I have immersed myself in the study of whole grain baking, to unlock the secrets of light and flavorful baked goods bearing the standard of nutrition value I can feel happy with. In my quest one of the books I came across was The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book. Part explanatory textbook, and part intriguing and well-researched recipes, I have read and re-read this homey but brilliant cookbook. I have spent days working through the 5+ pages of information on the Flemish Desem-based sourdough. The sourdoughs have turned our rustic and authentic-tasting.
But in the Milk & Eggs section I have found this yeast-raised gem of a loaf, Fresh Milk Bread. Perhaps the waiting time might exceed your typical sandwich loaf prep time, but the flavor of this bread is unparalleled. Using only the most basic but beautiful ingredients, as I discovered, this bread has one specific. You must weigh your flour. The first time I had made this I had made these loaves I hadn’t been overwhelmed and I had to add additional flour in order for the dough to “feel” right. But flour is a finicky thing and can weigh anywhere from 4-6 ounces per cup and I was using the volume measurement of cups.
What I hadn’t realized is that newly-ground flour varies, in my case it was too light, with the particles still floaty and unsettled creating the more packed texture of flour that has sat for a bit. Ever since, with my scale, I have been able to turn out consistently flawless dough-with a even, tender, slice able crumb. The fragrance is evocative of the fields of grain and the buttery perfume of an old-time creamery. It is so gratifying to bake such easy, gorgeous bread every week or so. When my husband comes home, the house rich with the golden aroma of baked bread he usually has me sidling up to him practically purring about how these just might be the prettiest loaves I’ve ever made.
* Straight from The Laurel’s Kitchen Bread Book, by Laurel Robertson, with Carol Flinders and Bronwen Godfrey. The directions I have are more abbreviated then theirs, but then again, this post is more about finding an amazing everyday bread and less about research. If research were your desire, I definitely recommend this book as a wealth of delicious intelligence and bread-baking wisdom .
2 cups(475 ml ) fresh whole milk
1/4 cup (60 ml )honey
2 tsp (1/4 oz or 7 grams) active dry yeast
900 grams (6 cups)freshly ground whole wheat flour ( I favor white whole wheat for it’s “blonde” color and less nutty, easily adaptable flavor)
2 1/2 tsp (14 grams) sea salt (I use coarse Celtic grey sea salt)
1/2 cup (120 ml )more water
2 tbsp. (28 grams) cool butter
1. Scald the milk and cool. I usually just heat the milk until I see tiny bubbles appear around the edges of the saucepan rather than bothering with a thermometer. To cool quickly set the pan into a sink shallow-filled with cold water. Add honey and stir to dissolve.
2. While the milk heats, add the yeast to 1/2 cup warm water. Stir lightly to dissolve.
3. Set a large bowl, or the mixing bowl of your stand mixer, on the scale, remembering to tare back to zero before adding the flour. Add the salt and mix lightly to combine.
4. If your milk is lukewarm, make a well in the center of your bowl of flour and pour in the milk/honey and yeast/water mixtures. Mix with a wooden spoon or your hands into a shaggy mass. Knead vigorously by hand about 15 minutes, without adding more flour or in the stand mixer, with a dough hook, about 10 minutes. Add the extra water in to keep the dough from sticking to your hands, even though this might feel counter-intuitive. (Whole grain flours absorb water slower and this takes time. Additionally, there have been some days with differing humidity and temperatures where I have needed to add hardly any extra water. Keep in mind though, we are going for a moist dough, really nothing like a loaf of Italian or French bread.)
5. Cut the cool butter into small pieces before adding it a bit at a time to the mixer. Or hand-knead the butter into the dough. The texture will become more silky and even.
6. Turn the dough into a ball and set into a bowl, cover with a dish towel and allow to rise for about 1 1/2 hours in a draft-free place. (The counter top is usually fine, I don’t use the stove top for rising this recipe as it makes for a weaker, rapid rise.) If the dough doesn’t fill a hole poked gently into it or sighs, it is ready for the next rising.
7. Press dough down to deflate and form into a ball again. Allow to rise for about 45 minutes this time.
8. After the second rising, deflate again, slice the dough in half and allow to relax, in rounds, on the counter, a few minutes, while you preheat the oven to 350°, grease two bread pans, and wash up some dishes. Deflate once more and roll into loaves. Settle gently into the bread pans and allow to rise about a 1/2 hour or until a light finger-poke slowly fills back in with dough. Bake for about 40 minutes or until golden-topped and when the bottom of the loaf is thumped, it sounds hollow.
9. Cool (at least somewhat!) before slicing. Alternately make this recipe into excellent dinner rolls, baked for 15-20 minutes at 400° and possibly brushed with butter and poppy/sesame seeds.