The Stuff of Life

We can’t imagine a winter kitchen being more inviting  than one with the aroma of baking bread wafting through the air. It’s also very grounding and gratifying to be kneading dough while the wind whips past your front door and snowfall begins. In this article, we share two of our favorite bread recipes, concocted in our own kitchen through experimentation. Beyond that, we offer you the critical basics of making a delicious, hearty, healthy loaf of bread or rolls.

Few foods are as gratifying and satisfying as well-made whole grain bread. It exudes alluring aromas that can be sweet, spicy, smoky and earthy, all at the same time. The rustic golden-brown tones of its crust hint at texture that is sometimes chunky, often dense and always substantial. And it’s catching on in a big way.

The growing popularity of whole grain bread is certainly fueled by its well-deserved reputation for better nutrition than white wheat flour which is usually labeled as all-purpose or bread flour in the supermarket. It delivers far more nutrients in much greater variety. But the other reason for the surge is almost certainly because it is so profoundly satisfying to eat. Plus, it’s almost infinitely variable. You can experiment with a number of different grains in different combinations, and you will find you’ve created breads that each have a distinct aroma, texture and flavor.

Of all the grains commonly grown around the world – wheat, corn, rice, barley, sorghum, oats, millet and rye – only wheat contains enough gluten proteins to produce a yeast-risen bread. And, that makes all the difference in the texture and flavor.

Add water to wheat flour and knead it, and two proteins, glutenin and gliadin, bond with each other to form a strong, elastic protein called gluten. As kneading progresses, gluten strands stretch in every direction, forming a massive web that captures carbon dioxide gases created by the yeast. This in turn makes the bread dough rise. When the risen bread dough is baked, these gas bubbles expand further and are held in place by starch granules in the flour that soften, stick to each other and then bake into a semi-solid (soon to be delicious!) mass.

Flour that contains little to interfere with this gluten development will produce a higher, lighter and chewier bread (like the recipes
here). In fact, white wheat flour has had its gluten inhibitors–bran and germ — removed leaving primarily gluten and starch, making white wheat flour the perfect bread-making material.Remember too, the more whole grains in the dough, the heavier the loaf and richer the bread will be.

Most readily-available bread flours, including King Arthur brand, contain 12 % gluten and that is sufficient to get a bread with all of these great qualities.Some bakers like to augment the gluten in bread flour by adding vital wheat gluten, a nearly pure gluten protein product refined from wheat flour.Even whole wheat flour itself is guilty of gluten interference. Unlike white wheat flour, it still contains the nutritionally important wheat germ, a fatty nodule that hinders gluten development. It also contains healthful bran, a sharp insoluble cellulous fiber that cuts gluten strands during kneading.

To lessen this effect and improve the gluten structure, try kneading whole wheat and other whole grain breads about half the time called for in white wheat bread recipes.You could also add whole grains later in the kneading process, after the gluten structure is well developed and the whole grains have less chance to do damage.

Whole grains find their way into bread in three forms. Whole grain flours, like whole wheat flour, rye flour and spelt flour, are thoroughly milled to a fine powder that readily hydrates (absorbs water), develops a thick paste in the form of dough that sets in the baking process and is fundamental to the structure of a baked loaf of bread. Flours from any grain other than wheat will dilute the gluten in bread dough, affecting the structure.

The second form of whole grains is meals, which are partially milled grains like oatmeal, cracked wheat and cornmeal. Although they can contribute to the structure of a loaf in an incidental way, their culinary purposes are texture and flavor. Some must be cooked or soaked in advance of making the dough.

Oatmeal and other rolled cereals are usually steamed before rolling, so they hydrate and cook more quickly and are often added to dough straight from the package. Meals also dilute the gluten, cut gluten strands, and sometimes just get in the way of the gluten network due to their physical size.

Finally, whole grains are used in the form of complete seeds, much the same as they as harvested from the field, less their husks. Hard and soft wheat berries, oat berries, whole grain barley, amaranth and millet are common examples. Because their starches are intact, they hydrate very slowly, release little or no starch, and contribute nothing to the bread’s structure. They are included entirely for their texture and flavor, and that’s a good thing.

Whole grain seeds must always be thoroughly soaked in water or other liquid, sometimes for as long as 24 hours, or thoroughly cooked and cooled before adding them to the dough. If you don’t do this, the dough will get dry and tough because the seeds will absorb moisture from the dough. It’s also good idea to partially crush some of the larger seeds before adding to the dough to avoid a hard texture, particularly on the crust.

While it is important to follow a recipe the first time, it is more important to understand the results and know how to improve your bread each time you make it. Practice and experimentation will bring you great bread and enjoyable times in the kitchen.

Read these over, choose the recipe that most interests you, put on your apron and enjoy the rise, knead and the bake.

