multigrain bread

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.

Special Equipment
1 8.5×4.5 loaf pan
Stand Mixer
Scale
Dough or Bench Scrapers
Instant Read Thermometer

Ingredients
135 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 (also called hard wheat)
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

Topping
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.

multigrain bread

After several weeks of experimenting with this bread recipe and watching videos on kneading bread dough, I’ve come to understand this recipe and most importantly, how to work around the challenges of bread baking in Thailand. It’s hot and humid here which affects the chemistry of flour, yeast, and water. My everlasting exasperation was with this dough’s horrible stickiness. I have tried swapping bread flour for all-purpose and I can’t say it made any difference in the stickiness of the dough. I have tried reducing the liquid 10% to compensate for the humidity. No appreciable difference. I decided to accept that this dough will probably always be sticky for me considering my kitchen’s location. Lessons learned that recipes never tell you:

  • Resist the temptation to add more flour just because the dough is sticky. Sticky dough is a nightmare: it sticks to you and the countertop leading to despair that it will never come together. But it will come together eventually, so I must be patient! I found that the slap-and-fold method works very well with sticky dough. Besides, it’s fun to slap the dough on the countertop. Here’s a video demonstration of the technique. 
  • Rising dough needs time, so the times given should be taken as a guide, not a rule of thumb. I’ve learned to let the bread rise go longer than the recipe has stated when it didn’t rise as expected. That said…
  • Always go by how the dough looks and feels. Trust your experience with the dough. For instance, I’ve kneaded dough for 20 minutes rather than the 8 or 9 minutes stated in the recipe because the dough was still sticky.
  • Personalize the recipe. Don’t be afraid to innovate. Take notes and learn from your experience with the dough. Your kitchen and where you live are unique so your bread recipe is as individual as you are!
  • Baking bread and enjoying it is a very subjective experience.

Multigrain Bread
Remember this is a rough guide:
Minutes to prepare: 40
Resting time: 5 hours 40 minutes (includes cooling)
Minutes to cook: 35
Yield: 2 loaves

177 g (1 1/4 cups) 5 or 7 grain hot cereal mix
2 1/2 cups boiling water (due to humidity, I reduced water 10% to 2 1/4 cups)
360 g (3 cups) all-purpose flour, plus more for dusting (can substitute bread flour 1:1 but doing so may change the product’s texture)
170 g (1 1/2 cups) whole wheat flour (called hard wheat here)
1 tablespoon table salt
4 tablespoons golden honey
4 tablespoons (59 g) unsalted butter, melted and cooled slightly
2 1/2 teaspoons instant yeast
3/4 cup unsalted pumpkin seeds or sunflower seeds or 1 cup flaxseed (optional)
3/4 cup chopped almonds, walnuts, or pecans (after sifting out the powder and tiny pieces) (optional)
1/2 cup old fashioned rolled oats or quick oats

Egg wash
1 egg, lightly beaten mixed with 1 tablespoon water

Place cereal in the bowl of a stand mixer. Add boiling water and stir. Let cool to 100˚F about 20 minutes to 1 hour. Whisk flours with salt in a large bowl and set aside.

Add honey, melted cooled butter, and yeast to the cooled cereal. Stir to combine. Attach the bowl to a mixer fitted with a dough hook. Turn it on to speed 1 and add the flour mixture 1/2 cup at a time. Knead until the dough forms a ball and clears the sides of the bowl, about 1 1/2 to 2 minutes. Stop the mixer. Remove the bowl and dough hook from the mixer, cover the bowl with a kitchen towel and let the dough rest 20 minutes. The dough may be very sticky but do NOT add more flour. Using a plastic dough scraper, turn the dough out on to an unfloured board. Knead the dough, working through stickiness because it WILL come together eventually. Continue kneading until the dough no longer sticks to the work surface or to your hands.

Do the windowpane test. Cut off a walnut-sized piece of dough and stretch it as thin as possible. If it stretches without tearing and is translucent when held up to the light, the gluten is developed and kneading it is done. It is time to add the nuts/seeds.

Dust the work surface very lightly with flour and place the dough on it. Dust the top. Flatten and stretch the dough into a rough rectangle and sprinkle half the nuts/seeds on top. Press them into the dough. Fold up the dough in thirds, horizontally, like a letter. Turn the folded dough vertically and press the dough flat again with your fingers. Sprinkle the remaining nuts/seeds on top, pressing them into the dough. Fold up into thirds again. Knead the dough for a few minutes to disperse the seeds/nuts evenly. Use the dough scraper to scrape up any bits of dough and seeds/nuts, and knead again. Lightly dust the work surface with flour. Shape the dough into a ball and lightly dust it with flour.

Grease a bowl with 4 quart capacity. Put the dough ball into the bowl, turning to coat. Cover bowl with plastic and a towel and put in a warm draft-free place to rise until doubled in bulk, about 45-60 minutes. Because of the whole wheat flour in the dough, it will not rise to the top of the bowl but to about two-thirds of the bowl.

