Ask, and ye shall receive. I served this bread at my Cooking with Herbs class at Butler Community College on Saturday, April 27, 2010, and several people have requested the recipe. I am publishing the recipe here and a very brief summary of the instructions (how I personally do it at home), but… for the full story of it, including photographs, variations, the long version of the instructions, and much more, please visit: http://www.motherearthnews.com/Real-Food/Artisan-Free-Form-Loaf.aspx or, if you subscribe to Mother Earth News, look in the December 2009/January 2010 issue.
We make this bread every week, and we love it. We have tried the “bagel” variation, but the raisins kept falling out, so we modified it. That will be a separate post, because it was delicious and much easier than making bagels. I love bagels, but I’ll about making things easier. And while my cooking mantra is “It’s a recipe, not a rule” – there is one caveat – if you leave out the vital wheat gluten, you will be sorry. You will have that really dense wheat bread that you can chew on for hours and hours. If that is what you want, great, but if you want nice, soft on the inside with a firm crust, then use the vital wheat gluten without fail. Let me know what you think of it, and if you modify it, please let me know because I might want to do that, too!
5-1/2 cups whole wheat flour (I don’t use stone-ground because that’s too dense for me)
2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
1-1/2 Tbsp (or two packets) granulated yeast
1 Tbsp. kosher salt
1/4 cup vital wheat gluten
4 cups lukewarm water (you can add 1 tsp. dried herbs to the water if you want – whatever suits you)
Cornmeal or parchment paper
1 to 2 Tbsp. seed mixture for sprinkling on top if you want (I usually don’t do this part, but you can use sesame, flax, caraway, sunflower, poppy seeds, etc. – whatever you like)
These instructions are the summarized version, taken from the magazine and tempered with my personal experience:
Measure the dry ingredients into a large bowl and whisk them together gently. Make a well in the center. Pour the water in. The magazine says you can use a paddle mixer, but honestly, someone I know uses a big expensive mixer and her bread is much denser than mine. I use my hands and an old wooden spoon and I swear to you, my texture is better. Don’t overmix. Seriously. Don’t knead and DON’T OVERMIX. If you overmix, you will get dense bread that could fill a pothole. The dough will be very, very wet and sticky. Don’t leave any dry parts, but don’t overmix. Did I say don’t overmix? I meant that!!! This step literally takes me less than 5 minutes, not counting the measuring. Cover it loosely with plastic wrap (you want some air to get in there), and let it rest at room temperature for 2 hours. A little longer won’t hurt, but no less than 2 hours is probably best. Then, put it in the refrigerator. There’s a whole section in the magazine that explains what kind of container to put it in. I’ve used a dutch oven without the lid, and I’ve used just the mixing bowl with plastic wrap loosely over it, and either works fine. No need to make this complicated. It needs to chill at least 3 hours. I’ve chilled it less than that and it was hard to work with. The longer it chills, the less sticky it is to work with. You can keep it in the fridge like this for weeks. If you leave it for two weeks, it becomes sourdough bread, but frankly, we never have it for two weeks because we can’t wait that long.
This recipe makes 4 loaves. When you want to bake it, here’s what you do. If you want true artisan bread, do it on a pizza peel or a baking stone. I do mine in a bread pan because we like the shape better. Either works fine. Just a word of warning – the recipe in the magazine says to preheat the stone or peel in the oven. I have a Pampered Chef pizza stone that is 25 years old, and I believe it has lasted me that long (with heavy use) because I NEVER put it in the oven without food already on it. I’m pretty sure the instructions warned against preheating it empty, but follow your instructions or follow what you know to be true for your peel/stone.
For each loaf you want to bake, prepare your baking pan/peel/stone of choice by dusting it with cornmeal. Dust your hands, too. Get your dough out of the fridge, and cut off roughly 1/4 of it (for each loaf). I use kitchen scissors. A serrated knife sticks too much – use a flat blade knife or scissors. If you’re not baking the whole thing, put it back in the fridge and cover it loosely. That’s your dough for next time!
Take the dough in your dusted hands and fold it over to sort of make a ball. I then stretch mine just a little to get a more elongated shape (since I use a bread pan). Don’t knead it and don’t spend too much time fondling it. If you do, it will be tougher than mine. I spend about 15 seconds doing this. Put it on the baking peel/pan/stone and leave it alone for 90 minutes at room temperature. Do not let it sit on top of the oven that you are preheating. I can tell you, that is a bad thing (been there and done that). Thirty minutes before you want to bake it, preheat the oven to 450 Fahrenheit. It will still rise, so plan to put it on a middle (or the one just above middle) rack. On the rack just below it, I slide in an empty broiler pan while the oven is preheating and I put about 2 cups of water in the broiler pan. The steam will give the bread the texture you want. If you add the water after the oven is at 450, watch out for steam burns! They hurt!!! When the oven has reached 450, put the pan/peel/stone in the oven and bake for 30 minutes. There are instructions in the magazine about fancier ways to do this – cutting slashes in the top, brushing it with water, sprinkling the seed and nut mixture on (right before baking is when you would do that), but frankly, we eat it fresh out of the oven (sometimes we don’t even sit down – we just stand by the cutting board and eat it hot with butter) and I usually do it the quickest, easiest way possible. Take it out after 30 minutes and let it rest on a cutting board, out of the pan or off of the peel/stone for a few minutes before slicing. Let me know what you think!