First things first: my apologies to you if you tried to visit TFF last week and were met with a confusing message about databases or error codes. I had some technical difficulties, but thankfully have friends in high places (shouts-out to both Ben and Scott, neither of whom read this blog), and now we’re back on, ready with a brand-new, week-old post: a lovely hearth bread.
Re: the title — I’m really not trying to discriminate — just want to avoid the rabid frustration of my readers. Today’s post will detail the makings of one of my favorite dinner breads, but its ease is dependent on that hook. If you do not currently own said Kitchenaid mixer, you have 4 choices:
- Go to this link and watch the podcast on making Cook’s Illustrated’s version of Almost No-Knead bread. I made it this weekend, and it was good. Not as good as the bread following, but a good all-around, super-easy bread.
- Knead it by hand, baby. I only recommend this if you’re comfortable with hand-kneading, enough to handle a sticky dough without tears.
- Acquire yourself a mixer.
- Continue reading, mouth watering, but stifle any erupting desire for the mixer. And don’t say I didn’t warn you.
Alrighty then. Now that’s out of the way, I share with you today a dinner bread that is rising, as I type, in my slightly-too-cool kitchen (because of this, my dough is rising slowly, causing me to skip the second rise before shaping, but I think it’ll still be ok, that’s why I love this recipe). It’s from The Bread Bible, by Rose Levy Beranbaum. This is the ultimate bread reference book. You will understand so much more about bread after just skimming a few recipes, and it will empower you to develop your own. My single criticism (because you know there’s gotta be at least one) is that she’s a little too convinced that her exact measurements will produce a perfect loaf of bread every time. I do think that bread-making is slightly different in the ridiculously humid South than it is in lower Manhattan. But that’s just me, the person who was definitely not consulted before the book was published.
The loaf is called Heart of Wheat bread, and the author says it became her signature loaf while researching the book. And with many good reasons — it’s easy, somewhat forgiving, and boasts a wonderful wheatiness without actually being a whole wheat loaf. The airiness and soft texture are the result of using all white flour, and the more comlex flavor comes from the addition of raw wheat germ.
I’m making it tonight to serve with Cream of Potato soup. I usually only get around to making dinner bread when a meal kind of needs it — i.e., I wouldn’t be baking if I were also going to roast a chicken. But when I have the forethought, it turns a simple supper into something much more interesting.
I’m going to greatly condense the book’s detailed instructions, or else I’d be typing until sometime tomorrow. You should plan to start the process at about 8 am on the day you plan to serve it. This will give you a loaf that’s ready to cut for a 6pm dinner (you might need to skip that second rising, like me, if it’s a cool day).
Heart of Wheat Bread from The Bread Bible (Rose Levy Beranbaum)
- 1 cup bread flour (King Arthur is best)
- 3 Tbsp fresh (untoasted) wheat germ
- 3/8 tsp instant yeast (Red Star’s Quick Rise or Instant Active Dry, or Fleischmann’s Rapid Rise)
- 1 1/4 tsp honey
- 1 1/3 cup water, at room temperature (70º-90º)
In your mixer bowl, combine all the sponge ingredients, and whisk by hand (or with whisk attachment on lowish speed) until very smooth, to incorporate air, for about 2 minutes. It should be the consistency of batter. Scrape down the sides of the bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and set aside while you make the flour mixture.
- 2 cups bread flour
- 1/2 tsp instant yeast
In a medium bowl, whisk together the flour and yeast. Gently scoop the flour mixture on top of the sponge, covering it completely. Cover tightly with plastic wrap, and allow it to ferment at room temperature for 4 hours. The sponge will probably bubble up through the flour, this is fine.
With the dough hook, mix on low speed (#2 on a Kitchenaid) for about 1 minute, until a rough dough is formed. Scrape down any bits of dough, recover with plastic wrap, and let sit for 20 minutes. (This is an important step — called an autolyse — and allows the flour to absorb the water more evenly, among other things).
Sprinkle on the dough:
- 1 1/2 tsp table salt
Knead the dough on medium speed (#4) for about 7 minutes. The dough should be very elastic, smooth, and sticky enough to cling slightly to your fingers. If it is still very wet, add a little flour (1 Tbsp at a time). If it is not at all sticky, spray on a little water and continue to knead for another minute.
Place the dough in a large bowl that has been sprayed lightly with cooking spray. Gently press down the top of the dough, and spray lightly with cooking oil. Cover with plastic wrap, and allow the dough to rise until doubled in size, about 45 minutes (or in a cold kitchen, up to 1 hour 15 minutes).
2nd Rise (optional if you run out of time, but definitely ideal)
Scrape the dough onto a lightly floured counter and press gently into a rectangle. Give it one “business letter turn” (yes, just like you’re folding a letter), round the edges, and return it to the bowl, seam-side down. Let rise until doubled again (it will already be fuller than it was in the first rise), about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
Turn dough onto a lightly floured counter and gently press down to flatten slightly. Pulling the edges toward the center, flip the dough over (seam side down) and continue to tighten the top of the round by pushing the dough under the ball. There’s no easy way to write this, without illustration — and there are many ways to shape bread. I found these videos on YouTube, and while not exactly what I have done, they look good to me, and could be very helpful if you’ve never done it before. Set the dough on a baking sheet that’s been lined with parchment paper or a Silpat liner, and cover with a large inverted bowl or oiled plastic wrap. Let rise until almost doubled, 45 minutes to 1 hour 15 minutes. Preheat the oven to 475º about half an hour before dough is done rising, and place the oven rack on a lower shelf of your oven. If you happen to have a pizza stone, place it on the oven rack before you preheat the oven.
Sprinkle the risen dough with a fine dusting of flour, and make one or two 1/4″ deep slashes on the top, using a serrated or other sharp knife. (This can be tricky — try to do it fast, and if it looks funny, it won’t affect the flavor at all!) Quickly place the baking pan directly on the pizza stone (or on the rack) and immediately shut the oven door. Bake for 10 minutes. Reduce the oven temperature to 425º, and continue baking for 20-30 minutes, until the bread is golden brown. If you have an instant-read thermometer, the interior of the bread should be about 200º.
Remove the loaf to a cooling rack, and let cool completely before cutting (this’ll take about an hour).
If this is your first dinner loaf, you should definitely take a picture!