The following recipe and photography were provided courtesy of local cookbook author and chef, Carla Snyder. Learn more about Carla and discover her recipes at Ravenouskitchen.com or in her cookbook, One Pan Whole Family.
Many years ago, I worked in a bakery where we made bread in the dark hours of the early morning. It was wonderful to mix batches of rustic bread, the smell of which made customers swoon and probably buy more than they really needed. I know this because I now respond the same way when I go there to buy a loaf (or two or three).
Currently, I now choose make my own bread at home. I do this partly because I love the ritual of mixing flour and yeast, kneading it on the counter until it becomes firm and then watching it magically rise as it sits on the range grates for an hour or two. I’ll catch up on my reading and enjoy the aroma as it bakes. Then, with a cup of tea, savor the taste of the freshly baked loaves slathered with creamy butter. A simple pleasure to be sure, but powerful.
Making bread is easy to fit into your day. If I get a late start on it, it’s easy to store in the fridge for an overnight rise and pop in the oven to bake the next day. I sometimes think the bread is even more delicious as the chill of the refrigerator slows the fermentation process, resulting in a fuller-flavored loaf. I usually mix it in my stand mixer until it becomes a dough and then transfer to the counter where I knead and fold the dough into submission.
Years ago, a pastry chef showed me how to slam the dough on the counter to develop the gluten, which gives dough the strength to stretch and rise without falling. I like to think of it as teaching the dough who’s boss. It’s essentially picking it up by one end and then body slamming it on the counter, rolling it up and grabbing it by one short end and slamming it again. Repeat the process about 10 to 15 times and it really tightens up the dough in a short time. It feels good to be the boss of your bread.
The hands-on time for making bread is really not long. The dough does most of the work as it sits on your kitchen counter; yeasts gobbling up the sugars in the flour to make carbon dioxide bubbles which, in turn, lighten and raise the dough. Just a bake in the oven and there you have it, the magic of bread, the smell and taste of which will make you swoon with no need to travel to the bakery to get it.
As we have quarantined in our homes these last few months, I think many are turning to the therapy of making bread and finding that satisfaction of conquering the magic of yeast, flour and water. The loaf below is my all time favorite and perhaps one of the easiest to make as it doesn’t take any special technique for it to turn out perfectly. Full of good-for-you fruit, nuts, seeds and grains, this is my go-to breakfast loaf for toast. Slathered with almond butter, I can’t think of a better start to the day. It even makes two loaves, so you can give one to your neighbor or freeze it to use when the first one is gone.
I’ve been making this bread and eating it toasted for breakfast for the last 20 years. Full of nuts and seeds my friend Tim asks for the “bread with sticks and twigs in it” for breakfast when they visit. I think what he means is he wants the healthy, hearty, no-nonsense bread that girds your system for a day of work, fun or both.
- 2 Loaves
- 1/2 cup walnuts, finely chopped
- 1/2 cup dried cranberries
- 1 package active dry yeast (2 ½ tsp.)
- 1/4 cup warm water
- 3 1/4 cups unbleached all purpose flour
- 1/2 cup old fashioned oats
- 1 cup whole wheat flour
- 1/2 cup oat bran
- 2 tsp. salt
- 1/4 cup brown sugar
- 1/4 cup flax seeds
- 1/4 cup pumpkin seeds
- 1/4 cup sesame seeds
- 1 1/2 cups cool water
- 1/4 cup unsalted butter, melted
- 1 large egg, beaten
- Toast the walnuts in a 350°F oven for 7 to 8 minutes or until lightly browned. Cool.
- Cover the cranberries with hot water and let soak for about 10 minutes. Drain and set aside.
- Add the yeast and warm water to a mixing bowl and allow the yeast to sit until creamy and foamy, about 5 minutes.
- While the yeast sits, combine the all purpose flour, oats, whole wheat flour, oat bran, salt, brown sugar, flax seeds, pumpkin seeds and sesame seeds in a large bowl and combine with a whisk.
- Add the cool water, melted butter and beaten egg to the yeast and mix with the flat beater on a low setting.
- Stir in the flour mixture along with the drained cranberries and nuts and stir with the flat beater until it all comes together. Swap out the dough hook and return the machine to low speed.
- Knead the dough for about 5 minutes. It should still be a bit sticky, but leave the bowl clean as it moves around. If the dough is too sticky and wet, add a few Tbsp. of all purpose flour to firm it up. You can mix the ingredients with a wooden spoon and knead by hand on your kitchen counter if you prefer. (I find hugely satisfying).
- Cover the mixing bowl with plastic wrap set it in a warm draft-free place until the dough has doubled, about 1 hour.
- When the dough has risen, turn it out onto a floured surface and cut it in half. Pat each half into a 9×15-inch rectangle. Starting on one long side, roll up the dough, jellyroll-style, and shape the loaves to fit in greased 5×9-inch bread pans. Cover the pans with a dishtowel and let the dough rise until the tops are above the pans, about 45 minutes to 1 hour.
- Preheat the oven to 375°F while the dough is rising.
- Using a sharp knife, make three parallel slashes down the middle of the loaves (this allows them to stretch and rise). Bake for about 30 minutes or until an instant read thermometer inserted into the middle of the loaf reads 200˚F.
- The bread may be frozen for up to 2 months. I like to slice it first and then use the slices as I need them.
Make Ahead: Baking bread can be a two day process if that fits into your schedule. Mix the bread and allow it to rise, then punch it down, cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate overnight. Transfer the bowl to the counter and allow it to come to room temperature and rise for two or three hours. Then follow the directions to cut in half, shape and allow to rise for a third time before baking. I think the bread is even better when allowed to ferment this way and it often fits my schedule to a T.