September 19, 2012

Bread That Doesn't Taste Bad

Homemade multigrain bread with homemade peach preserves (Texas-grown, of course!).
"So, where did you find a recipe for healthy bread that doesn't taste bad?" Ah, just another glowing review from my husband to make my morning!

But truly, this was a special loaf of bread. It was (it's all gone now) fluffy and soft on the inside with a warm, nutty flavor and just enough tooth in the crust to make for perfect slicing. It toasted up great and made for a tasty sandwich bread that held together impressively well. All my previous multigrain attempts fell into piles of crumbs upon first slice, or didn't rise enough to qualify as sandwich worthy.

Admittedly, baking is not my strong suit, and I know exactly why. It's because baking is a science, and you can't just haphazardly substitute ingredients as if they were herbs, spices, or protein sources. Bread recipes are crafted because of the way a specific type of flour interacts with a specific kind of yeast; timing is important, patience is important, and following the rules is important. All things I struggle with.

Oh yes, baking bread is a great metaphor for my life that's not lost on me.

But I may have had a breakthrough this week, with my very first edible and healthy made-from-scratch loaf of bread. I didn't even use the bread maker (which was gifted to me by my husband a few Christmases ago, as a sort of polite way of telling me I needed help in the homemade bread department and would I please stop making him eat those dense whole wheat bricks that kept coming out of the oven).

Though I can't tell you how much discipline it took me to wait for the dough to rise; it involved forcing myself to watch some bad TV and I got up many times to see if it was rising faster than the recipe anticipated. Patience, patience.

Thanks to Cook's Illustrated, Pinterest, and one night at home alone with a pantry full of all the right ingredients, I had on my hands the perfect recipe for a good loaf of bread.

Here's where I found the recipe, which is from the always-wonderful Cook's Illustrated. But true to form, I made three very minor alterations to the recipe that did not seem to have an adverse effect on the outcome:
  • Instead of whole wheat flour, I used whole grain spelt flour (personally I just like the flavor better). 
  • Instead of 7-grain cereal, I used 5-grain cereal (which was readily available in the bulk bins). 
  • And since I only have one loaf pan, I cut the recipe in half. 
A few more things I learned:
  • Check the doneness with an instant-read thermometer. Turns out 200 F is juuuuust right! 
  • Let the bread cool on the counter, uncovered, overnight. This helps the loaf develop a crunchy crust, cool completely, and remain soft on the inside. The next morning I was able to easily slice perfect pieces for toast. 
  • It took the two of us about two days to go through one loaf of bread; breakfast two days, and lunch for me two days. It remained soft and delicious until the last crumb.
  • If you're not going to eat this bread within two days, let it cool and then wrap it in two layers of plastic wrap and one layer of foil. It can then be frozen, for up to a month.
Overall, this was a wonderful experience and I can't wait to make another loaf. Not to mention, I'm working on the nutritional aspect of this bread; I hope to find out that it's significantly lower in sodium than its grocery-store counterparts (which come in at around 140 mg of sodium per slice!). 

Do you have a favorite bread recipe? Are you as impatient as me?