by Chef Molly Beverly
Keep calm and bake bread.
Full-flavored and full-textured delicious bread is just what we need to soothe the savage beast in these times. Nothing says calm and normal like home-baked bread, whole-grain and warm from the oven. People seem to sense it. I guess that's why flour and yeast have been in short supply. Maybe you're already stocked up. (If you aren't, check out the Resources box below for places where you can still get ingredients.)
I've been pursuing this bread recipe for 40 years. It is tough to create a whole-grain bread, with grainy inclusions, that has a light texture and still enough gumption to hold together when sliced. The pandemic allowed me the time to knuckle down and perfect it.
Understand that bread baking is much more art and science than just a recipe. To bake bread so good that it is the first thing you want to toast before breakfast, the enclosure you crave for your favorite sandwich filling, a zowie companion for soup, salad and stew, or a midnight snack slathered in butter and jam, you need to know the backstory.
Bread flour – You want your bread to taste good and hold together? Use bread flour. Bread flour contains a higher percentage of wheat protein (aka gluten) than common all-purpose flour. Gluten joins into long elastic strands of amino acids to make the largest protein molecules found in the natural world. They stretch like a balloon and hold everything together against the rising bubbles of steam (from the water) and carbon dioxide (from the yeast). Heat sets the gluten in place so the bread holds its shape, can be sliced thinly, and does not crumble.
I'm a whole-wheat hog, and that's the most difficult challenge. Whole-wheat flour contains bran, the outer coat of the wheat. It's a rich source of dietary fiber, but a tearing hell on gluten strands. This recipe has a three-day rise, during which the bran fiber softens and the gluten strands marry up. You read that right, the gluten develops without kneading — no need to knead! Make the bread with whole-wheat or white flour or some combination, but make sure they are labeled “high-protein” or “bread flour,” or have a protein content of 12-14%.
Grains – Add flavor and texture with grains. Use whole grains, grains that have been coarsely ground, or some of both. Use one or a blend of barley, rye, corn, wheat, spelt, oats or rice. I love whole wild rice and a combination of coarsely ground barley and blue corn. (See Resources for a list of local stores.) If you have a hand mill you can grind them yourself. The grains, whole or coarsely ground, are precooked separately. This is the “porridge” part. Whole grains take 30-45 minutes to cook, while coarsely ground grains might take 15 minutes. Cook them separately till they're tender. They won't get any softer when added to the bread.
Moisture – The biggest mistake people make in bread-baking is adding too much flour. Ignore any recipe instructions that say “add flour until dough is no longer sticky.” Bah! That's a good recipe for bricks. Add enough flour to make a soft dough, like the dough for drop cookies. Let it be sticky, especially if you're using whole-wheat flour. In the long, slow rise the gluten develops by itself and the stickiness disappears.
This dough is wetter than most. That's how you get a nice open texture,, even though you are adding whole grains and whole-wheat flour. Be warned that this bread will not stand up without a pan. Free-form round shapes will flatten and spread out. Use bread pans (see the Resource box for a store) unless you want flat bread. Alternatively you could make buns on a baking sheet.
Long, cold rise – The three-day refrigerated rise is fundamentally important in this recipe. After you mix up the sticky mass, put it in a container where it can double in size, cover tightly and stick it in the refrigerator. Get a container that will hold a gallon with a firm but not airtight lid. (See Resources for good sources.)
In the cold environment of your refrigerator, the yeast slowly multiplies. Enzymes work to break the starch and fiber molecules into complex flavors. The gluten forms long strands. During this time all you have to do is stretch the dough once each morning and once each night. This stretching and pressing works like a big exhalation that refreshes the yeast and encourages the gluten strands to lengthen even more.
Timing – Yes, you need planning. This recipe takes three days. Start by cooking your grain(s) and letting them cool for about an hour. The mixing goes quickly and there is no tedious kneading. The cold rise takes care of itself with only brief checks morning and night.
The final step takes some time, mostly waiting, but not much active time. Take the dough out of the refrigerator about five hours before you want the finished product. (The actual timing depends on the temperature and humidity of your kitchen.) Let it sit at room temperature for about two hours; that's the first rise. Next, cut and shape loaves and/or buns and allow them to rest for about two hours; the second rise. Bake buns for 20 minutes and loaves for an hour.
Good bread and pulling weeds are my best antidotes for the social and political clamor of today. With a toasted, well-buttered, warm slice of toast in my hand, somehow I feel like it's all going to be okay.
Chef Molly Beverly is Prescott's creative food activist and teacher.
Molly's Whole-Grain Porridge Bread
Makes about five pounds of dough, enough for two loaves or a bunch of buns.
6 cups water
2 to 2-1/2 cups whole or cracked grains: cracked wheat, oats, barley, corn, wild rice or other grain. Keep them separate.
1/4 cup olive oil
Cook the whole grains and cracked grains separately. Bring the water to a boil and add grain. If cooking whole and cracked, add the oil to the cracked grain, it will keep the grains from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Otherwise just add the oil to the whole grain. Cover and reduce to a simmer. Stir occasionally to keep the mixture from sticking. Cook until tender. The cracked grains take 15-25 minutes, the whole grains 30-45 minutes. Remove from heat. Stir, uncover and let cool. Anything below 80 degrees is fine. They can sit for an hour or two at room temperature.
2 cups water
2 tablespoons salt
2 teaspoons yeast
4-8 cups of whole-wheat bread flour, or a combination of whole-wheat and white bread flours
olive oil for brushing
Pour the cooled grains into a big mixing bowl and add the 2 cups of water, salt and yeast.
Stir. Now add about 4 cups of flour. Mix well. Add enough more flour to make a soft dough, the consistency of drop cookie dough.
Cover and refrigerate for three days. Every 12 hours or so uncover and fold the dough over itself four times, turning the dough as you go and pressing down. You will see changes in the dough as the time progresses, and can add a little more flour or a little more water as needed to keep the consistency.
Prepare for baking. Allow five hours, start to finish.
Remove the dough from the refrigerator and let it to sit at room temperature for about two hours. Then remove it from the container and form into loaves or rolls, dusting with flour as needed. Prepare baking pans by brushing them with oil and dusting them with flour or cornmeal. Put rolls on baking sheets covered with parchment. Brush loaves and rolls with olive oil. Cover loosely and allow to rise until doubled. This might take another two hours. The classic test is to press a fingerprint onto the dough surface; if the indent doesn’t bounce right out, it’s ready to bake.
Bake at 425 degrees until internal temperature registers 190 degrees. Rolls take 15-20 minutes, loaves 45-60 minutes. Crust should be deep brown. Remove from oven, brush with olive oil and cool before storing.
Wait 15 minutes before slicing. Bread tastes better after it has cooled just a little. When completely cool, store in refrigerator or freeze. Flavor matures for several days. Don't ask me how that works, I've never seen an explanation.
I like this bread well toasted and cut into smaller pieces for croutons or larger pieces for crackers.
1260 Gail Gardner Way, Prescott; 928-778-2953
Flour and yeast, also wonderful bread, pastries and coffee
1470 Gail Gardner Way, Prescott
Flour and grains, including wild rice and blue corn
Online orders for flours and grains in 5- to 50-pound bags
Source One Restaurant Supply
104 Josephine Avenue, Prescott; 928-778-3591
Storage containers, bread pans, digital thermometers, bread knives, professional kitchen equipment