Our fridge and freezer look like a mad scientist’s laboratory — or perhaps just a mad baker. I’ve got poolish, one type of starter, in the freezer in little tupperware containers in the freezer, and biga, a thicker starter in a plastic bag. There are two jars with what looks like white and grey slime in the fridge both spewing a little carbon dioxide every now and then. Meet barm and rye barm. And there’s frozen pizza dough somewhere stashed in our freezer.
Yes, I am in full baking mode. I’ve got two multi-grain, whole-wheat loaves in the oven right now after nearly a day of making bread. I’m working through Peter Reinhart’s Crust and Crumb — a wonderful book, although not one for those afraid of detailed recipes. Each recipe typically calls for a starter, which must be made hours, days or even weeks ahead. Patience is rewarded, however, in the wonderful, rich flavors in the bread. The lesson here is that life — and bread — is worth slowing down for. Or at least plan things very well.
I love baking because unlike making cakes, where everything must be very precise (my mother always fears when I enter her kitchen and proclaim that I’m going to bake a cake — I’m well-known for my experimentation), baking bread is a flexible art. Once you know how to acheive a certain texture when kneading the dough and you learn when to proof and how much time the bread needs to bake (use a handy-dandy thermometer to guage the temperature inside the dough), you can experiment to your heart’s delight.
Le pain du jour was, as I mentioned before, a multi-grain, whole-wheat loaf. The recipe called for buttermilk; I didn’t have any, so I used yogurt. It also called for a multi-grain mix consisting of oats, polenta/cornmeal and wheat bran. I looked in the pantry: no cornmeal, no wheat bran. Into the bread went cooked wheat berries, cooked oatmeal leftover from breakfast, and cracked, cooked bulgur I had prepared for another recipe. Because these grains are cooked and they’ve already incorporated some water, the percentage of water must be adjusted in the bread in order to get the proper dough.
The breads are gorgeous and the apartment smells divine. If you’re an intrepid baker, Crust and Crumb is definitely for you. Other essential tools I recommend are a good thermometer, a pastry cutter, very good flour (King Arthur is my favorite) and a KitchenAid Stand Mixer. The last ingredient is pricey, but it makes bread making soo much easier.
Yeasted Multigrain Bread
from Crust and Crumb by Peter Reinhart
1. A day before, prepare the biga by combining 3 1/2 cups (16 oz) unbleached bread flour, 1 teaspoon instant yeast and 1 1/2 cups of cool water in a large bowl. Transfer to a work surface and knead for five minutes or until dough is smooth and tacky. Place dough in a bowl sprayed with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and allow the biga to rise at least 1.5 times. Refrigerate overnight.
2. On the bread-baking day, take the biga out of the fridge for at least an hour to take the chill off. Measure 2 cups of the biga and add 1 3/4 cups (8 oz) whole wheat flour, 3/4 cups unbleached bread flour, 1/3 cup cornmeal, 1/3 cup oats, 1/3 cup wheat bran, 2 Tbsp cooked brown rice, 2 Tbsp brown sugar, 1 teaspoon salt, 1 1/2 tsp instant yeast, 1/2 buttermilk, 2 Tbsp honey, 10 Tbsp cool water. You can freeze the leftover biga to use in another recipe.
3. Combine all of the ingredients and knead on a floured counter (or in your KitchenAid!) for about 10-12 minutes or until the dough becomes smooth and tacky. You can tell when the bread is ready by stretching out the dough until a small hole appears in the middle of the stretched portion; if the dough snaps before this windowpane of dough forms, you must continue kneading.
4. Put the dough in a clean bowl, cover with plastic wrap and allow it to rise 90 minutes at room temperature.
5. Grease a loaf pan. Shape the dough into a ball by pulling on the ends and putting them together at the bottom until the dough is rounded.
6. Mist the loaf with cooking spray, cover with plastic wrap and let it rise 60-90 minutes.
7. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
8. Place the loaf in the center rack and bake for 20 minutes. Turn the loaf from front to back to ensure even browning and bake for another 20 minutes or so. Use your thermometer to check the temperature in the middle, it should read 185 when done.
9. Remove the bread from the oven and let it cool.
Enjoy! You’ve worked hard for this bread!!