I have been baking bread since February. The same recipe. And I’m not even tired of it! Why am I not tired of this recipe? Well, quite honestly, it’s the challenge. Bread is just flour, water, yeast and salt, but these four simple ingredients can be so temperamental that making a good loaf of bread is almost elusive. To be good, the bread must be moist, tall and tender, and be springy to the touch. So here we are, the first day of October and I think I have finally nailed it.
This recipe is from America’s Test Kitchen which has never disappointed me if I follow their recipe strictly–until now. The dough was so appallingly sticky and the gluten stubbornly uncooperative. For the last eight months I obsessively maintained a Dough Diary, writing down every deviation, experimentation, failure, and success. I decided it must be the flour, so I switched from all-purpose in the recipe to bread flour, and got better results. I did my research and learned how to knead bread by hand, a very enjoyable activity. Still, I didn’t get a tall tender loaf until I learned that I need to weigh the dough to fit the pan I’m using. In baking bread, weighing is everything. Now that I’ve worked that out, here is the (almost) perfect multigrain sandwich loaf and boule. Ta-DAH!
Multigrain Bread (adapted from America’s Test Kitchen)
Minutes to Prepare: 30 minutes
Resting Time: varies, from 5 hours to 6
Minutes to bake: 35 minutes
Yield: 1425 grams of dough or 1 sandwich loaf and 1 boule**
**I converted all measurements to grams because it’s more accurate.
1 8.5×4.5 loaf pan
Dough or Bench Scrapers
Instant Read Thermometer
177 grams multigrain hot cereal mix (in Thailand use McGarrett’s 5 grain cereal)
2 1/2 cups boiling water
360 grams bread flour, plus more for dusting (all-purpose originally)
170 grams whole wheat flour
91 grams honey
59 grams unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
1 tablespoon fine table salt
Optional Additions to the Dough
3/4 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds, OR
1/2 cup flaxseed or chia seeds, OR
3/4 cup chopped nuts, after sifting out the powder
Egg yolk wash (1 egg yolk + 1 tablespoon water)
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats, quick oats, or multigrain cereal
Place cereal mix in the work bowl of the stand mixer and pour boiling water over it. Let it stand, stirring occasionally to cool the mixture to 100-115˚F. The grain will swell and absorb some but not all the water. This takes from 20-30 minutes. Measure the flours into a large bowl and whisk together. Set aside.
Once the grain mixture has cooled, add the honey, melted butter, and yeast. Attach bowl to the stand mixer fitted with the paddle. Mix on low speed (Level 1-2) to combine. Still beating on low speed, add the flour mixture a half-cup at a time, mixing the flour into the cereal. Once all the flour has been added, switch the paddle for the dough hook, and knead on Level 2-3 until the dough forms a ball, 1 1/2 to 2 minutes.
Without removing the bowl, cover the top of the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Let dough rest 20 minutes. Add salt. Knead the dough in the machine 3-4 minutes on Level 2 or until the dough clears the sides of the bowl but sticks to the bottom. If it doesn’t clear, add 2-3 tablespoons additional flour 1 tablespoon at a time, and continue mixing until the dough clears the sides of the bowl. Continue kneading on Level 2-3 for 5 more minutes.
Touch the dough. It will be sticky–some of it will come away on your finger. It is tacky if your finger is clean. If it is tacky, most likely the kneading is done. Cut away a walnut-size piece of dough and stretch it as thin as it will go without tearing. It will be flexible and translucent when held up to the light. This is called the windowpane test. Add the nuts/seeds, if using, and knead for 15 more seconds. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead for a few minutes to disperse the seeds. The dough is ready for the stage called bulk fermentation.
If the dough is sticky, and it always was for me, this means the gluten is undeveloped. I recommend kneading it by hand, a process that can take up to 30 minutes, but is oddly satisfying. The slap and fold method works well for this sticky dough. Oil your hands (keep a bowl of oil nearby) and try not to add more flour, though the dough can take up to 6 tablespoons more. Shape the dough into a rough rectangle. Lift it up and slap the dough firmly on the work surface, stretch it back towards you, then fold it over on itself. Repeat and repeat. It may seem like forever, but the dough will eventually come together. You can see demonstrations of this technique on YouTube. Stop and do the windowpane test after 10 minutes. If it’s not stretchy, keep slapping and folding.
Once the dough passes the window pane test, it will become tacky and not stick to your hands or the work surface as much. Lightly flour the work surface and shape the dough into a ball. Oil a 4-5 quart mixing bowl and put the dough ball in it, turning to coat. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and a kitchen towel. Put it in a warm draft free place to rise. This is called bulk fermentation, and is one of two rises that the dough will need. I put the bowl in the microwave (off, of course) with a cup of boiling water. Or you can heat the oven on low, turn it off, and put the bowl in the oven. The dough will need 45-60 minutes to double in bulk. It will rise to the top of the mixing bowl but not over it. If it only rises 2/3 of the bowl after 45 minutes or one hour, let the dough have 15 minutes more.
When the dough has risen weigh it. I get about 1425 grams of dough after fermentation. I cut it half, roughly, one piece weighing 770 grams will make a sandwich loaf in the pan. The smaller piece I roll into a boule. I don’t have a banneton and you don’t need one to make a boule. Use a medium size bowl. I use a bamboo rice steamer basket.
Making a sandwich loaf. Pat 770 grams of the dough into a rectangle. Roll it into a tight cylinder so there are no holes. Pinch the seams closed and roll it back and forth on the work surface to smooth it out. Spray the loaf pan with cooking spray and set aside. Brush egg wash on the sandwich loaf and roll it in a 1/2 cup of oats or cereal spread in a plate. Place it in the center of the prepared loaf pan.
Making a boule. Fold the edges of the dough toward the center. Keep doing this until you get a taut ball. Dust a little flour on the work surface and put the ball seam side down in the flour. Cup your hand around it and smooth out the ball. Line your banneton with a clean dish towel and sprinkle some flour inside it. Don’t use the egg wash on the boule just yet. Put the boule in the bowl with the seam side up. Sprinkle some flour on the dough then cover the boule with the ends of the dish cloth.
Proofing the dough. Put the dough in the microwave (off) to proof, 30-40 minutes. Cover the dough with plastic and a kitchen towel. The loaf will rise 1 1/2 to 2 inches above the rim of the pan. The boule will increase 50%. While they are proofing, heat the oven to 375˚F/190˚C. Put a baking tray on the oven rack in the center of the oven.
Bake the bread. Unwrap the boule and tip it out of the bowl onto a piece of parchment paper. Take the hot baking tray out of the oven and place the boule with parchment on one side. Brush top of boule with egg wash and pat oats/cereal on it. Put the loaf pan next to it on the baking tray. Put the baking tray in the oven and watch the magic. We have bread! After 35 minutes, take the baking tray out of the oven. The loaf and the boule will have reached an internal temperature of 200˚F which means the bread is cooked inside. Transfer the boule with parchment to a wire cooling rack. Put the loaf pan on another cooling rack. After 10 minutes, take it out of the pan. Cool completely for at least 3 hours before slicing.
PS I got a new brand of yeast that’s recommended by bread bakers. I’m so excited. I can’t believe I’m excited about yeast.