Since September, I’ve been baking bread for my son’s school. I make two loaves of bread for his class, and the bread gets used throughout the week for work projects (in a Montessori school, activities that involve bread are the basis for learning, which should make obvious the variety of reasons I am a fan of a Montessori education), snacks, and the occasional almond butter sandwich that a kid will receive for lunch when his or her intended lunch ended up on the floor or, occasionally, in another child’s mouth. It happens.
Before the start of the school year, I spent a lot of time working on a suitable bread recipe for my son’s school. It was preferable to everyone involved that the bread be whole grain or whole wheat, and, because of the dietary restrictions of some students, the bread had to be vegan. It also, most importantly, had to be something that a child would want to eat. Knowing full well about children and their preference for foods that do not contain too many surprises or unexpected textures, the bread had to be on the soft side, with no big chunks of seeds or nuts that might possibly repel an unsuspecting child. And, of course, it had to be delicious, because who am I to foist healthfulness upon a child without the added promise of tastiness?
This week I made the last two loaves of bread that I will ever bring to his school. School ends this week and my son will leave kindergarten and enter a new school in the fall, a grade school, where children eat en masse in a cafeteria, sit at assigned desks, and intermingle with other students who are twice their age. It’s all a bit overwhelming, I would think. I don’t say this to my son, of course. Instead, there is a lot of talk of how great the garden is at the new school, how big the playground is, how nice the teachers are. I want my son to transition as seamlessly as possible when he enters his new school, and it would be preferable that I instill him with a sense of confidence about his new surroundings, rather than a sense of doom concerning the fact that, dude, did you see that fifth grader? He looked like he was one growth spurt away from needing a shave.
I’ll be making this bread for just us now. The recipe makes two loaves, which is enough to last a family of three quite some time. The funny thing is, even though I’ve made this bread so many times that I now have the recipe memorized, there has never been a time when both loaves turned out the same. No amount of practice or repetition could ever remedy the fact that, no matter what I did, one loaf was always larger than the other. Or sometimes one loaf rose faster than the other, resulting in some craggy tears along the top. One time the loaves almost scorched on the sides, even though I baked them at the same temperature I always do, in the same pans I always do, in the same oven I always do. It’s a mystery, really. One entire school year, and I still manage to be a little bit surprised by this bread every time I make it. I imagine I’ll continue to be surprised by it as the years go on, much like I’ll continue to be surprised by my son and the fact that, no matter how many times he tells me that he wants to be a whale-watching bunny farmer when he grows up, he is getting older, wiser, and ever more interesting every single day, right before my eyes.
Multigrain Sandwich Bread Recipe
Adapted from America’s Test Kitchen
1 ¼ cups Bob’s Red Mill 10 grain cereal mixture
2 ½ cups boiling water
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 tablespoons olive oil
¼ cup agave nectar (if you don’t need the bread to be vegan, you can use honey instead)
2 ½ teaspoons instant rapid-rise yeast
3 cups (15 ounces) unbleached all purpose flour
1 ½ cups (7.5 ounces) whole wheat flour
1 teaspoon fine grain sea salt
In a large bowl, or in the bowl of a stand mixer, combine cereal mixture and boiling water. Stir thoroughly, then allow to sit, stirring occasionally, until the cereal has absorbed the water and cooled to a temperature of around 110 degrees Fahrenheit (this should take anywhere from 40 minutes to an hour).
In a medium bowl, whisk together all purpose flour and whole wheat flour.
When cereal mixture has cooled, stir in vegetable oil, olive oil, agave nectar, and yeast. Stir until ingredients are fully incorporated. If using a stand mixture, attach the dough hook to the mixer. Slowly, about ½ cup at a time, add the flour mixture to the cereal mixture, mixing all the while. If using a stand mixer, use only the first speed for this. If using your hands, stir with a sturdy wooden spoon. When the flour mixture has been added in its entirety, turn the stand mixer to the second speed and knead the dough for about 1 minute. If using your hands, stir the mixture with a sturdy wooden spoon until all ingredients are completely combined, about 1 to 2 minutes. Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and allow dough to rest for 20 minutes.
After 20 minutes, add the sea salt to the dough and knead the dough until it is smooth and shiny (5 to 6 minutes on level 2 for a stand mixer, and 7 to 8 minutes if kneading by hand). The dough will be a bit sticky, but that is normal.
On a well-floured surface, shape the dough into a tight ball. Lightly oil a large bowl, then place the dough in the bowl, turning the dough to completely coat it in oil. Cover tightly with plastic wrap or a tight-fitting lid, then allow dough to rise until doubled in size. This can take anywhere from 40 minutes to a little over an hour, depending on the temperature of your kitchen.
When the dough has doubled in size, turn it out onto a well-floured surface. Using your hands, pat the dough into a 9” by 13” rectangle, with the long side facing you. Cut the dough in half to make two 9” by 6 ½” pieces. Starting at one 6 ½” end, roll one piece of dough into a tight log, pinching the seam closed at the end. Place the dough in a lightly-oiled 9” by 5” loaf pan. Repeat with other piece of dough. Lightly brush or spray the tops of the loaves with oil, then cover with plastic wrap and allow to rise in a warm place until doubled in size. This can take anywhere from 1 hour to 1 hour and 45 minutes, depending on how warm your kitchen is.
About 20 minutes before it appears as though your loaves might be done rising, preheat the oven to 375 degrees Fahrenheit. When loaves are done rising, remove plastic wrap and bake loaves in the center of the oven for 35 to 40 minutes, rotating loaves after about 20 minutes. The loaves are done when the tops are a deep golden brown and the bread has an internal temperature of about 200 degrees Fahrenheit.
Turn loaves out onto a wire rack to cool completely.
Makes 2 loaves.