This isn't what I originally planned to write about today, but ever since I baked my first loaf of this bread I have been so excited to tell you about it. Truly-honestly-over-the-top excited. About a loaf of bread! I waited, though, so that I could make it a few times to make sure it wasn't just a figment of my imagination, that it really was as easy to make and delicious to eat as the first time around. Yep...three loaves later, it is. I no longer decide to make sandwiches; this bread demands that I do (it can be a bit pushy, but you get used to it).
I was hesitant to start making my own bread. I was intimidated by the process, and I was absolutely sure that between working a full time job and trying to have a life outside of the kitchen I would have no time to do this. Well, I found out that if you want to do something, you find a way. It does take some time, start to finish, to make a loaf of bread, but about 15 minutes of that is actual work, the rest is just waiting. So, I've developed a nice Sunday morning routine: I wake up, I mix my ingredients then leave them to rise while I go eat breakfast, listen to my favorite radio show, or go for a walk. About an hour or so later I shape and transfer the dough to a bread pan and wait for it to rise again. I then bake it, filling the apartment with the best smell. My bread for the week is ready. One loaf is enough for me and Jason, and we eat a lot of sandwiches and toast; even more now, with this great bread around.
A word about kneading: This is the best part! There is no right or wrong way to do it, and I find it to be very therapeutic. When you knead dough by hand you develop the ability to "feel" when dough is right. Very cool.
A word about yeast: This recipe uses instant yeast (known also as rapid rise yeast or bread machine yeast), which is different than fresh or active dry yeast in that it's more concentrated and has a longer shelf life (in an airtight container, it can be stored in the refrigerator for months). More importantly, it can be added right into the flour when you're mixing the dry ingredients as opposed to dissolving it in water first.
Adapted from The Bread Baker's Apprentice by Peter Reinhart
You start the night before with this bread, by making a "soaker", which means that you soak the coarse grains in water overnight. The purpose is to activate the enzymes in the grains in order to release some of the trapped sugars from the starches. It also softens the grains.
3 tbsp coarse cornmeal (polenta) OR millet OR quinoa OR amaranth
3 tbsp rolled oats OR wheat OR buckwheat OR triticale flakes
2 tbsp wheat bran
1/4 cup water, at room temperature
Day 1: Combine the grains with the water in a small bowl. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and leave it at room temperature overnight.
3 cups unbleached high-gluten or bread flour (I may revise this to 4 cups - see notes below)
3 tbsp brown sugar
1-1/2 tsp salt
1 tbsp instant yeast
3 tbsp cooked brown rice
1-1/2 tbsp honey
1/2 cup buttermilk or milk
3/4 cup water, at room temperature
Day 2: Make the dough.
Stir together the flour, brown sugar, salt and yeast in a large bowl. Add the soaker, cooked rice, honey, milk, and water. Stir until ingredients form a ball. Add a few drops of water if any of the flour remains separate. (note: HA! my dough is always on the wet side, so I add more flour in 1/4 cup increments until a ball forms that I can knead and the dough doesn't stick to me. It takes about an extra cup of flour to do this, but I'm hesitant to revise the ingredient list above...just yet). Sprinkle flour on the counter and knead for about 12 minutes, sprinkling in flour if needed to make a dough that is soft and pliable, tacky but not sticky.
Lightly oil a bowl (I use non-stick cooking spray) and transfer the dough to it, rolling it around to coat it with oil. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 90 minutes (or until the dough doubles in size, which for me is usually LESS than 90 minutes).
Remove the dough from the bowl and press into a rectangle about 3/4-inch thick, 6-inches wide, and 8- to 10-inches long. Form into a loaf by rolling up the length of the dough one section at a time, pinching the crease each time to strengthen surface tension.
Pinch the final seam closed and transfer to a lightly oiled loaf pan. The ends of the loaf should touch the ends of the pan to ensure an even rise. Mist the top of the loaf lightly with spray oil and cover loosely with plastic wrap or a towel. Let rise for 90 minutes OR until the dough nearly doubles in size (could be more or less than 90 minutes; for me it's usually less).
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F with the oven rack in the middle. Bake for 20 minutes, rotate pan 180 degrees and bake for another 20 to 40 minutes. (Check your bread here, I opt for the low end of this range, but my oven could heat higher than yours).
When the loaf is finished, remove immediately from the pan and cool on a wire rack, at least one hour - which gives you plenty of time to sit and stare at your lovely homemade creation.