Most women will tell you that there is no such thing as having too many pairs of shoes or too many purses. For me, this concept applies to cookbooks. From the moment that I unwrapped The Sesame Street Cookbook on my 5th birthday, I was hooked, and I haven’t stopped collecting since. My cookbooks take up an unnecessarily large percentage of my kitchen shelf space, and are organized by category, some more worn, dog-eared, and flour-coated than others. I read them in bed as if they are page-turning novels, absorbing ideas, concepts, and the colorful recipe photographs, which fill my head as I drift off to sleep.
One nice thing about this cookbook obsession of mine is that it makes me someone for whom it is very easy to buy gifts (hint hint). In my opinion, you can never go wrong with 200+ pages that start with the words "Preheat the oven to 350F degrees." For Christmas this year, my mom and dad gave me a copy of the James Beard nominated book Peter Reinhart’s Whole Grain Breads, and yes, I have just gotten around to trying one of the recipes. The reason for this, in addition to the fact that I already had a long queue of recipes waiting patiently to be tried, is that this beautifully photographed publication reads much like a textbook in the beginning chapters. Mr. Reinhart knows his bread inside and out, and he teaches his readers the whys and hows of bread baking, so that they understand his reasons for using the "delayed fermentation" technique (translation: most recipes in this book need to be started one day in advance).
Planning ahead pays off. This loaf of bread was probably the most professional-tasting one that I have ever baked, and I have baked many. The process was not at all difficult or labor intensive, it just covered a long period of time with many breaks. I learned a few new techniques, such as preparing a "soaker", a non-fermented dough containing grain, water, and salt, with the intended purpose of initiating enzyme activity. I also prepared a "biga" for the first time, which is a pre-fermented stiff starter dough containing a small amount of yeast. I love that this book offers over 50 more healthy whole-grain recipes for me to try, from international Bavarian Pumpernickel to a 100% Sprouted Grain Bread. With the price of store-bought bread skyrocketing, I may just start making my own. Next in line: Whole Wheat Pita Bread–YUM! Here are some tips for this slightly sweet healthy whole grain bread:
- To kick this recipe up a healthy notch, add a few tablespoons of flax seeds or ground flax seed meal to the final dough. Instead of using butter in the biga, use safflower, sunflower, or canola oil.
- The buttermilk in this recipe can be replaced by soy milk, rice milk, or regular low-fat (0r whole) milk.
- Dried cranberries, cherries, chopped figs, or golden raisins can be substituted for the dark raisins.
- The soaker can be made up to 3 days in advance. If it is more than 24 hours until you plan to use it, then refrigerate the soaker and remove it 2 hours prior to use.
- Be sure to use instant or "rapid rise" yeast for this recipe as opposed to "active dry." Active dry yeast must be hydrated in warm water prior to adding it to the dough in order for it to be effective.
- If you don’t have a stand mixer, then the final dough can be mixed by hand. Just knead all of the ingredients in a large bowl until they are evenly integrated and the dough has a soft, slightly sticky texture.
- For a crunchy cinnamon crust, when the loaf comes out of the oven, immediately brush the top with 1 tablespoon of melted butter and then roll the buttered top in additional cinnamon-sugar.
Whole Wheat Cinnamon Raisin Bread
Makes 1 large loaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup buttermilk
1 cup raisins
1 1/3 cups whole wheat flour
1/4 teaspoon instant yeast
6 tablespoons buttermilk
1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
1 large egg
7 tablespoons whole wheat flour
1/2 teaspoon salt
2 1/4 teaspoons (1 packet) instant yeast
2 tablespoons honey or agave nectar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1 cup walnuts, lightly toasted and coarsely chopped
1/4 cup cinnamon sugar (3 tablespoons sugar mixed with 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon)
Prepare the soaker: Combine the flour, salt, and buttermilk in a bowl and mix for about 1 minute, until all of the flour is hydrated and the ingredients form a ball of dough. Add the raisins and use wet hands to knead until evenly incorporated. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and leave at room temperature for 12 to 24 hours.
Prepare the biga: Mix all of the biga ingredients together in a bowl to form a ball of dough. Using wet hands, knead the ball of dough in the bowl for 2 minutes to ensure that all of the ingredients are evenly distributed and the flour is fully hydrated. The dough should feel very tacky. Let the dough rest for 5 minutes and then knead it again for 1 minute. Transfer to a clean bowl and cover tightly with plastic wrap. Refrigerate for at least 8 hours and up to 3 days. About 2 hours prior to mixing the final dough, remove the biga from the refrigerator to take off the chill. It should have only risen slightly.
Prepare the final dough: Using a knife or pasty scraper, chop the soaker and biga into 12 smaller pieces each. Sprinkle with flour if necessary to keep from sticking. In the bowl of an electric mixer, fitted with the bread hook, combine the starter and biga pieces along with the 7 tablespoons flour, salt, yeast, honey, and cinnamon. Mix for 1 minute on slow speed to bring the ingredients together into a ball. Switch to medium-low speed and mix for 2 to 3 minutes, until the pieces become cohesive. Add more flour or water as needed until the dough is soft and slightly sticky.
Dust a work surface with flour and roll the dough in the flour to coat. Sprinkle the walnuts over the surface of the dough and knead by hand for 3 to 4 minutes, until the dough feels soft and tacky. Form into a ball and let rest on the work surface for 5 minutes while you prepare a clean, lightly oiled bowl. Knead the dough for 1 minute more, form into a ball, and place in the prepared bowl, rolling to coat with oil. Cover loosely with plastic wrap and let rise at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes, until it is about 1 1/2 times its original size.
When the dough has risen, dust the work surface with flour and transfer the dough to the work surface. Roll the dough out to a 9-inch square approximately 1 1/2 inch thick. Sprinkle with the cinnamon sugar and roll it up into a tight loaf. Place the dough into a greased 4 1/2 by 9-inch bread pan. Mist the top of the dough with nonstick spray, cover loosely with plastic wrap, and let rise at room temperature for 45 to 60 minutes, until the loaf rises above the pan.
Preheat the oven to 400F degrees. Place the pan on the middle shelf, lower the temperature to 325F degrees, and bake for 20 minutes. Rotate the pan and then continue to bake for 25-40 minutes, until the loaf is a rich brown and sounds hollow when thumped on the bottom. The internal temperature should register at least 195F degrees in the center. Transfer to a cooling rack and allow it to cool for at least 1 hour prior to serving.