Multi-Grain Dinner Rolls

2 packets yeast
1 tbsp sugar
2 cups warm water, more or less
1 cup 5-grain rolled cereal
3 cups bread flour
1 cup whole wheat flour
½ cup flax seed
1 tbsp kosher salt

1.    Combine yeast, sugar and ½ cup of water and let stand until yeast foams.
2.    Blend remaining ingredients in mixing bowl or bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook and running on medium.
3.    Add yeast mixture to bowl and combine. Slowly add remaining water until dough comes cleanly away from side of bowl and is tacky. Knead by hand on a lightly floured bench for four minutes or in mixer for three minutes, until very elastic.
4.    Clean and grease mixing bowl and place dough ball in it. Cover with plastic wrap and towel and place in warm area to rise for 90 minutes or until dough has doubled.
5.    Turn out, punch down, and cut dough into 2 inch cubes. We left them as squares, but you can roll them on counter to create dough balls and end up with round rolls as well. Place on greased baking sheet about ½ inch apart. Cover with plastic wrap and  towel and allow to rise for 2 hours, or until more than doubled. The rolls should be touching.
6.    Bake in 375°F oven for 25 to 35 minutes, or until golden brown and cooked to an internal temperature of 190°F.

Yield 20 rolls

Whole Grain Health Bread

1/3 cup quinoa
1/3 cup amaranth
2 cups water
1 cup raisins
2 cups warm milk
2 packets yeast
¾ cup whole wheat flour
3 cups bread flour
¾ cup spelt flour
¾ cup brown sugar
1 tbsp kosher salt
1 cup chopped walnuts

1.    Plump raisins in a 1¼ cups milk for 30 minutes. Drain and reserve raisins and plumping milk.
2.    Combine yeast, wheat flour and remaining milk. Let stand for 30 minutes until very foamy.
3.    Cook quinoa and amaranth in two cups simmering water until absorbed and grains are tender. Cool.
4.    Combine next five ingredients in mixing bowl or bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook and running on medium. Add yeast mixture and ½ cup raisin plumping milk and knead for 30 seconds.
5.    Add quinoa, amaranth, raisins and walnuts and knead until dough comes together and forms a tacky ball. Add plumping milk as needed. Knead for 6 minutes by hand or 3 minutes by mixer.
6.    Clean and grease mixing bowl, place dough ball in it, cover with plastic wrap and towel and allow to rise in a warm place for one hour, until nearly doubled.
7.    Turn out, punch down, and divide into two pieces. Form loaves and place into greased 8 ½ x 4 ½ inch loaf pans. Cover and let rise 2 hours, until more than doubled.
8.    Bake in 350° oven for 50 to 60 minutes until golden brown and internal temperature reaches 190*F.

Yields 2 loaves

Seeded Rye Bread

½ cup soft wheat berries
½ cup oat berries (groats)
4 cups water
2 packets yeast
4 tbsp honey
3 cups bread flour
3 cups rye flour
2 tbsp vital wheat gluten
1 tbsp kosher salt

1.    Cook soft wheat berries and oat berries in 3 cups simmering water until absorbed and berries are tender. Chop in food processor for one minute. Cool.
2.    Combine yeast, honey and ½ cup water and let stand until yeast foams.
3.    Combine remaining ingredients in bowl or bowl of stand mixer fitted with dough hook and running on medium.
4.    Add yeast mixture and combine.
5.    Add cooked berries and knead for two minutes. Then add splashes of water until the dough comes together and is tacky.
9.    Clean and grease mixing bowl, place dough ball in it, cover with plastic wrap and towel and allow to rise in warm place for one hour, until nearly doubled.
10.  Turn out, punch down, and divide into two pieces. Make free form loaves and place on floured baking sheet.. Cover and let rise for 2 hours, until more than doubled.
11. Bake in 350° oven for 50 to 60 minutes until golden brown and internal temperature reaches 190°F.

Yields 2 loaves

Whole Grains Sidebar

·       Wheat berries: Packed with complex carbohydrates, these are whole wheat grains without their husks that add a nutty, chewy character to breads.
·       Quinoa (keen-wa): Quinoa are tiny bead-shaped grains with a light, delicate taste, a little crunch, and lots of protein.
·       Amaranth: Rich in protein, iron, copper and magnesium, this peppery-flavored seed has three times the fiber and five times the iron of wheat.
·       Flax seed: Loaded with Omega-3 fatty acids, flax seed imparts a pleasant nutty flavor and texture to breads.
·       Oats: High in soluble fiber, oats are available in many forms – including berries, flaked, steel cut and rolled – and lend a light, slightly-sweet bite to breads.
·       Rye: A hardy, fibrous grain, rye has some gluten, but is best known for the deep rich flavor it adds to breads.
·       Barley: Thought to be the oldest cultivated grain, barley adds vitamins, minerals, fiber and a pleasing, sweet, chewy quality to bread.
·       Triticale: This is a high-protein hybrid of wheat and rye that has a sweet, nutty taste and chewy texture.

Anna and David Kasabian have authored three cookbooks and regularly write about food together. Anna also writes about interior design and architecture, is working on her 14th book and is a local potter (

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