This bread was an accident, really. I’ve been trying to develop a rustic, seedy whole wheat sandwich bread for a very specific open-face sandwich, and I can’t say it’s going all that well. The bread keeps coming out delicate and fluffy instead of toothsome and chewy, the loaves rise too aggressively, and I can’t find commercial cracked wheat to test against my homemade stuff to make sure it works the way I say it will.
In short, I was getting frustrated – until I tried the bread warm.
It was wonderfully fluffy, just like a dinner roll, with added interest and chew from the seedy, grainy bits – and tasting it instantly rocketed me back to memories of birthday dinners at Longhorn Steakhouse, filling up too early on the warm sliced bread they served with butter before the meal.
It’s been too long since I have been to Longhorn to say that this is an exact dupe for that recipe. If you asked me to describe exactly what it tasted like, I’m not sure that I could. But the experience was almost right, and I knew with a few tweaks I could make it perfect – and at this point, I was willing to do just about anything to avoid working on that wheat bread.
We are into productive procrastination in this house.
I knew I wanted to make this a freestanding, hand-shaped loaf, which meant I needed to start by tweaking the hydration. As a quick refresher, the hydration of bread dough is expressed in baker’s percentages – which is basically a quick way of seeing how other ingredients compare to the amount of flour. Flour is always 100% by weight, and everything else is calculated in relation to that. So if I had a loaf that started with 1000 grams of flour, at 50 percent hydration, I would know the recipe looked something like this:
- 1000 grams All-Purpose flour
- 500 grams water
- 100% All-Purpose flour
- 50% water
The bread recipe I started with was sitting right around 119% hydration (which might explain the rise and texture problems I was having with it…). In order to make sure the bread would hold its shape on its own, I needed to drop the hydration significantly, to about 80 percent. Normally that would be a bit high for a loaf that rises without a basket to support it, but a good chunk of that water gets soaked up by the mixed-in grain, so the final dough behaves like it is drier than it actually is.
Speaking of grain, I decided to switch to a commercially available 10-grain hot cereal mix. It’s not what I wanted to use, but it is what I could find that I knew would be replicable for someone who doesn’t own a grain mill (which is most people, because most people are less crazy than I am).
This turned out to be a great decision.
The corn, oats, and soy added wonderful complex sweetness, and the mix itself added a nubbly, chewy texture that added interest without being gritty or getting stuck in your teeth. Even better, these characteristics carried over even when the bread cooled down completely.
This is exactly the kind of bread I want to serve warm with a good meal and lots of friends – mostly because my self-control needs that kind of incentive so I don’t just tear off hunks to eat with butter standing in the kitchen.
I’m not the only one who does that, right?
Multigrain country table bread
Yield: 1 loaf Time: approximately 4 hours Source: Inspired by Red Star Yeast
Please keep in mind your dough and flour might behave differently from mine depending on your climate and weather – you might need a little more or little less water. Just add it slowly and keep an eye on things.
If you don’t have a pizza stone, a preheated upside-down cookie sheet on the center rack works almost as well.
- 123 grams (3/4 cup) 10-grain hot cereal mix (I used Bob’s Red Mill, but whatever you can find that’s a similar texture will be fine)
- 123 grams (1/2 cup) boiling water
- 119 grams (1 cup) whole wheat flour
- 290 grams (2 cups) bread flour
- 50 grams (2 tablespoons) honey
- 217 grams (1 cup) water
- 8 grams (2 1/4 teaspoons or one packet) instant yeast
- 5 grams (1 1/2 teaspoons) salt
- 27 grams (2 tablespoons) butter, at room temperature
Combine the hot cereal mix and boiling water in a small bowl, stirring to combine. Set it aside for now – you want to give it plenty of time to cool.
In the bowl of your stand mixer, mix together the whole wheat flour, bread flour, honey, and room-temperature water until the dough comes together in a ball that clears the sides of the bowl. Depending on your flour, it may look a little dry – this is ok! If things aren’t coming together, though, you can add water a half-teaspoon at a time until the dough starts to look more cohesive. Cover the bowl with a damp towel and let everything rest for at least 20 minutes. This autolyse step will help to hydrate the germ in the whole wheat and give the bread a head start on gluten development.
Once the 20 minutes is up, add the salt and yeast to the bowl with the flour mixture, and knead on medium-low speed with the dough hook until the dough is springy and well-developed, about 5 minutes. You’ll know it’s done when you can pinch off a small piece of dough and stretch it like a pizza until a translucent pane forms in the center.
Knead the butter into the dough, one tablespoon at a time, until no traces of butter remain and the dough once again cleans the sides of the bowl. If your dough is just sliding around the bowl on a skim-coat of butter and not really kneading, don’t be afraid to scrape the butter off the sides and knead a few times by hand to get things going properly again.
Check to see that your cereal mix has cooled to between 100-110°F (37-43°C). It should feel like vaguely cool bathwater when you stick your finger into the very center of the bowl – colder is fine, but any hotter will kill your yeast, and you will have a bad time. If it’s cool enough, add in the cereal, and knead until it is evenly spread throughout the mass of dough – you don’t want any super seedy spots! Again, depending on how your mixer is handling things, It’s probably a good idea to finish kneading by hand to make sure things look even.
Form the dough into a ball, and place it into a greased bowl. Cover with a damp towel and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled – 45 to 60 minutes. Pro tip: your microwave makes a fantastic proofing box. Just heat some water until it boils, then shift the boiling water to the side, slide the dough in, and close the door.
Once the dough has doubled, turn it out onto your counter and squash it flat to get rid of any big air bubbles. You can add some flour if you find your dough is sticking to the counter too much, but I didn’t find it necessary.
Divide the dough in half (each piece should weigh about 470 grams, or about a pound, if you’re feeling exacting). Flatten each piece of dough into a rectangle that’s about 5” wide and 10” long with the short side closest to you. Fold the two corners closest to you in toward the center, as you would do in the first step of making a paper airplane. Then take the point and start rolling the dough into a cylinder, tucking in the ends as you go. You should end up with two loves that are about the size and shape of a pint-sized beer can.
Place the loaves on a piece of parchment paper about six inches apart, then cover with a damp towel and allow to rise until doubled in a warm spot, 40-60 minutes.
While the loaves proof, preheat your oven to 375°, with a pizza stone on the center rack. You want your oven at temperature for at least 40 minutes before you start baking so you can really heat-soak the stone.
Slash the loaves diagonally three times with a very sharp knife or a razor blade, then slide the loaves onto the pizza stone and bake until they are golden brown and sound hollow when tapped on the bottom, 20-25 minutes. You may want to rotate the loaves halfway through for the most even color.
Let cool for 10-15 minutes before slicing and serving warm with lots of salted butter.