Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Busy, Busy, Busy

To piggyback a bit off of Monday’s post, I’ve got some more excellent news! I’ve gotten another internship working for the Arts and Culture editor at an alternative weekly here in Portland. Hopefully I’ll be doing some food writing (!!) for them in the near future, and I will definitely keep you posted. On top of this, I’ve been moving back into my real house, unpacking my new kitchen toys (like this, my very retro Mixmaster):

and bouncing around between interviews. It feels great to be back to what I think of as my home now, and today is the first day I’ve felt really … settled … in a long time.

In the spirit of settling down and getting comfortable, I buckled down and made some sandwich bread (I know – more baking. Now that I am no longer in need of comfort food, I promise to share something not requiring an oven soon. Promise). This particular bread recipe is actually what I immediately imagine when confronted with the idea of homemade bread. My father has been baking this Tassajara loaf on and off for a looong time. The nutty, yeasty smell that begins wafting out of the oven about twenty minutes into its baking time transports me back, in true Proustian fashion, to lazy Sunday afternoons, sneaking a peek at the rising bread, and the taste of that first warm slice from the heel. It may not be the fanciest bread, or the most “world-class,” but it satisfies in a way that only a hearty hippie loaf can.

The version that follows is my own interpretation of Tassajara’s standard formula for bread, and not exactly like my father’s. I quartered their original recipe (4 loaves is three too many for little ol’ me). I recommend it smeared with honey, piled with left-over ratatouille, or toasted and topped with thick slices of summer tomatoes, kosher salt, and black pepper.

Wheat and Flax Sandwich Bread
(adapted from the Tassajara Bread Book)

2 cups lukewarm water
about ½ tablespoon dry active yeast
about 1 tablespoon molasses
½ cup dry milk
about 2 ½ cups whole wheat bread flour (I use King Arthur or Bob’s Red Mill)
about ¾ tablespoon kosher salt
1/8 cup canola oil
about 1 cup additional whole wheat bread flour
½ cup wheat bran (Bob’s Red Mill)
½ cup ground flax seeds (Bob’s Red Mill)
about 1 cup or so all-purpose flour for kneading
sesame seeds

Dissolve yeast in the water. Let it sit for a couple of minutes to proof (All this means is that it should start to bubble a bit – if it doesn’t, the yeast is old and you’ll need to try again with a new package). Add the molasses and dry milk. Stir to combine. Add the first 2 ½ cups of whole wheat flour and beat well with a wooden spoon (Tassajara says 100 strokes – try counting it, and you’ll definitely see the batter transform around stroke 75 or so. Pretty cool). Let the batter rise for about an hour. Again, you should see bubbles – this means that the yeast is working.

After the first rise, add the salt and oil – stir until oil is emulsified. Add the rest of the whole wheat flour, wheat bran, and flax. At this point, a dough should form and pull away from the sides of the bowl (it will still be sticky). If you need to, add more whole wheat flour.

Generously flour your counter with all-purpose flour (you can continue to use whole wheat here if you want; the white flour will lighten the bread up a bit) and turn the dough out of the bowl. Knead for 10-15 minutes, or until the dough is smooth, elastic, and no longer sticky. Put the dough, covered with a damp towel, in an oiled bowl and let rise for 50 minutes to an hour. It should double in bulk. Punch the dough down and let rise for 40-50 minutes more. Again, it should double in bulk.

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

To shape the dough into a loaf, turn the ball out onto a lightly floured counter and knead a couple of times. Gently roll into a log shape, about the length of your bread pan. Square off the sides and ends, and pinch the seams together. Grease the pan with a little bit of canola oil. Place your loaf seam side up in the pan and flatten out with the backs of your fingers. Turn the loaf over so that the seam is on the bottom and press it, once again, into the shape of the pan. Cover again with the damp towel, and let rise for about 20 minutes, or until the top of the loaf reaches the top of the pan. Cut three slits about ½ inch deep into the top, and sprinkle with sesame seeds.

Bake for about an hour, or until the top is a deep brown and the bread sounds hollow when tapped. Let cool until manageable, and turn the bread out onto a cooling rack. Let it cool completely for neater slicing, or, if you don’t care about such things, dive in right away. There’s not much in this world better than fresh warm bread.

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