Saturday, October 1, 2011

simple cozy brown bread

so it's officially fall now. grey days may still be slightly outnumbered by sunnyish ones, but the ratio is definitely heading toward portland's traditional parade of grey from october to may.

which is fine by me, actually. when it's grey and chilly out, there is nothing better than making yeasty brown bread. it fills the house with delicious smells and the joy of eating fresh homemade bread cannot be overstated.

this is a versatile little loaf, too. sometimes i make it with part rye flour, sometimes i use more molasses, sometimes i add some oats for part of the flour. i also like to set a little bit of dough aside in the fridge and add it to the next batch, like an ersatz sourdough starter.

the best thing about the bread, though, is that it is as simple as the proverbial pie (which, come on, is not that easy). you can let it rise for as little as 20 minutes, but i usually give it at least an hour or so. you could also mix it up the night before, leave it in the fridge for awhile, and let it warm up and rise for an hour or two the next afternoon and then bake it. whatever you want!

i got the initial recipe from the guardian. i've fiddled around with it a bit, but the recipe as is is plenty delicious. i do appreciate that english recipes tend to use weights for measurements - it makes it roughly 100% easier to switch things with no ill effects.

first, you bloom the yeast in warm water and molasses. i use one whole packet of that yellow-packaged active dry yeast. in the original recipe, it says that the water should be "at blood heat," which, while vaguely creepy, is probably about the temperature you want - lukewarmish. it also calls for black treacle, which is not something i normally come across here. so i used some blackstrap molasses (the strong molasses) and, because i like those really dark sort of sweet breads, i usually use at least a tablespoon or so instead of the meager teaspoon called for originally.

just mix 1/2 cup of warm water, the packet of yeast and the molasses and let it sit for 10 minutes or so. the yeast gets all excited and froths up, so don't mix them in something too small.

while you're waiting for the yeast to do its weird thing, mix up the rest of the ingredients - 1 pound of flour (either all whole wheat or part wheat and part other flour, like rye - experiment!) and a teaspoon (or a little more) of salt. i did one of those online conversion things that said that 1 pound of wheat flour is about 3 3/4 cups, but you'd really be better off just getting a scale. it's much easier and better for switching up flours, since it's more exact. but otherwise, i think you could go with a little under 4 cups of flour and be fine.

once the yeast has foamed nicely, add that mixture and another cup of warm water to the flour and salt. get it all mixed nicely and pour/scrape (it will be pretty wet, for bread dough) it into a greased loaf pan. i like to line the pan with some parchment paper - it makes it easier to get the finished loaf out. then let it sit for awhile in some warm place. the original recipe says just 20 minutes, but i think it should go for at least an hour.

this is also the point at which you could save a little knob of dough for the next batch. i don't know if it really makes a difference in the taste, but the idea appeals to me and i usually do this. i keep it in the fridge in an old olive jar and have used it 2 weeks after it was made with no ill effects. just add it to the new loaf when you stir the water and yeast mixture into the flour and salt.

it rises pretty well over the course of an hour, but this isn't one of those super-rising loaves. it's meant to be a more dense, thick-textured one, like the knobby wool sweater of breads. hmm, that doesn't sound as complimentary as it was meant to. but that's the kind of bread i want on chilly fall days.

preheat the oven to 450 and bake the bread for 20 minutes, then turn the oven down to 400 and let it bake for another 45 minutes + (it should sound sort of hollow when you tap the bottom of the pan). let it cool in the pan for a bit and then set it on a rack to cool fully. you can also take it out of the pan about 5-10 minutes early and set it back in the oven - it gets the crust crispy. but it is also kind of a hassle. so.

they always tell you not to cut warm bread because it something something ... whatever, i am not physically able to resist cutting warm bread. after you make homemade bread, it's an imperative. i mean, don't cut it straight out of the oven, sure, but i rarely wait more than 20 minutes or so before following the siren song of malty, yeasty goodness.

this bread's as good with tea and jam as it is with pimento cheese, salty butter and crisp radishes, or cream cheese, smoked salmon, and capers. in short, it is good with everything. when toasted and well-buttered, it makes a particularly fine accompaniment to soup.

i think i know what we're having for dinner...

1 packet yeast (the original recipe has a measurement for fresh yeast, if you want to go that route)
1 1/2 cups water, divided
1 tablespoon blackstrap molasses (or you could use wuss molasses, if you like)
1 lb (450 grams, or ~ 3 3/4 cups) whole wheat flour (or mix of flours)
1 teaspoon or 2 salt


  1. I'm going to have to try this, it sounds really good!

  2. Well its in the oven, its looking browned yet has the 45 minutes at 400 to go. Sounds like too much but I will see.

  3. maybe it's too close to the top of the oven? or you could try putting tin foil over the top...