No, knead!

The Year of the Dragon may be just around the corner, but for me 2012 seems to be developing as the Year of the Homemade Loaf. I’ve been spending this winter working on my bread making skills, first with Jim Lahey’s No-Knead Bread method, which morphed into the Artisan Bread in Five Minutes A Day method (the peasant loaves I brought to all the family gatherings over the holidays were from this cookbook), and finally, over the weekend, a good old-fashioned kneaded-by-hand wheat sandwich loaf.

I’ll give you a breakdown of the first two methods in a future post, but today I want to share with you my success with the traditional method.

A friend from work suggested I check out King Arthur Flour’s Whole Grain Baking cookbook, and as someone whose pastries usually end up as the stereotypical hockey pucks, I can tell you this book works miracles. Moist whole-grain muffins, divine pancakes…. But I digress. I picked the recipe for walnut whole wheat bread, mostly because that was the one recipe I had all of the ingredients for on hand. Well, mostly. You’ll see.

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I started by putting 2 tsp active dry yeast in 1 cup lukewarm water. (The recipe called for 2 1/2 tsp, but I ran out of yeast, so I figured I’d just let it rise for longer, since I’d used less yeast with the Artisan Bread loaves and they turned out fine.) It started bubbling so I knew I was good to go.

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Then I mixed it with 3 Tbsp orange juice (we had orange pineapple juice in the fridge, so I crossed my fingers that the pineapple didn’t have something in it that would kill the yeast), 2 Tbsp vegetable oil, 3 cups whole wheat flour (I used white whole wheat), 2 Tbsp packed brown sugar, 1 1/4 tap salt, and 3/4 cup finely chopped pecans. Yes, I realize the name of the bread is walnut whole wheat, but Craig was sleeping and my pecans were already chopped so I thought I wouldn’t need the food processor…. Though it ended up they weren’t chopped finely enough so I used a hand-cranked nut chopper to get them to the right size.

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See my little helper in that photo? The nut chopper’s home is in the same cupboard as her food, so when she heard it open she ran downstairs to check things out. How she knew that was the right cupboard, and not the flour or sugar cupboard, I have no idea.

I let it sit 15 minutes so the bran of the whole wheat could soften. Then I kneaded. And kneaded. And kneaded. I started on parchment paper, but that slid around too much. Wrapped the parchment around a cutting board, same problem. Used just the cutting board, and the dough stuck. Gave up in disgust. Googled for some kneading tips. Put the dough in an enormous stainless steel mixing bowl, sat on a recliner in the living room, turned on the TV, and kneaded there.

When I was finally done, I ended up with this.

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I let it rise for 2 hours. Since we keep our furnace at 64 degrees during the winter, it’s a little cold for bread to rise. What I did was heat a cup of water in the microwave for a minute, and then cover and put the bowl in there. It seemed to work.

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Then I shaped it, put it in a loaf pan, and let it rise another 2 hours.

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I baked it for 40 minutes at 350 degrees (tented with foil after the first 15 minutes so the top didn’t get too dark). Then onto a rack to cool, and brushed with butter.

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So pretty, isn’t it?

Anyone else ever tried to bake bread? Any tips?