When the price of gas hits $4 a gallon, you start to see people make real changes in their lives. People who never dreamed of carpooling start calling up friends and finding ways to combine routes to work. Avid bus-avoiders start putting on their game faces and choosing which magazines they are going to read on the way to work while someone else does all the driving for them (and, one hopes, they also begin to realize that riding the bus might not be such a bad thing after all). Routines change, people learn new things, and fresh habits get formed.
The same thing happened to me, only the catalyst was when the price of my favorite multigrain bread hit nearly $5 a loaf. I was panicked. Standing in front of the bakery’s bread display, I would stare at the piles of fresh bread, silently willing them to go down in price so I wouldn’t have to shell out MORE than the cost of a gallon of gas just to be able to eat my favorite hearth bread. In the end, I walked away. I gave up on the bread, mostly because I couldn’t justify the price, but also, not surprisingly, because I knew that at home I had an empty bag from the bread, and on that bag was a list of ingredients I could mine to make my own bread.
The ingredients, of course, as in the case of all great bread, were simple: flour, whole grains, salt, water, yeast. By some small miracle, I happened to already have all of those ingredients in the pantry, so now all I had to do was find an actual bread recipe that might come close to approximating the full taste and chewy texture of the bread I had abandoned.
I consulted with the books of my standard trio of go-to bread people–Reinhart, Berenbaum, Hensperger–but wasn’t able to find a recipe that resulted in the combination of an artisan loaf that was packed full of hearty grains and strong flours. Berenbaum came close, but her multi-grain torpedo loaf relied too heavily on white flour. I wanted a bread that was dark and flavorful, almost like a Russian rye bread, only with a more pronounced crust and a heavy dose of 10 grain cereal. It started to become clear to me that if I was going to get the bread I wanted, I either had to break into the bakery that made my favorite bread and skulk around until I could find a copy of the precise recipe and steal it, or take the less dastardly approach of building my own recipe.
My first step to avoiding a life of crime was to open up the America’s Test Kitchen Baking Book, a great source of step-by-step instructions for turning out wonderful hearth breads at home. As it turned out, this was also my last step. One of the first recipes I came across was for a loaf of country bread, a free form bread that began with a starter sponge of both rye and wheat flours. The recipe made no mention of adding extra grains, but I figured that with a rye starter and some ingenuity, I could definitely take this bread where I wanted it to go.
And boy did I. This bread has structure, crunch, and softness all at once. It’s great for making sandwiches, but eating a slightly oven-warm slice of this bread, lightly buttered, is positively dreamy. Perhaps even a little bit, dare I say, habit forming.
10 Grain Hearth Bread
Inspired by The America’s Test Kitchen Family Baking Book
This bread requires that you make a sponge a few hours before you start making the bread (I generally do it the night before), but don’t panic. Making a sponge is incredibly easy, and requires nothing more of a person than simply mixing some flour, water, and yeast together, then walking away. That’s it. You can totally do that.
1 cup warm water
1 cup whole wheat flour
1/2 cup medium or dark rye flour
1/2 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
To make the sponge, stir all of the ingredients together in a medium bowl until combined. Cover with plastic wrap and let sit at room temperature until the sponge has risen and fallen, at least 6 hours, or up to 24 hours.
2 3/4 – 3 cups bread flour
1 cup uncooked 10 grain cereal mix (Bob’s Red Mill is a great source for this ingredient)
1 teaspoon instant or rapid-rise yeast
3 tablespoons honey
1 1/3 cups warm water
1 1/2 teaspoons sea salt
1 egg white gently beaten with 1 teaspoon of water
Combine 2 3/4 cups of the bread flour, 10 grain cereal mix, honey, and yeast in a standing mixer fitted with the dough hook. With the mixer on low speed, add the water and mix until the dough comes together, about 2 minutes. Stop the mixer, cover the bowl with plastic wrap, and let stand at room temperature for 20 minutes (this allows the dough to relax a bit before you really begin to knead it).
Remove the plastic wrap, add the sponge and salt, and knead the dough on medium-low speed until it is smooth and elastic, about 8 minutes. If after 4 minutes more flour is needed (if the dough is not starting to firm up, come together, and release from the sides of the bowl), add the remaining 1/4 bread flour, 2 tablespoons at a time, until the dough clears the sides of the bowl, but sticks to the bottom.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and knead by hand to form a smooth, round ball. Place the dough in a large, lightly oiled bowl and cover tightly with greased plastic wrap. Let rise in a warm place until doubled in size, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Line a large rimless (or inverted) baking sheet with parchment paper. Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured counter and press it into a 10-inch square. Fold the top corners diagonally toward the middle. Using your fingertips and starting at the top of the dough, pull the underside of the dough up over the top, stretching it considerably, and begin to roll the dough up into a rough log. With each roll, press the seam firmly to seal. Continue to do this, forming the dough into a taut log, 5-7 more times. What you are basically doing is rolling and folding, rolling and folding, until the dough resembles the shape of a tight rustic loaf of bread. Pinch closed any loose openings.
Place the dough seam side down on the prepared baking sheet. Mist the loaf with vegetable oil spray, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise in a warm place until nearly doubled in size and the dough barely springs back when poked with a knuckle, 1 to 1 1/2 hours.
Meanwhile, adjust an oven rack to the lower-middle position, place a baking stone or heavy sheet pan on the rack, and heat the oven to 500 degrees F. Let the baking stone or baking sheet heat for at least 30 minutes, but no longer than 1 hour.
Score the top of the loaf with a razor blade or sharp knife, and spray the loaf lightly with water. Carefully slide the loaf and parchment onto the hot baking stone or hot baking sheet. Immediately reduce the oven temperature to 425 degrees F and bake until the center of the loaf registers 210 degrees on an instant-read thermometer and the crust is deep golden brown, 35-40 minutes. Halfway through baking, rotate the loaf and brush it all over with the beaten egg white and water mixture.
Transfer the loaf to a wire rack, discard the parchment, and let cool to room temperature before serving (or, if you live in my house, let the bread cool for 30 minutes, then slice it open and grab some butter).