Multi-Grain Bread

Fresh from the oven ...

This bread is being shipped to a very special someone in Ohio.

Multi-Grain Bread

For the sponge:
3 cups filtered or bottled water, room temperature
1 1/2 tablespoons yeast
1/4 cup honey
1 cup non-fat dried milk
1/2 cup pumpernickel flour
1/2 cup oat bran
1/4 cup polenta
2 1/4 cups whole wheat flour

In the bowl of a stand mixer, add water and sprinkle the yeast over the water. Allow to soften a bit. Add the honey, milk, oat bran, polenta, and flours. Using the paddle attachment, mix until well blended. Don’t overmix at this point, you don’t want to develop a lot of gluten yet.

Allow to proof about 20-30 minutes.

For the dough

4 teaspoons kosher or sea salt
1/3 cup butter, melted and cooled
2 cups whole wheat flour
1/2 to 1 cup unbleached white bread flour

Change to the hook attachment. Sprinkle the salt on the sponge, add the melted butter. Begin mixing on low speed and add the whole wheat flour, 1/2 cup to 1 cup at a time. Mix on low until the flour is well incorporated and the dough is a soft, slightly sticky texture. Use the unbleached bread flour, adding as needed, to achieve the texture you want. I tend to like wetter doughs, but for this batch, I did use the entire cup of unbleached white bread flour an it felt perfect.

Mix on low for about 7 to 10 minutes, then turn on high speed and knead for 3 minutes. The 7 to 10 minutes will vary, depending on the flours you use. Making bread is not always a science, it’s a tactile art. You have to develop a “hand memory” for what feels right in a dough.

Remove the dough from the mixer and shape into one large round. Place in a large bowl that’s lightly oiled. Cover with plastic wrap and then a towel. Allow to rise for 45 minutes to an hour, or until it’s about doubled in size. At this stage, if you are in a hurry, you can shape the dough. It will have better flavor and texture, though, if you do a second rise. “Punch down” the dough – gently press down on the dough, then lift it up and tuck the sides under the top. Recover with plastic wrap and a towel, then allow to double in size again. This will take anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour, depending on the the room temperature, dough temperature, and wetness of the dough.

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Place a baking stone or inverted heavy duty sheet pan in the oven when you begin to reheat. You’ll want it hot when you put the dough in the oven.

Miches, in make-shift couches.

Shape the dough. For this batch, I made four miches – a basic loaf – and let them rise in a flour and polenta dusted make-shift couche of flour sack cloth towels. Again, the rise time will vary on the same factors. Since I can only bake two loaves at a time in this oven, I shaped two loaves tighter so they would take longer to rise.

I let the first two rise about 20 minutes (these were the more loosely shaped loaves). Score the loaves, and just before transferring them to the preheated stone in the oven, drop 3 or 4 ice cubes in the bottom of the oven and close the door quickly. This will mimic the effect of a professional steam-injected oven that professional bakeries use. Working quickly, transfer the scored loaves to the preheated stone and close the oven door. You don’t want to lose that heat and/or steam.

Bake about 8 to 10 minutes, then rotate the loaves for even baking. Bake another 8 to 10 minutes. The loaves are done when a gentle tap on the bottom makes a sort of hollow sounding thump.

By now, the more tightly shaped loaves were perfect. Allow the oven to reheat a bit, and follow the same process as above.

It is admittedly difficult to resist, but allow the loaves to cool completely (or at least almost) before cutting.

To preserve the crust, avoid wrapping directly in plastic. I’ll wrap these loaves in parchment paper, then in plastic, for shipping.


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