While dough is rising, adjust the oven rack to the middle position, and heat the oven to 375˚F/190˚C. Spray two 8 1/2 x 4 1/2 inch loaf pans with cooking spray and set aside. I like to use pans with a dark finish which absorb heat and contribute to a more even rise during oven spring. Set pans aside.

Transfer risen dough to a lightly floured work surface. Pat it into a 9×12 inch rectangle. Using a dough scraper, cut the rectangle in half so you get two pieces 9×6 inches each.

You’re going to roll one half tightly into a cylinder. Starting from the short side, roll until you reach the end. Pinch the seam closed. Tuck in the dough sticking out of each end and fold a bit of the top over to cover the end and pinch it closed. Roll the cylinder lightly on the board to smooth it. Repeat with the second piece of dough.

Brush the tops of the loaves with egg wash. Pour 1/2 cup rolled oats into a large plate and press the brushed top into the oats. Don’t roll it. Center the loaf in a prepared pan and lightly press down all over the top to make sure the bread will rise evenly. Repeat with the second loaf. Cover loaves lightly with plastic and a kitchen towel and let rise until almost doubled in size, 30-40 minutes. The loaves should rise 1-1 1/2 inches above the rim of the pans.

Bake until the loaves reach an internal temperature of 200˚F, about 35-40 minutes. If the loaves darken too soon, tent them with aluminum foil, and reduce heat to 350˚F/175˚C.

Remove loaves from oven and cool in the pans 5 minutes on wire racks. Remove the loaves from the pans and allow to cool completely before slicing.

Becoming Bread

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Loaf with Almonds: Height was good with an open crumb.
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Boule with Flaxseed: dough was dense and didn’t rise as high as I would have liked.

baking bread in the tropics

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Multigrain Bread with Almonds

Naturally, part of my baking with yeast challenge is mastering the art of baking bread. I discovered this is no easy task because the humidity of tropical Thailand affects the behavior of the dough. It’s horribly icky-sticky. But I’ve learned that adding additional flour is not the solution. Instead, I’ve patiently scraped and kneaded the dough for 45 minutes hoping for it to magic itself into the storied smooth taut ball. Meh. As a last resort I’ve become an alchemist. I’ve tried reducing the liquid, even substituting bread flour for the all-purpose recommended in the recipe. All to no avail. Now I’ve taken to literally beating the crap out of the dough. It’s a form of baker’s masochism called slap-and-fold. I actually enjoy it. But most of all, I’m learning to appreciate the stubborn features of this nonverbal dough, and how it communicates when it is under-mixed, when it is well-kneaded, and how to tell. I’m still developing this recipe and will share it when I have achieved the texture and crumb that I’m looking for.

scott’s bread

 

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As bread recipes go, this one is rather forgiving. I tried adding just 5 cups flour but found that after 15 minutes of kneading time as stated in the recipe,  the dough was still tacky. So I added 1/2 cup more flour and kneaded the dough for an additional 5 minutes. This time the dough cooperated and came out of the bowl without any problem. The texture of this bread is dense, chewy, and satisfyingly spongy. It’s definitely a Do-Again. Note that this bread can be vegan by leaving out the egg wash and brushing the top with olive oil.

Scott’s Bread Recipe
Prep time: 50 minutes
Resting time: 3 hours 10 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes

1 Tablespoon sugar
1 Tablespoon salt
5 1/2 cups bread flour plus more, if needed
1 pkg yeast (2 1/4 teaspoons)
1/4 c water (110˚F)
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
1 3/4 cup warm water (110˚F)

1. Mix sugar, salt and 2 cups flour together in a large mixer bowl and set aside. In a medium bowl, sprinkle yeast on 1/4 cup water. Let stand until foamy, about 10-15 minutes. Pour 1 tablespoon oil on 1 3/4 cup warm water. Pour oil and water mixture into yeast and water. Pour liquid into dry ingredients. Mix well in a mixer fitted with the paddle attachment, on medium low speed, until there are no lumps, about 10-15 minutes.
2. Add 2 more cups flour. Mix well. Add another 1 1/2 cups flour. Knead well, about 15 minutes, using the dough hook on medium-low speed (2). It should clean the sides of the bowl, and the dough will gather itself into a ball, and release from the bowl without any stickiness.
3. Grease a large bowl. Place dough in bowl, turning to coat thoroughly. Cover with a warm damp towel and leave in a warm dry place for 2 hours until doubled in bulk.
4. Punch down the dough and roll into a fat log. Separate into 3 portions. On a lightly floured board, roll into 3 ropes about 2 to 2 1/2 feet long. Braid and form a circle. Pinch ends together. Line a baking tray with parchment  and place braid on top. Cover with warm damp cloth. Let rise one hour.
5. Meanwhile, preheat oven 350˚F/175˚C.
6. Break 1 large egg into a small bowl. Beat with 1 tablespoon water. Brush onto top of dough. Bake 30 minutes. Let rest 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Serve warm. Best eaten the day it is made. Wrap leftover bread airtight and refrigerate.

johnny cakes

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A johnny cake is fried bread eaten in Jamaica as an accompaniment to spicy dishes. Ackee and saltfish or bully beef (corned beef with tomatoes, onions, and scotch bonnet pepper) are even more satisfying eaten with a fluffy chewy and hot johnny cake.

