This winter, I’ve started making bread. This has been deeply satisfying despite the steep learning curve (including one outright failure in which the loaf was very undercooked and gummy even though it *looked* done on the outside). But like pizza dough, the element of mystery is compelling, and I’ve been making a loaf or two every week. My biggest issue so far has been density – the loaves taste and smell beautifully, but they don’t puff up and rise quite the way bakery bread does, especially when I make French breads. So I’ve been experimenting – using different brands of yeast, kneading for varying amounts of time, proofing in different rooms (for different temperatures). I think that one key trick concerns the yeast: growing your own starter makes a big difference in both taste and texture. I haven’t reached this point yet – I’m daunted by the idea of growing wild yeast! Like Julia Child and Ladle Lady, my notebooks are filling up with all of my various experiments, an excellent way to spend the winter.
This wild rice and onion bread was my first foray into non-French bread, what baker and teacher Peter Reinhart calls an enriched bread, and on whose recipe mine is based. There are a couple of key differences between my recipe and his: I suggest using less rice, a bit less onion, and at the excellent suggestion of a good friend who has been baking a lot and who let me hang out while he was baking so I could watch his techniques, I substitute some of the bread flour with rye flour. This gives the bread a deep golden color and a nice, tangy kick.
Wild Rice and Onion Bread
Ingredients (Makes 2 large loaves or many rolls)
4 cups bread flour
2 cups rye flour
3 1/2 tsps kosher salt
2 tbls dried yeast (or equivalent in fresh)
1/2 cup cooked wild rice
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 1/2 – 2 cups hand-warm water
1/2 cup warm milk (or any other milk, including buttermilk)
1 cup diced fresh onions (or 1/4 cup dried onions)
A note: I make bread by hand, not with a mixer, so my times for mixing are for working by hand; if you use a mixer, the dough will come together more quickly. My kitchen doesn’t have a lot of counter space, so my stand mixer is buried in a closet at the moment – but I figure I’m getting nice and strong working all this dough.
The night before (or morning of):
- Combine all ingredients in a large bowl (though I usually bloom the yeast separately, Reinhart’s recipe suggests not to for this particular bread so I trusted him, and it worked).
- Mix for 1-2 minutes until the dough is sticky, coarse, and shaggy; let dough rest for 5 minutes.
- Continue mixing for another 4-5 minutes, adding flour or water as needed to keep the dough ball together.
- Once the dough has become more supple and less sticky, transfer to a lightly floured work surface and knead for 4-5 minutes, adding only as much flour as needed to prevent sticking.
- This dough will last in the refrigerator up to 4 days: if you plan to bake 2 loaves on different days, you can separate the dough now. Place each dough ball into a lightly oiled bowl, cover with plastic wrap, and let rise overnight or several hours.
- Remove dough from refrigerator about 2 hours before you are ready to bake. Shape the dough into the size/shape loaf you would like and set aside to rise for 1 1/2 – 2 hours, until it has increased about 1 1/2 times in size.
- Preheat the oven (with baking stone inside) to 350º. Note: this is much cooler than used for French and other hearth breads, which usually bake in a home oven at 450º. I used, as always, a steam pan on the shelf under the baking stone: When you are ready to bake, fill a shallow pan with 1 cup water to place under the stone. This creates a nice steamy environment at the beginning of the baking time.
- Slash the top of the loaf with a very sharp knife to make vents – this will allow trapped gases to escape. Make two or three cuts.
- Bake the bread for about 45 – 55 minutes, turning once halfway through (I let mine bake for the full 55 minutes). The finished bread should have a gorgeous gold/toast color and sound hollow when thumped. Note: If you’re making rolls, the baking time will be 20 – 25 minutes. For rolls, before you place them in the oven, brush the tops with an egg white-and-water wash for nice shiny tops.
- Let the loaf cool for 45 minutes – 1 hour before slicing.
We had this bread for lunch with BLTs. Mmmm….