 3 1/2 tsp active dry yeast - if you use the dry yeast be sure to note different initial instructions)
1/4 cup of honey
2 1/4 cups cold water
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour
2 1/4 cups bread flour + more as needed (I substituted all purpose and added 2 tbsp of vital wheat gluten)
2 tbsp cornmeal
2 tbsp sesame seeds
4 tbsp flaxseeds
4 tbsp sunflower seeds
1 1/2 tsp fine sea salt
softened, unsalted butter for greasing the bowl and the pans. 

If using compressed yeast crumble the yeast into the bowl of your stand mixer and add in the honey. Let it stand for a few minutes or until you notice the yeast giving off some moisture or bubbles. Whisk well to dissolve the yeast in the honey. (If using active dry yeast - sprinkle the yeast over 1/4 cup warm water (105º-115ºF) and let it stand for 5 minutes to soften the yeast, then stir to dissolve. Pour int othe mixer bowl, add 2 cups of water and the honey, whisky to combine. 

Mix the flours, cornmeal, seeds and salt in a large bowl. Using the paddle attachment begin to mix the honey-yeast mixture and slowly add the flour mixture. Beat on low speed until a dough begins to form. Gradually add in a bit more bread flour (about 1/2 cup or so depending) to form a rough dough that cleans the side of the bowl. Replace the paddle attachment with the dough hook and knead for 5 minutes. Add a little more flour only if necessary. 

Dump the dough out on to a clean work surface. You want the dough to be tacky not sticky. It should not stick to the counter. If it does knead in a bit of flour until the texture is right. Butter a large bowl and place the dough in the bowl and cover with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Leave in a warm place until the dough doubles in volume, about 1 1/4 hours. 

Cut the dough in half and form two equal sized balls. Place the balls under plastic wrap and let sit for 5 minutes. Flatten each ball into a rough rectangle, 8 inches on the long side, and then fold in the edges, pinch the seems together and place seem side down in a buttered pan. 

Place the two pans of dough on a baking sheet. Between the pans place a cup or vase full of hot water. Place the cookie sheet with the dough and glass into a kitchen sized plastic bag (I used a garbage bag) and seal the edges, partially trapping air inside. Let it stand for about 45 minutes until the dough has risen about 1 inch over the edge of the pan. 

Preheat your oven to 375ºF. Remove the loaf pans from the cookie sheet and place in the oven. Bake for 40 minutes or until the bottom of the loaf sounds hollow. Cool on a wire wrack. Or don't cool and slice and eat warm.