Johnny Cakes (adapted from Food 52)
Prep time: 45 minutes (includes resting time)
Cook time: 4 minutes per batch
Servings: Makes about 30-36 cakes

3 cups all purpose flour
2 tablespoons sugar
1 tablespoon baking powder
2 1/2 tablespoons butter, room temperature
1 cup water
vegetable oil for frying

In a large mixing bowl, whisk together the flour, sugar, and baking powder. Cut in the butter until it is the size of small peas. Mix in the water and knead until the dough is smooth and elastic. Cover bowl with a kitchen towel and let rest 30 minutes. Roll out half the dough onto a lightly floured surface, about 1/4 inch thick, and cut into rounds. Repeat with the other half.

Meanwhile, heat about an inch of oil in a large skillet. Stick a wooden chopstick in the oil; when tiny bubbles gather round the stick, the oil is hot enough. Fry dough circles in batches of five. When one side is lightly browned, flip over on to the other side. Drain fried cakes on a plate lined with paper towels. Eat right away.

To reheat leftover johnny cakes put them in a 200˚F/100˚C oven for about 5 minutes. Never reheat them in a microwave as they become tough.

jamaican hard dough bread

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I think I made a two-fer one recipe for bread.

This weekend I adapted a recipe for Amish White Bread and renamed it Teddy’s Bread. Two days after baking it, the bread settled into that familiar dense structure that we call hard dough in Jamaica. It’s still soft and moist. At home, we’d spread condensed milk on the slices and eat it. Me, I loved to eat it with peanut butter and strawberry jam. So whatever its incarnation–Amish White Bread, Teddy’s Bread, or Hard Dough Bread–there is nothing like it!

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teddy’s bread

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Yesterday, my colleague gave me a package of bread flour and some packets of dry yeast. He said he was going to bake bread but he had changed his mind. I decided, well, why not? Baking with yeast is not my favorite thing to do but if I can find an easy bread recipe, I’m making bread this weekend! So I found this recipe for Amish White Bread on allrecipes.com, it looked easy enough so I adapted it here. The result is two rustic bread loaves.  I’m calling it

Teddy’s Bread

Prep time: 1 hour and 45 minutes
Baking time: 30 minutes

2 cups warm water (110˚F)
2 tablespoons superfine sugar (recommended because it dissolves quicker)
1x 11g packet active dry yeast or 1 1/2 tablespoons
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup rice bran oil (can use vegetable oil)plus more for bowl and pans
6 cups (762g) bread flour plus more for flouring the board

First, oil a large bowl and two 8 1/2×4 1/2 inch loaf pans.

Baker’s note: I had 1 x9 and 1 x 8 1/2 in loaf pan. I prefer the look of the loaf in the smaller pan; it’s more compact whereas the other is squat. So though the recipe calls for 9×5 inch pans, I’m recommending the smaller pans.

Heat the water for 1 minute in the microwave. On an instant read thermometer it registered about 118˚F. Let it cool in another large bowl and add the sugar, stirring it with a whisk to dissolve. Then add the yeast and stir. Let the yeast mixture rest on the counter top until a creamy foam covers the surface of the liquid. This will take from 10-20 minutes.

Add the salt and oil. Add the flour 1 cup at a time; I recommend weighing the flour for best results. Stir after each addition. Knead the dough in the bowl until the sides are clean. Turn out onto a lightly floured board and knead a few times until the dough is smooth. Put the dough into the prepared bowl and turn it to coat. Cover it with a damp cloth and put it in a draft free place to rise, about 1 hour. I preheated the oven to 50˚C then switched it off. Don’t open the oven door until you’re ready to proof the dough in the oven.

After an hour, the dough will have doubled in size. Remove the damp cloth and punch it down. This doesn’t mean to do violence to the dough! Actually, poking it with a finger will achieve the same result. The dough will deflate. Turn it out onto a lightly floured board and knead a few times to incorporate the flour. Using a bench scraper, cut the dough in half. Shape each half into loaves and place in the prepared pans.

Meanwhile heat the oven to 350˚F/175˚C. Let the loaves rise for 30 minutes or until they achieve a height of 1 inch over the top of the pans. For me this took 15 minutes. Put the loaves in the oven to bake for 30 minutes. The crust will look light golden brown and may be tough to the touch. However, as it cools, the crust will soften. Cool the loaves the pan for 10 minutes then remove from the pan. Slice and eat! It’s so simple. The crust was chewy but the inside was soft and moist. I loved how it surrendered itself to the butter on each slice, one for me and the other for Andy.

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