Homemade breads are some of the most rewarding foods baked in the home kitchen. The heady aroma of a warm slice of fresh bread, the satisfying resistance of a chewy crust and the velvety texture of the bread interior can be readily achieved with only a modest amount of training and experience. If you’ve ever heard the statements, “This doesn’t look like homemade bread. And this doesn’t taste like homemade bread,” consider them to be some of the highest compliments you can get from those who do not cook or bake. What most people envision as homemade bread is tasteless, probably underbaked, “bricks” of flour and water that might be better suited to home construction than home cooking.
Where to begin? Let’s start with the flour. Bread flour is all-purpose flour with added wheat gluten. If you have gads of pantry space and don’t mind buying several different types of what is essentially white unbleached flour, by all means, use bread flour in the bread recipes. However, if space is a premium, or you’d rather not have to worry about accidentally grabbing the bread flour when you are making pie crusts, cookies or other pastries, consider buying vital wheat gluten (sold in 8 – 12 ounce packages) and adding a quarter cup of it to your all-purpose flour when you make your bread. Wheat gluten gives bread crusts that perfect texture along with providing the structural framework necessary for breads to rise evenly and consistently.
Up next, salt. Yes, it’s necessary. Some of the most egregious homemade bread offenders are those who think that they can eliminate salt from every aspect of food preparation. Not only does salt enhance the other flavors in your bread, it contributes to the overall texture of the loaf. Without salt, the dough will be stickier requiring more flour which will eventually just turn the loaf into a dense brick of bread-like substance. Salt regulates the fermentation process of the yeast resulting in a more even rise. Salt even helps the texture of the crust as it attracts moisture into the dough as it’s baking. And it of course is a preservative giving you an extra day or three before the loaf is too stale to eat.
And now onto the yeast. Active dry yeast usually requires a blooming period before you add it to the rest of the ingredients. Instant yeast does not. To date, we have not noticed a difference in the texture of the baked bread when using either active dry or instant yeast, but this might be due to the manner in which we make our bread around here. As long as the yeast you have in fridge is more or less fresh, you should be fine. We’ll be using two servings of yeast in this dough, so either two packets of yeast, or close to two tablespoons in total will go into the mixing bowl.
And lastly, sugar, or in this case Agave. Sweeteners are added to yeast doughs as food for yeast, although they can metabolize flour, just not as quickly, and as flavorings. You can adjust the amount of sweeteners you add to your yeast dough, but we suggest starting with the amount listed, and making adjustments after you see what it tastes like in the finished product. Of all the different sweeteners we tried: Agave, table sugar, honey, turbinado sugar and light brown sugar, Agave gave the bread the most pleasant taste. It also seems to be favored, far and away by the yeast, rising loaves to comedic heights.
If we haven’t scared you off, or irrevocably offended you, continue reading for an outstanding entry in the multi grain bread universe.
Multi Grain Bread
- 3-4 cups unbleached all-purpose flour, such as King Arthur Flour
- ¼ cup vital wheat gluten (if you are using bread flour, omit the wheat gluten)
- ¼ cup Agave nectar such as Blue Agave
- 3 tablespoons canola oil or other light vegetable oil
- 2 teaspoons finely ground kosher salt
- 2 tablespoons instant yeast
- 1 cup 10-grain hot cereal mix, such as Bob’s Red Mill
- ½ cup whole wheat flour
- ½ cup rye flour
- 2 cups warm filtered water, 115°-120°F
In the mixing bowl of a heavy duty stand mixer, combine 1½ cups all purpose flour, wheat gluten, salt, and yeast. Mix the dry ingredients by hand. Pour the water in the bowl and mix by hand until combined. Add the oil and Agave, and mix by hand until combined. Place the bowl on the mixer and using the paddle attachment, mix on low (speed 3 of 10) for 3-4 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the whole wheat, rye and 10-grain cereal in a bowl. Reduce the mixer speed to low and slowly pour in the 10-grain cereal mixture. Continue to mix the dough for several minutes.
Remove the bowl from the mixer and scrape down the sides. Add 1½ cup of all-purpose flour and change over to the dough hook. Place the bowl back on the mixer and mix on low (speed 2 of 10). Continue to mix for several minutes. Add additional flour, ¼ cup at a time until the dough comes together off the sides of the mixer. Allow the mixer to run for several minutes between additions. When the dough comes away from the bowl, stop the mixer and press your finger onto the dough. If it still feels sticky, add another ⅛ cup flour and continue mixing on low. The dough should be moderately soft, but not stick to your fingers when you knead it. Knead the dough into a ball shape and place in a greased bowl, coating both sides. Allow the dough to rise in an unheated oven with a pan of very hot water under it for an hour or until the dough has doubled.
Punch down the dough and shape it into one large loaf (4 x 16 inches), or two smaller loaves (4 x 8 inches). Place shaped dough in a greased loaf pan or pans and place them back in the oven with the hot water. Allow the dough to rise until it domes above the rim of the loaf pans. Leave the water in the oven but remove the dough. Preheat the oven to 375°F and turn on the convection fan if you have one. Bake the loaf or loaves for 35 minutes in the preheated oven. When the bread is baked, allow it to rest in the pan for 2-3 minutes, then depan the loaf onto a cooling rack and allow it to completely cool before you cover it. This bread can be eaten the same day, but it’s easier to cut the following day.