This week, I dove into the seedy underbelly of the bread world (I told you, I refuse to apologize for my food puns, stop looking at me like that). While I clearly am not entirely carb-averse, I would like to retain some semblance of healthiness while I fuel this bread-mania, so I decided to shy away from the classic white bread recipes that seemed to be in so many of my cookbooks, and instead try to find a whole grain bread, more similar to the ones I had been buying at the grocery store.
At the same time, I needed something that would not take hours and hours of my life and be more effort than it was worth. While the recipe I settled on did in fact take several hours, the majority of it was hands off, and it was definitely worth the effort.
This was also the first time I’ve ever seen a bread recipe where one of the rises (and yes, there are several rises, but don’t let that intimidate you) was done in the fridge. I had been under the impression that dough could only rise in warm spaces. I’ve heard of leaving it in the oven (turned off of course) with the light on, or just on the kitchen counter if your kitchen runs a bit warmer, but in the fridge? I want to look more into this, because I’m still a bit mystified.
Anywho, the first rise does take place at room temperature, and after the soupy dough from my last bread attempt I was much more optimistic when this one seemed to be holding it together (unlike me during finals). It actually did double in size (does anyone else ever find that their dough never rises as much as they think/hope it will? Is that just me?), but I didn’t see any huge change after the second rise in the fridge.
The larger grains/seeds get added in after the dough has risen (otherwise the gluten strands would get shredded before they even had a chance to form. Look at me sounding like I know what I’m talking about!). Given the description in the original recipe I had found, I assumed that this step would be fairly straightforward. Poke a hole in the dough, add the seeds, knead until combined, good to go. I’m not sure if I just hadn’t added quite enough water this time around or what, but this dough was as tough as a piece of overchewed bubble gum. I tried to think of a more appetizing way to describe it, but them’s the facts folks. It was tough. I found that stretching it and rolling the dough ball in the resulting sprinkle of seeds that ended up on the counter worked much better than the typical knead-and-fold-and-turn method I’ve used before. It was a little hard to tell if I’d distributed the seeds evenly, but as it turned out fine in the end, I guess it worked!
I’ve talked before about how it’s the little touches in recipes that can make all the difference, but even I was skeptical when I first read one particular step in this recipe. I’ve heard of using a burst of steam to help form a crust on loaves of bread, but I’ve also made bread without it and it’s been fine. I don’t know if this technique was the reason this bread turned out so well, but I’m certainly going to keep doing it! Heating a cast iron pan until it’s screaming hot and then adding boiling water seems (and is) crazy dangerous, but it also made me feel like a total badass, and was incredibly fun. An extra step: yes. Worth it: also yes.
This bread had a much shorter baking time, needing only 26 minutes, and made my house smell SO INSANELY GOOD. I think it was probably the sunflower seeds getting all roasty and delicious, but whatever it was, YUM. The loaf developed a deep golden brown colour and rose evenly all over. I kid you not, when I pulled it out of the oven I almost started crying. It was beautiful.
I could wax poetic about this bread for pages and pages, but I’ll leave you with my overall feelings about it (as if you couldn’t already tell) and then let you get baking. Enjoy!
Flavour: toasty, nutty, well rounded (from the seeds)
Crust: soft, with a bit of chewiness
Crumb: medium-small bubbles, not overly dense
Chewiness: fluffy, with just a bit of resistance
Great for: sandwiches, toast, anything
Overall rating: 9/10
- 1 1/2 cups warm water (should feel like a bath)
- 1 packet of fast acting yeast (not the traditional type!)
- 2 scant tbsp maple syrup
- 1/2 tbsp salt
- 1 tbsp whole flax seeds
- 2 cups whole wheat flour
- 1 3/4 cups all purpose flour
- 2 heaping tbsp raw sunflower seeds
- 2 heaping tbsp rolled oats
- Combine the water, yeast, maple syrup, salt, flax seed and flours in a large mixing bowl. If you need to, knead with your hands to combine fully. Add more flour if necessary so that the dough doesn’t stick to your hands (I didn’t need to add any more)
- Lift the dough ball out and grease the bowl with some non-stick spray. Place the dough back, and cover the bowl with plastic wrap.
- Let the dough rise for 2 hours on the counter, and 2 more hours or so in the fridge.
- Use your fingers to create a small hole in the dough and pour in the sunflower seeds and oats. Knead the dough until it is elastic and the grains are evenly distributed.
- Form the dough into something of an oval loaf shape, then place on a greased baking sheet and cover loosely with plastic wrap. Let it rest again for 45-60 minutes.
- Place a cast iron pan on the bottom rack of the oven, and preheat to 425 F.
- Cut 2 or 3 slashes about 1/2 inch deep in the top of the loaf.
- Place the pan with the loaf on the middle rack, then carefully pour about a cup of hot water into the pan (carefully!). It will pop and hiss and make a big puff of steam, so quickly shut the oven door.
- Bake the bread for 25-35 minutes, until golden brown
- Let it cool for a few minutes on the pan, then completely on a wire rack. (you’re going to want to cut into it while it’s still warm and smelling oh so tantalizing. Don’t do it! Trust me, just wait)