Brace yourself: this is kind of a bad story. Well, it starts off bad and then it gets good but then, it turns bad again. I’m going to tell it anyway because (a) it’s honest and (b) it involves bread (and don’t you think all stories that involve bread should be told? I do).
So. I’ll start by saying, there was a week back in early January, a dark week, when I must have tried at least four different bread recipes. Four different recipes.
And thing was, whether I used bread flour or regular flour, made rolls or loaves — heck, even when I used a bread maker, which requires you to, I kid you not, dump things inside and press GO — the results were the same: failure. Big, fat failure.
Thankfully, that awful week culminated in a near success or, if you had talked to me the night I made them, SWEET! VICTORY! by way of no-knead baguettes, not to mention a vacation away from here, both of which helped me to forget about bread for a while.
But, as is often the case with things you distract yourself from, eventually bread came back to mind. (Cue good part of story!) Two months seemed like a long enough separation, it was time to try again and, by serendipity maybe, my old friend Jennifer, who’s known me since preschool (or longer?), posted her favorite bread recipe on Facebook.
It used whole grains and, what’s more, it used soaked whole grains, which just means you “soak” the grains/flour in water and buttermillk and oil for 12 to 24 hours, allowing enzymes, lactobacilli and other stuff to neutralize the phytic acid and break down starches (i.e., make everything easier to digest and simpler for you to get the nutritional benefit of).
I started things last Thursday night, when I mixed all the ingredients in a giant bowl (the recipe requires a total ELEVEN CUPS OF FLOUR and makes FOUR LOAVES, which is a perfect example of why one should read the whole recipe before making it). I mixed it all together into a good dough and covered it.
Then I went to work on Friday and out to see Alice in Wonderland in 3D and returned to my soaked grains a little more than 24 hours after I’d left them. I activated the yeast, added it to the dough, kneaded it all (again: ELEVEN CUPS OF FLOUR, people. Oh, I kneaded it good.) and put it in the barely warm oven to rise.
Sometime around midnight, I baked three loaves and two trays of dinner rolls. When I pulled them out of the oven, all dark and golden, I could have cried, I was so happy.
THIS is what bread should look like! THIS is what bread should smell like!
And when I flipped one out of its pan, slicing a thick, soft, sweet slice to top with butter: THIS is what bread should taste like! I told at least three people that I was over the moon about this bread. It was beautiful!
It had risen! It tasted like the brown bread at Cheesecake Factory!
But. Just before I could come over here to this place where we talk about food together, I reached the middle of the first loaf (the second given away and the third in the freezer) and realized a change in texture: it was a little more dense, with tiny ribbons of, I don’t know, something I didn’t like, and while I still ate the bread, I didn’t love it anymore.
What happened? Since I can’t decide if it was me or the bread (or both? neither?), I really don’t know what else to say except: that’s what happened.
Now, your bread stories. Share?
Soaked Whole Grain Bread
Adapted from my friend Jennifer, who adapted it from Passionate Homemaker
1 cup buttermilk (or you can substitute with 1/4 cup apple cider vinegar or lemon juice plus 3/4 cup water, which is what I did)
3 cups water
9 cups whole wheat flour
2 cups whole wheat pastry flour (or all-purpose, or whole wheat)
2 cups old-fashioned oats
1 cup honey (Jennifer recommends adding an extra 2–3 tablespoons, so I did!)
3/4 cup olive oil (or coconut oil, or melted butter)
1/2 cup water (between room temperature and slightly warm, or between 100–115 degrees)
1 teaspoon honey
2 1/2 tablespoons active dry yeast (or 2 packages)
1 1/2 tablespoons sea salt or regular table salt
2–4 tablespoons vital wheat gluten (Super cheap in the bulk bins at the grocery store. This helps with the bread’s texture. I used the maximum amount this past time, and the bread came out nice and light and fluffy.)
1 cup flour (unbleached all-purpose, or whole wheat pastry) only if the dough seems overly sticky
1. Combine all the ingredients from step one, cover, and let sit for 12–24 hours. (For more on the benefits of soaking the grains, click here.)
2. After soaking, activate the yeast by combining the ingredients from step two and letting it sit for 5 minutes, or until fully proofed (bubbly and foamy).
3. After activating the yeast, combine the yeast mixture with the soaked flour and add the remaining ingredients from step three. Knead for approximately 8–10 minutes, until dough is smooth and elastic.
Remove to a greased bowl and cover with a towel. Let sit until doubled, about 1 1/2 hours.
4. Punch down and divide into 4 loaves*. Roll each of the 4 portions with a rolling pin into a rectangle and roll up into a loaf.
Place seam-side down in greased bread pans and let them rise again until doubled, about 30–45 minutes. (The best place is the oven! Just turn it on low 150–170 degrees until heated and then turn it off prior to putting the loaves in).
5. After rising, turn the oven on to 350 degrees and bake for 30–45 minutes. Bread is done when it is golden brown on all sides.
Remove from oven and rest in pans for 10 minutes before removing from pans.
*Alternatively, you can use the dough to make dinner rolls, which is what I did for the fourth loaf. They were great!
About Shanna Mallon
Shanna holds an MA in writing from DePaul University. Her mantra? Restoring order and celebrating beauty through creative content, photography, and food. Shanna's work has been featured in Bon Appetit, The Kitchn, MSN.com, Everyday Health, Better Homes & Gardens, Houzz.com, Food News Journal, Food52, Zeit Magazine, Chew the World, Mom.me, Babble, Delish.com, Parade, Foodista, Entrepreneur and Ragan PR.