Sunday, October 31, 2010

Basic and Best Whole Wheat Bread

with Cinnamon Raisin Swirl option

makes 6 loaves

1 Tablespoon yeast
1 cup lukewarm water
Lukewarm is the temperature milk (lacto) comes fresh from the cow -- body temperature -- so it should feel neither hot nor cold to the touch.  The yeast likes a little to eat as it comes out of its sleep so I also sprinkle in 
½ to 1 teaspoon sugar (optional)
Then let it soak until all the yeast is moistened.  Gently stir and set aside and let the yeast wake up and start making bubbles.

Meanwhile, in a large bowl whisk together
1 cup oil
1 cup honey
3 Tablespoons salt
7 cups warm water
A few cups at a time, mix in
7 cups whole wheat flour
By now the yeast should be foamy: pour it into the flour mixture and whisk it up.  Then stir in, a cup at a time,
4-6 cups whole wheat flour
until the batter is almost too thick to whisk.

Cover with a damp cloth and let the dough rise about 1 hour, longer if kitchen is cool (or the yeast is old and slow).  The longer the rise, the more tender the crumb, which is why some bakers like to let their bread rise in the refrigerator overnight.

The only danger is that if the yeast gets out of hand it will turn the dough sour.  You want to let the dough rise until dough is almost doubled in size.  What you don't want is to let the dough rise and rise and then collapse in upon itself, turning bitter and souring.

Think of this as a symbol for your dearest relationship - there are no hard and fast rules.  You must allow space and time for the dough to develop.  You must stay near to attend and respond when the dough is ready.

When the dough is doubled, knead the dough in the bowl to deflate.  (Usually we say "punch down" the dough, but not if you're still thinking of it as a symbol of your loving - and in any case, all you are doing is gently deflating the risen dough, allowing the trapped air to escape.  No violence required.)

Turn dough out onto floured countertop or table and begin kneading in
4-6 more cups flour (twice that if using white flour)
This is the true core of bread-making.  The amount of flour you add depends on the humidity in the air, the moisture in the flour.  You want the dough to gently cling but not to stick to your hands too wetly.  But especially with whole wheat bread, the moister to can keep the dough and still have it workable, the lighter your resulting loaf will be.

When I first began to make bread I had to time myself kneading because I'd always give up too soon and end up with heavy, crumbly bread instead of the light, chewy loaf I was aiming for.  10 - 15 minutes did the job admirably - which was about the time it took to get to my favorite song (a male and a female voice weaving around each other) on a Celtic CD I had.  Nowadays though I can tell by feel when the dough is kneaded and it seems to take less time than that.  What you're aiming for is a dough that feels as softly stiff as an earlobe.

Let dough rest as you oil 6 loaf pans -- I use olive oil here, too, because it will flavor the bread. Brush the oil over the whole inner surface of the bread pan, paying especial attention to the corners.

Then divide the dough into 6 balls.  I don't want to cut it with a knife because I've spent so much effort developing the long strands of gluten, so I squeeze it off in the center to divide it in half, then squeeze off smaller balls in thirds.

Let the balls rest a minute or two then flatten the first ball and roll it up into a log, pinching together the edges.

If you are making Cinnamon Raisin Swirl bread -- this is where that happens -- before rolling it up sprinkle the flattened dough with raisins and then cinnamon.  Other dried fruit or spices or nuts or even cheese and bacon and sautéed onions can be added instead. The rolling it up is what makes the swirl. Pinch the edges together very carefully so that none of that added goodness tumbles out.

Press each loaf, smoothest side down, into its oiled pan to make a nice squared loaf and then flip the loaf over, pinched-together side down, and press loaf into the pan.  Let the loaves rise 1 hour (or more) until the dough bellies up above the edge of the pan.

Preheat oven to 400° to get a good hot oven and quickly slide each loaf into the oven, turning it down to 350° as soon as you put the bread in.

Bake at 350° for 35-45 minutes.  It’s cooked through when water on your finger touched to the bottom of loaf pan sizzles and the top of the bread has a nice golden crust.

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