Soft whole-grain, multi-grain? From scratch? Yes, it is indeed possible! No more will I have to buy the pricey, dense (but flavorful) wholesome loaves that the rest of the family isn’t entirely thrilled with – nor will they have to hop off the organic bandwagon to get something just as soft as the nutritionally-devoid, overly-processed white loaves we all grew up on.
This week had me taking loaves 5 and 6 out of the oven and my best ones to date, whether by hand, or by breadmachine. (For the record, old school has won out over the Zojirushi!)
Several recipes online offer up close variations on the Cooks Illustrated recipe that I’ve been using (yes – six loaves since Christmastime!) Starting out with anywhere from 1/2 to 1 1/4 cups of wholegrain cereal, (add hotwater, cool) then add flour 3-4 cups, yeast, honey, butter and salt – knead, rise, knead, put in pan(s), rise, bake and enjoy.
While there are some differences in ingredients, (primarily with the choice of sweetener, or ratio of flour to whole-grain cereal mix) the biggest differences are in prep. And while I’m not sure I’ve just had progressively better luck with each, or if adapting new methods to the same recipe has taken a short and dense loaf to a tall, airy loaf, perfect for sandwiches, toasting, or sopping up marinara and soup!
I know baking is a science, so perhaps somedays were just better bread days, but it seems to me that the method is what did the trick here, so if you choose to stick with your own recipe, and are less than thrilled with the size or texture, perhaps some hot water will do the trick for you too.
The recipe is at Cooks Illustrated, (which is fairly similar to this one – provided you add 1/2 stick of butter, and trade out the sugar for 1/4 cup honey) The revised techniques are adapted from Alton Brown (x2), Cooks Illustrated, Epicurious, Food Network, and just plain old luck.
Follow instructions through first rise (on counter). punch down, divide into pans, and let rise again – but this time in the oven (off) above a sheet cake pan 1/2 filled with boiling water to “Proof” the dough. Once doubled in size, turn the oven on to 375 and bake until 200 degrees in center (approx 40 min). If you overcook the bread (past 212) the bread will be dried out. (or so I’ve been told, makes sense though).
I’ve found with proofing, the second rise is much faster, higher, (or perhaps more controllable/repeatable!) and the hot water in the baking dish (while baking) allows the dough to continue to rise a bit, rather than yield a loaf no taller than the pan.
This recipe started out as a good tasting, but very dense 3″ tall loaf. Future attemps had me baking with the pan full of water to a slightly better (taller) loaf, but in the end, the proofing was the key.
Pictures? Maybe next loaf, this one is nearly gone! Soups, sandwiches, with poached eggs, buried under pasta, or simply toasted with butter and gomasio (but that’s another blog).
Mmmm, bread. 🙂